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Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory

Essays from the Sawyer Seminar

Francis X. Blouin, Jr. and William G. Rosenberg, Editors

Publication Year: 2006

As sites of documentary preservation rooted in various national and social contexts, artifacts of culture, and places of uncovering, archives provide tangible evidence of memory for individuals, communities, and states, as well as defining memory institutionally within prevailing political systems and cultural norms. By assigning the prerogatives of record keeper to the archivist, whose acquisition policies, finding aids, and various institutionalized predilections mediate between scholarship and information, archives produce knowledge, legitimize political systems, and construct identities. Far from being mere repositories of data, archives actually embody the fragments of culture that endure as signifiers of who we are, and why. The essays in Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory conceive of archives not simply as historical repositories but as a complex of structures, processes, and epistemologies situated at a critical point of the intersection between scholarship, cultural practices, politics, and technologies. Francis X. Blouin Jr. is Professor of History and Director of the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan. William G. Rosenberg is Professor of History, University of Michigan.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. iii-vi

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-ix

With the generous support of the Mellon Foundation, the Advanced Studies Center of the International Institute of the University of Michigan held a year-long Sawyer Seminar in 2000--2001 to investigate from a range of disciplinary perspectives the complicated relationships between archives, forms of documentation, and the ways societies remember their pasts. The program included...

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Part I. Archives and Archiving

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pp. 1-3

The publication in 1995 of Jacques Derrida's Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression1 was something of a curiosity in the archival community but had little resonance among historians. Derrida presented his thoughts as a lecture at a colloquium on memory and archives organized by the Freud Museum, the Courtauld Institute of Art, and the Société Internationale d'Histoire de la Psychiatrie...

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"Something She Called a Fever": Michelet, Derrida, and Dust (Or, in the Archives with Michelet and Derrida)

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pp. 4-19

Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about archive fever. What (says a voice prosaic and perverse; probably a historian's voice) is an archive doing there anyway at the beginning of Jacques Derrida's Mal d'archive? Here, in its opening passages, Derrida shows us the arkhe, which he says is the place where things begin, where power originates...

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The Problem of Publicite in the Archives of Second Empire France

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pp. 20-35

In his scathing essay on the coup d'état that brought France's Second Empire to power, Karl Marx produced some of his most memorable (or at least quotable) musings on the nature of history. "Men," he wrote, "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they...

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Not Dragon at the Gate but Research Partner: The Reference Archivist as Mediator

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pp. 36-42

In a keynote address given to the Spring 2000 Midwest Archives Conference meeting (hereafter Sawyer Seminar), Francis Blouin set out the founding principles for this seminar as a dialogue between historians and other scholars, and the archivists who maintain documentary...

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Between Veneration and Loathing: Loving and Hating Documents

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pp. 43-53

On a crisp winter afternoon in the heart of a national capital, a contingent of soldiers marches through an honor guard down the steps of a public building, bearing several large wooden cases. The servicemen--those carrying the cases are all men, while the honor guard lining..

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pp. 54-60

It is conventional and useful for both architects and archivists to recognize that architecture exists in two distinct modes: arst, the built artifact and, second, representations of that artifact. This division is useful precisely because it allows architecture in the second sense to be...

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"Records of Simple Truth and Precision": Photography, Archives, and the Illusion of Control

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pp. 61-83

In December of 1839, Théodore Maurisset, a French printmaker, produced a lithograph entitled La Daguerréotypomanie. The scene has been described in delightful detail by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim:...

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Part II. Archives in the Production of Knowledge

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pp. 85-88

Whether even the most well-intentioned and neutral scholar could ever produce an objective, scientiac history has long been the subject of fractious debate among historians, as many archivists are aware. That "noble dream," as Peter Novick described this quest in an important volume some afteen years ago, rebects for...

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Out of the Closet and into the Archives? German Jewish Papers

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pp. 89-100

Frank Mecklenburg discusses the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) Archives as an institution initially established for the preservation and generation of social memories among a group whose collective identity--as the muchmythologized German-speaking Jews of prewar central...

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German Jewish Archives in Berlin and New York: Three Generations after the Fact

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pp. 101-105

Since 1955, the Leo Baeck Institute (LBI) is the central research institution for the history of German-speaking Jewry. The New York institute (there are afaliated Leo Baeck institutes in Jerusalem and London), with its vast archives, is in the midst of major changes. Its relationship...

