Part IV. Archives, Memory, and Political Culture (Canada, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Africa, and European Colonial Archives)
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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 and the constructs of a national past is a very close one. State archives are almost always dependent on governments for their existence. They are sustained to serve the state, however its interests may be deaned. Like the interests of society more broadly, these are in constant evolution , as are those of individual citizens and their local communities. Since the nature of that evolution affects the structure of national archival practices, it also deanes what states expect from their archives and archival administrations . In essence, archives often become a function of a particular kind of state politics—a politics of conformity as well as, sometimes, a politics of opposition. The seminar consequently placed a strong emphasis on the contrast between different national systems in exploring how archives function culturally, socially, and politically. The participants came from Asia, Europe, and Africa as well as North America and engaged the complex question of national particularity with energy. By necessity, the seminar could only explore these matters by means of select examples. Still, our range was broad enough for us to reach some interesting conclusions, as we think the essays here and in part V will show. Our discussions focused almost exclusively in this regard on state-based archives. In this section, we group presentations about colonial archives and the postcolonial archival model (Cooper, Stoler, and Williams/ Wallach); archives in states transformed by revolutionary events in the Yucatan and the Caribbean (Scott/Martinez/ Zeuske, Dubois, and Eiss); and archives in evolving stable states (Wilson, Burguera, René-Bazin, Graf, and Kansteiner). In each of these cases, the archives have become part of a larger set of issues, especially the often contested question of state deanition. The essay by the distinguished American historian Frederick Cooper is based on his experience with the archives of French West Africa. Cooper discusses the real challenge of recovering a social memory unmediated by the effects of colonial institutions and constructs. He sees the basic contrast as that between the genuineness of the oral tradition and “the Eurocentrism of the written record”—or as he says, “popular memory set against elite documents.” But it is not so simple to reconagure the archives to conform to some sort of elusive “authentic past.” Documents of the colonial age are on the one hand a vestige but also are a record of a particular time. Memories may contradict or limit the primacy of these documents as an authentic source, yet memory is also multifaceted and in the anal analysis deeply personal and “mediated across a more recent experience.” What, then, is the archive’s relationship to the African colonial past? The anthropologist Ann Laura Stoler offers an intriguing set of answers. In her view, the role of archives in producing elements of social and national culture is particularly clear in the colonial case, whether colonial archives are located in the metropole or the elsewhere within an imperial system. The perceived need of these systems to classify populations according to speciac 253 ⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮⟮ part iv Archives, Memory, and Political Culture (Canada, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Africa, and European Colonial Archives) ⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯⟯ racial or ethnic categories embeds distinctions in documents and archives that may have little or no relationship to the kinds of differences drawn within societies themselves and hence to local understandings and memories of the past. Race can be quite literally read into these pasts—“constructed,” in the current social science terminology—along a full panoply of speciaed racial attributes, in the very process of building an archival collection around racialized subjects. Documentation then serves to create and authenticate the entity being cataloged through the very signiacance of the archival institution itself and the presumptive attributes of its cataloging and classiacatory systems. Like Cooper, the important question for Stoler is therefore not only about the archive’s relationship to colonial pasts but also about the “authenticity” of that past and whether archival documentation creates or reveals it. Part of this issue involves archival “truth claims,” as Stoler suggests, as well as the cultural assumptions about what counts as knowledge, as we have discussed in the introduction to part III. These questions also animate Rebecca Scott and her colleagues, who explore the Cienfuegos provincial archive in Cuba as a...