Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory: Essays from the Sawyer Seminar


As sites of documentary preservation rooted in various national and social contexts, artifacts of culture, and places of uncovering, archives provide tangible evidence of memory for individuals, communities, and states, as well as defining memory institutionally within prevailing political systems and cultural norms. By assigning the prerogatives of record keeper to the archivist, whose acquisition policies, finding aids, and various institutionalized predilections mediate between scholarship and information, ...
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As sites of documentary preservation rooted in various national and social contexts, artifacts of culture, and places of uncovering, archives provide tangible evidence of memory for individuals, communities, and states, as well as defining memory institutionally within prevailing political systems and cultural norms. By assigning the prerogatives of record keeper to the archivist, whose acquisition policies, finding aids, and various institutionalized predilections mediate between scholarship and information, archives produce knowledge, legitimize political systems, and construct identities. Far from being mere repositories of data, archives actually embody the fragments of culture that endure as signifiers of who we are, and why. The essays in Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory conceive of archives not simply as historical repositories but as a complex of structures, processes, and epistemologies situated at a critical point of the intersection between scholarship, cultural practices, politics, and technologies.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472032709
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 8/2/2007
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 10.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

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Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory

Essays from the Sawyer Seminar


Copyright © 2006 University of Michigan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-472-03270-9

Chapter One

"Something She Called a Fever"

Michelet, Derrida, and Dust (Or, in the Archives with Michelet and Derrida)

Carolyn Steedman

I breathed in their dust.

—Jules Michelet, Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 4

Archive fever, indeed? I can tell you all about archive fever. What (says a voice prosaic and perverse; probably a historian's voice) is an archive doing there anyway at the beginning of Jacques Derrida's Mal d'archive? Here, in its opening passages, Derrida shows us the arkhe, which he says is the place where things begin, where power originates, inextricably bound up with the authority of beginnings. In the brief account that Derrida gives us of the operation of the Greek city-state, its official documents are shown to be stored in the arkheion, the superior magistrate's residence. There the archon himself, the magistrate, exercises the power of those documents of procedure and precedent, in his right to interpret them, for the operation of a system of law. The arkhe represents the now of whatever kind of power is being exercised, anywhere, in any place or time. The arkhe represents a principle, that in Derrida's words, is "in the order of commencement as well as in the order of commandment" (9). The fever, the sickness of the archive, is to do with its very establishment, which is the establishment of state power and authority. And then there is the feverish desire—a kind of sickness unto death—that Derrida indicates, for the archive: the fever not so much to enter it and use it as to have it.

These remarks about archives open one of Derrida's most important contemplations of the topic of psychoanalysis and return to the questions he raised about it in 1967 in his essay "Freud and the Scene of Writing." "Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression" is further exploration of the relationship between memory and writing (or recording), a discussion of Freud's own attempts to and adequate metaphors for representing memory, particularly the very first memory that takes place, or is had, just before the thing itself, the origin, comes to be represented. This is a good reason for paying attention to Freud's own attentions to writing as an activity: in many of Freud's essays, writing is used to stand in for the psyche and all its workings. Derrida sees in Freud the desire to recover moments of inception, the fractured and infinitesimal second between thing and trace, which might be the moment of truth. In "Archive Fever," desire for the archive is presented as part of that desire to and, or locate, or to possess that moment, which is the beginning of things.

But still: what is an archive doing at the beginning of a long description of another text (someone else's text, not Derrida's) that also deals with Freud? For the main part, "Archive Fever" is a sustained contemplation of Yosef Yerushalmi's Freud's Moses: Judaism Terminable and Interminable (1991). A historian of Sephardic Jewry with a strong interest in questions of memory, Yerushalmi was turned, by way of his membership in a psychoanalytic study group on anti-semitism, to the reading of Freud's Moses and Monotheism. In this reading, he found that Freud was also a historian or at least (in Freud's own formulation) someone who had produced a "historical novel," or a kind of historical story, in order to understand the period of baroque anti-semitism through which he was living. Yerushalmi's is a speculative account of Freud's writing of Moses and Monotheism, though not half as speculative as is the text itself, which is famously based on no historical evidence whatsoever. Yerushalmi on the other hand, had a fairly complete account of the process of its composition, from correspondence about it; from a hitherto unnoted draft (obtained with astonishing ease from the Freud Archive at the Library of Congress); and from the context within which Freud wrote, retrieved from newspaper ales and a more general sociopolitical history of the rise of Nazism in central Europe. Yerushalmi's overall purpose in the book is to get Freud to admit (the anal chapter is in the form of a monologue, addressed directly to the dead author) that psychoanalysis is a Jewish science. The "impression" of Derrida's subtitle is the imprint of Judaism and "the Jewish science" on Yerushalmi and indeed on Derrida himself. But the signs and traces that Freud dealt in, and the particular sign that is circumcision, constitute the kind of archive that Derrida believes most historians would not be interested in.

