Contested Archives, Contested Sources

Francis X. Blouin Jr. and William G. Rosenberg

in Processing the Past

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780199740543
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199894673 | DOI:
Contested Archives, Contested Sources

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The chapter extends the discussion of social memory to the problem of new “identity archives” designed to “remember” certain elements of the past. Drawing on the work of Ann Stoler and Nicolas Dirks, the chapter takes up what Stoler has termed the archival “grain.” It argues with her that archives themselves need to be “read” in terms of the arguments embedded in their sources. In this connection the chapter also raises the question of archives as “monuments” to contested kinds of historical understanding; and re-examines the well-known “Abraham case” in which an archival historian was accused of misusing sources in ways that reflected contested views about archives themselves. The discussion here is set against the background of paper-based historical archives, but developed in terms of the current problems of information technology. It concludes with the ways identity archives themselves reflect ongoing contestation about the nature of sources and their uses.

Keywords: Smithsonian Institution; identity archives; archival grain; Ann Laura Stoler; monumental archives; David Abraham Case; Soviet archives; China

Chapter.  11444 words. 

Subjects: Methods and Historiography

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