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Medieval Archivists as Authors: Social Memory and Archival Memory

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pp. 106-113

Back in the early 1970s, David Hammack, a historian of New York City, told me that the most important person in the New York City Archives was an individual whose only qualiacation was his membership in the Teamsters Union. The reason that this was such an important qualification...

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The Question of Access: The Right to Social Memory versus the Right to Social Oblivion

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pp. 114-120

In most modern societies public administrations process and handle huge amounts of private and personal data concerning individual citizens, thus producing great numbers of case ales containing often highly sensitive information about identiaable individual persons....

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Past Imperfect (l'imparfait): Mediating Meaning in Archives of Art

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pp. 121-133

An examination of mediation in archives of art is an acknowledgment of the issue of language--its deanitions, its cultural and academic parameters, its multiplicities, its unexpected relationships. The French imparfait, while understood conventionally as a particular...

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An Artifact by Any Other Name: Digital Surrogates of Medieval Manuscripts

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pp. 134-143

In Plato's well-known myth of Thoth from the Phaedrus, King Thamuz rejects Thoth's claim that his invention of writing will be a boon to humanity on the grounds that it offers an invaluable supplement to human memory. On the contrary, the king counters, it will have the opposite...

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The Panoptical Archive

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pp. 144-150

"There is no political power without control of the archives," Jacques Derrida writes.1 There is no power without archives either. Since the third millennium BC, writing served recording and archiving for kings and gods, in palaces and temples. Etymology links archives to...

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Archival Representation

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pp. 151-163

In The Design of Everyday Things Donald Norman argues for a user-centered approach to the design of the daily artifacts we take for granted.1 While archives and archival collections are not everyday things for most people, they do document everyday things, and the...

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Part III. Archives and Social Memory

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pp. 165-168

The diverse essays included in this section take up complicated questions about the role of archives in conditioning social memory and creating certain kinds of cultural understandings. The complex relationship between social memories and elements of social culture is...

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Remembering the Future: Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory

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pp. 169-181

Appraisal occurs primarily today on the records of yesterday to create a past for tomorrow. What kind of past should the future have? This essay represents in part a narrative about archival appraisal, that function that selects for long-term preservation as society's memory...

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Creating a National Information System in a Federal Environment: Some Thoughts on the Canadian Archival Information Network

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pp. 182-192

In late 2001, the Canadian Council on Archives, a publicly funded agency that oversees archival development in Canada, launched the Canadian Archival Information Network (CAIN), an online network of Web sites and databases designed to bring together intellectually the...

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Archives, Heritage, and History

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pp. 193-206

Diverse archival aims mirror diverse uses of the past in general. At one extreme are disinterested efforts to learn and understand what has actually happened; at the other, partisan zeal to fabricate a past that suits present needs--to forge an identity, to secure a legacy, to validate...

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How Privatization Turned Britain's Red Telephone Kiosk into an Archive of the Welfare State

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pp. 207-214

One day in July 1988, I stood on the concourse at London's Waterloo Station thinking of the hopes once entertained by late politician Anthony Crosland. As a leading Labour Party intellectual in the mid-1950s, Crosland had dreamed of a less austere socialism where...

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Archives: Particles of Memory or More?

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pp. 215-218

As a nonnative speaker of English, I am not subtle in the use of the language. English came to me as a foreign language through Kipling and Shakespeare, with words such as swans, Thames, prince, murder and dagger and poison. Archival English came to me in the...

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Lookin' for a Home: Independent Oral History Archives in Italy

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pp. 219-224

In 1970, Italian activist historian and cultural organizer Gianni Bosio wrote, in his description of the work of the Istituto Ernesto de Martino, Italy's arst and most important sound archive and research center for people's cultures,...

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The Public Controversy over the Kennedy Memorabilia Project

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pp. 225-236

Evelyn Lincoln served as John F. Kennedy's personal secretary in the White House. She is credited with saving from extinction various notes, drafts, doodles, and miscellaneous Kennedy memorabilia that otherwise would not have been preserved.2 Following JFK's death, the...