The archon and his arkheion allow Derrida some commonplace speculations about the future of the archive, as the register, ledger, and letter are replaced by email and the computer ale. They also give rise to some pertinent discussion of the politics of various kinds of archives (anyone who had read Yerushalmi's book might have been reminded of the furor of the 1980s over notorious restrictions of access to the Freud Archive). Many kinds of repositories are strapped together here in the portmanteau term the archive as Derrida considers their limits and limitations, their denials and secrets. It is at this point in the argument that the arkhe appears to lose much of its connection to the idea of a place where official documents are stored for administrative reference and becomes a metaphor capacious enough to encompass the whole of modern information technology, its storage, retrieval, and communication.

Here Derrida probably performs a move made familiar in the forty-year exercise of his philosophic technique. The binary oppositions that underpin much of Western metaphysics are made to shift by inflating a concept so that it joins up with its very opposite. This procedure can be most clearly seen at work in Derrida's long attention to the topic of writing. Common sense will always exclaim that of course speech precedes writing, in any historical or psychological description of the relationship between the two, that writing can't be (could not have been) first. But by making "writing" include all signs, traces, mnemonic devices, inscriptions, and marks—by thus interrogating the word in order to release it from the empirical understanding that is held in place by the opposition between speech and writing—Derrida leads us to see that "writing" includes its opposite, "speech," and that the distinction (all sorts of distinctions) so long maintained by systems of Western philosophy might be thought right through to the other side. Mal d'archive intends to question the archive in new and productive ways by subjecting it to a rigorous scrutiny that, in its attention to the historical origins of the word archive, is only superficially etymological. These opening sections of "Archive Fever," where arkhe loses contact with the literal, everyday meaning of "archive," are the ones that have been most taken up and commented on, in the English-speaking world, since 1995.

Derrida originally delivered the English-language version of Mal d'archive on a major occasion of what many have come to call (after him) "archivization," and this setting goes some way toward answering the question: "What is an archive doing here?" His comments about the archon's home that stored the archive, "this domestication ... this house arrest [in which] archives take place ...," were made in the Freud House, in Maresfield Gardens in North London. Here, in June 1994, Derrida contributed what was then called "The Concept of the Archive: A Freudian Impression" to the international conference "Memory: The Question of Archives," which was held under the auspices of the Société Internationale d'Histoire de la Psychiatrie et de la Psychoanalyse and the Freud Museum. On that occasion, in that house, Derrida looked up from the word-processed text from which he read (he makes much in "Archive Fever" of the "little portable Macintosh on which I have begun to write" [22]) and said:

It is thus ... that archives take place ... This place where they dwell permanently, marks this institutional passage from the private to the public ... It is what is happening, right here, when a house, the Freuds' last house, becomes a museum: the passage from one institution to another. (10)

The immediacy of that archive—an archive in process, taking place at that moment—forces a beginning to a conference presentation and a book at the same time as it reiterates arguments that Derrida has been making for thirty years about the Western obsession with finding beginnings, starting places, and origins. The etymological aspects of its opening pages are presented with the certainty that a word (archive, arkhe, arkheion, archon) can never be a beginning but rather is always the mark of the empty place between the thing and its representation. The word—any word—is the mark, or at least the very best and simplest example we can have, of the impossibility of finding the beginning of anything. It is the sad knowledge that presence can never be expressed in writing—that presence can never, indeed, be expressed at all. Derrida opens "Archive Fever" with the clearest of statements that words are never a beginning, never an origin: "Let us not begin at the beginning," he said, "nor even at the archive. But rather at the word 'archive.'" What "archive" is doing there then, at all, is the work of meditating thus on starting places, on beginnings, the search for which, because it is impossible, Derrida names as a sickness, a movement toward death. Moreover, to want to make an archive in the first place is to want to repeat, and one of Freud's clearest lessons was that the compulsion to repeat is the drive toward death.

We are often told to note the rhetorical structure of Derrida's philosophical writing as being as important as its argument, but the structure of "Archive Fever" is odd indeed. In a quite calculated way, it refuses to begin its discussion of beginnings, for all the world as if it were a primer offering lessons in the principle of deferral. We have (in the English-language version) something untitled, which is an introduction (three pages). We then have an "exergue," which occupies eight pages. This exergue is—possibly—an object lesson in the reading practice we have learned from Derrida. He comments on it, on his own use of "a proven convention" that "plays with citation" and that gives both order and orders to what follows. "What is at issue here," he says, "starting with the exergue, is the violence of the archive itself, as archive, as archival violence" (12). In fact, there are three exergues, numbered and laid out as separate sections. Then there are a preamble (three pages), a foreword (twenty-six pages), theses (three of them, occupying seven pages in total), and anally a postscript (two pages). There is always trouble in getting started and finished.

The foreword carries the main argument, about Freud's Jewishness and the contribution of Jewish thought to the idea of the archive, via psychoanalysis. The archive is a record of the past at the same time as it points to the future. The grammatical tense of the archive is thus the future perfect, "when it will have been." Perhaps, says Derrida, Freud's contribution to any theory of the archive is that there isn't one: that no storehouse, especially not the psychoanalytic archive of the human psyche, holds the records of an original experience to which we may return. Psychoanalysis has been responsible for some of this trouble with archives, for it wants to get back: it manifests a desire for origins, to and the place where things started before the regime of repetition and representation was inaugurated.

