Part III. Archives and Social Memory
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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 itself a growing area of concern in the aelds of history, literature, anthropology, and social psychology. Not surprisingly , the relationship between archives and social memory provoked lively discussion among scholars in all of these aelds at our interdisciplinary seminar. At its core, the question involves a set of issues that bear directly on understandings of what is a record, what is record keeping, and ultimately what is an archive. Consider perhaps the most basic issue here: the signiacance of written records themselves. To what extent does the value of these records, as they are acquired, preserved , and administered by archival institutions, rest on cultural assumptions and conditions? To what extent, in other words, does archiving rebect particular social structures and cultural conventions that assign meaning to knowledge itself and the ways it is accessed? In his essay “The Historical a Priori and the Archive,” Michel Foucault has famously argued that even the positivist implications of language give a particular kind of authenticity to archived documents. From this perspective, the written word itself is coveted as a direct link to past reality , whether it is “discovered” by the scholar in some archive folder or viewed like the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution in hermetically sealed display cases. Yet as Foucault also maintains, the kind of authenticity embedded in written documents not only rebects particular (and most would say, very sensible) cultural conventions but also tends to obscure the possibility —Foucault would say likelihood—that the documents were created and retained in most “unscientiac” ways. Can we therefore agree that in either case, the “writtenness ” of most archival documents affects what is and can be remembered, and how?1 The notion that archives may play a critical role in the formation of social or collective memories is neither familiar to many archivists nor well understood by many historians. As a construct, memory is much broader than history. This is not simply because archivists decide through the processes of appraisal “what is remembered and what is forgotten, who in society is visible and who remains invisible,” as Canadian archivist Terry Cook suggests in his essay in this volume, but also because the notion that social memories can be shaped so directly undermines established notions of historical “truth”: the cultural assumptions about what counts as knowledge. As we will see in part IV of this volume, these assumptions , or archival “truth claims,” as Ann Stoler calls them, have had a particularly strong effect on colonial archives of various sorts but concern all archives in every social or cultural context. For example, one point raised early in the seminar was that the archival profession itself in North America and Western Europe has had a signiacant investment in maintaining the notion that archival documentation embodies particular kinds of truth: ones that can be referenced and hence “veriaed,” ones that are at least partly, in other words, created by the real and symbolic capital of archival institutions themselves.2 At stake here are not only the epistemological issues discussed in part II but also the ways in which the monumentality of many state and national archival buildings registers cultural assumptions of their meaning. The impressive classical colonnade of the U.S. National Archives links what is housed there to the foundations of Western learning. The imposing marble facade of the Soviet Party Archives once bespoke the power of an ideology and a state system whose authority was not to be questioned. This is not to suggest that the documents in 165 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ part iii Archives and Social Memory ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ either place are necessarily fabricated or otherwise “false” (although they certainly could be) but instead to argue that they rebect broad cultural assumptions about where one needs to go to and the “truth” of the past and how it should be presented. Scholars will not ordinarily complain to archivists about having only some fraction of the documents they need to tell their stories when they think the materials have not survived; they also usually accept restrictions based on generally recognized principles of national security or individual privacy. Yet social and cultural conventions clearly compromise claims to access the past as it “really was.” As we know, archivists routinely exercise great power over what documents are preserved. Cook argues that...