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Classified Federal Records and the End of the Cold War: The Experience of the Assassination Records Review Board

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pp. 237-244

In the fall of 1992, Congress passed the President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (PL- 102-526, codiaed as 44 U.S.C. 2107) (ARCA) in an attempt to address the suspicion that the federal government had been involved in a cover-up of the November...

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"Just a Car": The Kennedy Car, the Lincoln Chair, and the Study of Objects

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pp. 245-252

Do all objects tell the truth? Are artifacts essential to the study of history? Can we understand the past by looking and examining the things people used and made, as Henry Ford believed? The study of material culture, which grew out of anthropology and the study of preliterate...

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Part IV. Archives, Memory, and Political Culture (Canada, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Africa, and European Colonial Archives)

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pp. 253-256

In setting as one of the seminar's principal goals the exploration of the roles that archives play in the production of knowledge, it was clear to us from the start that we could not conane our discussions within one speciac national framework. The relationship between archives...

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Memories of Colonization: Commemoration, Preservation, and Erasure in an African Archive

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pp. 257-266

In June 1995 the National Archives of Senegal organized the "Colloquium Commemorating the Centenary of French West Africa" in Dakar. On the face of it, this was a peculiar event: a proudly independent African nation celebrating the anniversary of its own colonization. The event itself was unlike any other...

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Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance: On the Content in the Form

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pp. 267-279

This essay is about the colonial order of things as seen through its archival productions. It asks what insights about the colonial might be gained from attending not only to colonialism's archival content but to its particular and sometimes peculiar form. Its focus is on...

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The Provincial Archive as a Place of Memory: Confronting Oral and Written Sources on the Role of Former Slaves in the Cuban War of Independence (1895--98)

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pp. 280-290

Few questions of historical interpretation are more passionately debated than those that have become intertwined with a national narrative and with the deanition of how a country came to be what it is imagined to be. For the island nation of Cuba, political independence...

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Maroons in the Archives: The Uses of the Past in the French Caribbean

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pp. 291-300

In the heart of Basse-Terre, the administrative capital of the island of Guadeloupe, sits a prison. It is notorious for its overcrowding and antiquated facilities and also because over the years a number of local activists who have fought for independence from France have been imprisoned...

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Redemption's Archive: Remembering the Future in a Revolutionary Past

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pp. 301-320

While Alice brushed the White Queen's tousled hair, the monarch offered her employ as a lady's maid for a salary of two pence a week, along with a regular ration of jam. As Lewis Carroll relates in Through the Looking Glass, Alice was disinclined to accept in any...

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Documenting South Africa's Liberation Movements: Engaging the Archives at the University of Fort Hare

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pp. 321-332

As the machinery of apartheid was being dismantled, agreements were signed in 1992 designating the University of Fort Hare as the custodian of the "Liberation Archives." The Liberation Archives was conceived as a symbolic union of the archival records from several...

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"The Gift of One Generation to Another": The Real Thing for the Pepsi Generation

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pp. 333-342

Several months ago and before I was appointed the national archivist of Canada, I was invited to speak at a symposium to honor Terry Cook and to rebect on his career as an archivist at the National Archives. I used the occasion to place before members of our profession the...

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Social History, Public Sphere, and National Narratives: The Social Origins of Valencian Regional Imaginary in Nineteenth-Century Spain

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pp. 343-352

During the past twenty years, the approaches and perspectives associated with both poststructuralism and feminism have prompted historians to question the centrality of some of social history's most basic assumptions, opening the door to what Patrick Joyce has called a "self...

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The Influence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States in Western Europe (France)

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pp. 353-360

Let me begin this essay by noting the contradictory attitudes of two French politicians with regard to the presidents of the republic whom they had served closely. I quote from two highly successful books that they have published in recent years. The arst quote is from Alain...

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The Role of the Swiss Federal Archives during Recent Politico-Historical Events and Crises

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pp. 361-367

In the last ten years, the Swiss Federal Archives (SFA) has been involved in three politico-historical events. First, as might be known in the United States, for the past four years Switzerland has found itself at the center of a struggle for justice and truth for the victims of the...

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Television Archives and the Making of Collective Memory: Nazism and World War II in Three Television Blockbusters of German Public Television

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pp. 368-378

Television archives play a vital role in the day-to-day business of the television industry. They help television makers identify footage and ideas for the programs of tomorrow. Consequently, the archives are organized to support the production process, and any other function is...

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Part V. Archives and Social Understanding in States Undergoing Rapid Transition (China, Postwar Japan, Postwar Greece, Russia, Ukraine, and the Balkans)

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pp. 379-381

As the essays grouped in this anal section indicate, an important aspect of the Michigan seminar was its attention to the particular circumstances of archives in China, Russia, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Our concern here was not only to engage archivists and archival historians...

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Revolution in the Archives of Memory: The Founding of the National Diet Library in Occupied Japan

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pp. 382-392

At the welcome dinner held in Tokyo in December 1948 for the distinguished visitors from the U.S. Library Mission, Hani Gorô, recently elected Diet member and chair of a newly established National Diet Library Steering Committee, raised his glass in greeting: "To...

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The New Masters of Memory: Libraries, Archives, and Museums in Postcommunist Bosnia-Herzegovina

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pp. 393-401

Institutions of social memory in Bosnia-Herzegovina have undergone dramatic changes in status, ownership, and management during the 1990s. Several institutions were physically damaged or destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo (1992--95) and required reconstitution...

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Writing Home in the Archive: "Refugee Memory" and the Ethnography of Documentation

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pp. 402-416

The archive appears to have taken the place of historical narrative as a key locus for critical historical rebection. This shift from historiography to the archive has a number of implications. For one, it draws attention from the closed authoritative historiography to the multiplicity...

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Qing Statesmen, Archivists, and Historians and the Question of Memory

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pp. 417-426

The great government book-collecting project of eighteenth- century China, the "Complete Library in Four Branches of Literature,"1 offered the Qing government (1644--1912) an opportunity to proscribe and even destroy works it found offensive, particularly those that...

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The Role of Archives in Chinese Society: An Examination from the Perspective of Access

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pp. 427-435

The contemporary Chinese archival system is based on those agency archives ofaces (dangan shi) that were established in the early 1950s, right after the founding of the People's Republic of China in October 1949. The system is structured and developed according to the principle...

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Archives and Histories in Twentieth-Century China

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pp. 436-442

Although the existence of state archives has been traced back to the fourth and afth centuries BC in the West and perhaps all the way back to the Shang dynasty in China,1 the establishment of permanent, public, national archival institutions dates only from the French...

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Archives and Historical Writing: The Case of the Menshevik Party in 1917

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pp. 443-450

The agenda for the seminar on Archives, Documentation, and the Institutions of Social Memory, much like the questions being asked nowadays in so many academic discussions, reminds us of the uncertain place of archival records in historical writing and in social memory...

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Russian History: Is It in the Archives?

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pp. 451-458

Those who got their academic training in Russian and Soviet history before the collapse of the Soviet Union worked under a considerable handicap: lack of access to the bulk of primary source materials in the libraries and archives in the Soviet Union. Even medievalists such as...

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Archiving Heteroglossia: Writing Reports and Controlling Mass Culture under Stalin

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pp. 459-465

Working quietly in private during 1934--35, as the Soviet people were toiling to meet the targets of the Second Five Year Plan, celebrating Stalin the Great Leader, and condemning "enemies of the people," Mikhail Bakhtin was developing the concept of heteroglossia...

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Ethnicity, Memory, and Violence: Rebections on Special Problems in Soviet and East European Archives

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pp. 466-479

One of the greatest obstacles to understanding the history of Eastern Europe during and after the Second World War has been that the memories of the events themselves have been constructed ethnically--which is to say, each ethnic group has recorded its own version of the tragic...

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Hesitations at the Door to an Archive Catalog

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pp. 480-489

This essay represents rebections on the reciprocal inbuence between the historian and the archivist involved in developing and improving the apparatus of scholarly reference in the Russian archives. Let us start...

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The Historian and the Source: Problems of Reliability and Ethics

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pp. 490-496

The analysis of historical sources is perhaps the most important aspect of a historian's work. The professional competence of the historian can be measured by his or her ability to make the right choices when choosing from many sources, as well as by his or her ability to...


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pp. 497-502

E-ISBN-13: 9780472026722
E-ISBN-10: 0472026720
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472032709
Print-ISBN-10: 0472032704

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 2 drawings, 3 B&W photographs
Publication Year: 2006