In the French book version of "Archive Fever" there is also inserted a loose-leaf notice that is three pages long, headed "Prière d'insérer" (in my library copy it is placed behind the title page and before the explanatory note about the Freud Museum conference). This makes much clearer than can be done in English the questions of social evil with which Derrida deals. In these three pages, the sickness of the archive is also and at the same time an archive of disaster and destruction; indeed, (for the French mal does not mince its meaning) it is an archive of evil.

Les désastres qui marquent cette an de millénaire, ce sont aussi des archives du mal: dissimulées ou détruites, interdites, détournées, "refoulées." Leur traitement est à la fois massif et rafané au cours de guerres civiles ou internationales, de manipulations privées ou secrètes.

Derrida broods here on revisionist histories that have been written out of these archives of evil (and out of archives in general), on never giving up on the hope of getting proof of the past, even though documentary evidence may be locked away and suppressed. He emphasizes again the institution of archives as the expression of state power. He appears to urge a distinction between actual archives (ofacial places for the reception of records, with systems of storage, organization, cataloging) and what we all too frequently reduce them to: memory, the desire for origins, "la recherche du temps perdu." "Prière d'insérer" also makes plainer the relationship between psychoanalysis and archival practice that is explored in the main text. Psychoanalysis ought to revolutionize archival questions, dealing as it does with the repression and reading of records and the privileged place it gives to all forms of inscription. Above all, this brief insertion makes it clear that Derrida will deal not only with a feverish—sick—search for origins, not only with archives of evil, but with "le mal radical," with evil itself. The two intertwined threads of argument to follow in the main body of the text, about psychoanalysis and Yerushalmi's questioning of Freud's Jewishness, underpin a history of the twentieth century that is indeed a history of horror. To say the very least, if you read in English, without the insert and with the restricted, monovalent, archaic—and, because archaic, faintly comic—"fever" of the English translation, rather than with "mal" (trouble, misfortune, pain, hurt, sickness, wrong, sin, badness, evil ...), you will read rather differently from a reader of the French version.

Actually, quite apart from all of this, archive fever comes on at night, long after the archive has shut for the day. Typically, the fever—more accurately, the precursor fever—starts in the early hours of the morning, in the bed of a cheap hotel, when the historian cannot get to sleep. You cannot get to sleep because you lie so narrowly in an attempt to avoid contact with anything that isn't shielded by sheets and pillowcase. The first sign, then, is an excessive attention to the bed, an irresistible anxiety about the hundreds who have slept there before you, leaving their dust and debris in the fibers of the blankets, greasing the surface of the heavy, slippery counterpane. The sheets are clean, and the historian is clean, because obsessive washing and bathing must punctuate any visit to the archives, which are the filthiest of places. But the dust of others, and of other times, alls the room, settles on the carpet, marks out the sticky passage from bed to bathroom.


Excerpted from Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory Copyright © 2006 by University of Michigan . Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Preface and Acknowledgments....................vii
"Something She Called a Fever": Michelet, Derrida, and Dust (Or, in the Archives with Michelet and Derrida) Carolyn Steedman....................4
The Problem of Publicité in the Archives of Second Empire France Jennifer S. Milligan....................20
Not Dragon at the Gate but Research Partner: The Reference Archivist as Mediator Kathleen Marquis....................36
Between Veneration and Loathing: Loving and Hating Documents James M. O'Toole....................43
Archiving/Architecture Kent Kleinman....................54
"Records of Simple Truth and Precision": Photography, Archives, and the Illusion of Control Joan M. Schwartz....................61
Out of the Closet and into the Archives? German Jewish Papers Atina Grossmann....................89
German Jewish Archives in Berlin and New York: Three Generations after the Fact Frank Mecklenburg....................101
Medieval Archivists as Authors: Social Memory and Archival Memory Patrick Geary....................106
The Question of Access: The Right to Social Memory versus the Right to Social Oblivion Inge Bundsgaard....................114
Past Imperfect (l'imparfait): Mediating Meaning in Archives of Art Nancy Ruth Bartlett....................121
An Artifact by Any Other Name: Digital Surrogates of Medieval Manuscripts Stephen G. Nichols....................134
The Panoptical Archive Eric Ketelaar....................144
Archival Representation Elizabeth Yakel....................151
Remembering the Future: Appraisal of Records and the Role of Archives in Constructing Social Memory Terry Cook....................169
Creating a National Information System in a Federal Environment: Some Thoughts on the Canadian Archival Information Network Laura Millar....................182
Archives, Heritage, and History David Lowenthal....................193
How Privatization Turned Britain's Red Telephone Kiosk into an Archive of the Welfare State Patrick Wright....................207
Archives: Particles of Memory or More? Joan van Albada....................215
Lookin' for a Home: Independent Oral History Archives in Italy Alessandro Portelli....................219
The Public Controversy over the Kennedy Memorabilia Project Robert M. