Part I. Archives and Archiving
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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 et de la Psychanalyse. He took up, among other issues appropriate to this interesting mix of sponsors, the complex problem of “inscription”: the processes through which traces of a lived past are “archived” by individuals or societies in ways that make the place of uncovering— the archive—a point of intersection between the actual and the imagined, lived experience and its remembered (or forgotten) image. The French philosopher and literary theorist was particularly concerned with how inscription, which is to say archiving, involved suppression as well as remembering. His argument linked individual and collective remembering and also institutional and psychological “repositories,” the latter being, of course, the brain. As his title suggests, Derrida’s focus was also on the (feverish ) quest to recover what the mind or institution had buried, that is, its archived inscriptions. In his stimulating and provocative reading, archives and archiving were thus as much about the present as about the past, since the processes of uncovering were as much about the complexities of contemporary understanding as about the creation of historical narratives. “Every archive,” he wrote with emphasis, “is at once institutive and conservative. Revolutionary and traditional.”2 The different reactions of archivists and historians to Archive Fever were broadly rebected in the Michigan seminar. At our earliest sessions, Carolyn Steedman,3 the English cultural historian, interpreted Derrida’s central trope of “uncovering” as, in part, a metaphor for the complex ways in which individuals and societies process experience itself, something for which there can never really be original documents. Indeed, as she suggests in her essay in this section of the volume, in important ways experience cannot be documented at all, only transcribed from its visceral impressions into some reproducible linguistic form. For her, the virtue of Derrida’s intervention is in its turn to the historical subjective, the realm of emotions, feelings, and experiences that clearly affect the ways both individual and social pasts and presents are understood but whose access lies elsewhere than in the archive . She suggests that while there is a common desire to use the archive as metaphor or analogy when memory is discussed, the problem is that an archive is not really very much like human memory and certainly not like the unconscious mind. On the contrary, Steedman maintains that unlike with memory, there is not, in fact, very much there in actual archives, though the bundles may be mountainous. And unlike human memory, which actively processes, suppresses, distorts, selectively remembers, and applies in sometimes quite different ways the memory traces of past experience, material either carefully selected for or randomly placed in an archive just sits there until it is read and used and narrativized. As Steedman put it during our discussion at the seminar, the archive is thus quite benign. The historian, the user, the social rememberer give the archive’s “stuff” its meaning. This perspective particularly engaged Verne Harris, the South African archivist and archival theorist, who countered Steedman’s views in our discussions by suggesting that the notion that archives are benign rebected a “simple, stable, and uncontested” understanding of the very concept of archive itself, in which an archive is simply a repository of documents or records identiaed for preservation .4 In this traditional view, one that has dominated ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ part i Archives and Archiving ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ the thinking of most archivists and archival historians since the time of Jules Michelet and Leopold von Ranke, an archive is simply the place where such records are preserved or an institution providing such places. This concept has also long been a basic principle of archivists’ training, and it underpins Hilary Jenkinson’s authoritative A Manual of Archive Administration.5 The premise of this approach is that archival records are, in Harris’s words, “the organic and innocent product of processes exterior to archivists”6 and, despite their limitations or particular baws, rebect historical reality. At issue here is not simply a positivist (or “modernist ”) notion of fact and truth. As Jennifer Milligan shows quite neatly in her essay in this section, these were quite unstable premises in archival administration almost from the time modern archives were arst...


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