Preface and Acknowledgments
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With the generous support of the Mellon Foundation , the Advanced Studies Center of the International Institute of the University of Michigan held a yearlong 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 nearly a hundred presentations in twenty-eight sessions . Scholars and archivists from afteen countries participated . Our point of departure was a conception of archives not simply as historical repositories but as a complex of structures, processes, and epistemologies situated at a critical point of intersection between scholarship, cultural practices, politics, and technologies. As sites of documentary preservation rooted in various national and social contexts, archives help deane for individuals, communities , and states what is both knowable and known about their pasts. As places of uncovering, archives help create and re-create social memory. By assigning the prerogatives of record keeper to the archivist, whose acquisition policies, anding aids, and various institutionalized predilections mediate between scholarship and information , archives produce knowledge, legitimize political systems , and construct identities. In the broadest sense, archives thus embody artifacts of culture that endure as signiaers of who we are and why. This volume presents for a wider audience a substantial portion of the papers given at the seminar. We have grouped them somewhat loosely around a series of themes that emerged during the course of the discussions . In so doing, we have made an effort to integrate the contributions of archivists and others whose professional responsibilities were primarily administrative with those of scholars from the humanities and social sciences whose work focuses on speciac kinds of archival research . We hope the diversity of the essays included in this volume gives readers some sense of the breadth of issues captured by the seminar, and we regret that we cannot also include the many formal commentaries offered by other participants, which proved so stimulating to our discussions. A list of all seminar contributors appears at the end of the volume. In reading these essays we think it important to consider especially the role of archives in what seminar participants termed the production of knowledge. We propose that an archive be thought of as a site of imagination, creativity, and production, as well as of documentary preservation, a site that incorporates various sorts of assumptions about kinds of knowledge and what is knowable that are fundamental to the ways individuals and societies think about themselves, relive their pasts, and imagine their futures. This still leaves us, however, with two large questions, each deceptively simple in its formulation : what, indeed, is an archive, and what actually goes on there? Let us offer several introductory propositions about each of these complex matters in the hope that they can serve heuristically as a set of arguments against which each of the essays in this volume might be read. First, how do we deane the spatial boundaries of an archive ? In the seminar we proposed that an archive be thought of as a place, whether or not it has an institutional form and whether or not it is organized and maintained by the state, public or private groups and associations, or individuals. In all cases, an archive is a place where complex processes of “remembering” occur, creating and recreating certain kinds of social knowledge. We put quotation marks around the word remembering to emphasize that the processes that bring the past to life in an archive involve much more than simply access to documents. Through the processes of acquisition, classiacation, and preservation, archives provide those who come to inquire about the past with a mix of materials, sometimes carefully selected and orderly, sometimes quite disorganized and random, through which particular forms of individual and social understanding are structured and produced. Archives are thus sites where past experience is variously and quite imperfectly inscribed and where the art of re-creating the past can be practiced in some way, whether skillfully or not. As sites of preservation, archives hold particular pieces of the past that are selected on the basis ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ Preface and Acknowledgments of particular deanitions of utility and importance. They deane what is knowable and known both by the documents they preserve and the materials their archivists decline to acquire or that they discard. Silences in the archive can affect understanding as much as or more than the words and pictures that create and re-create our images of the past and hence our sense of who...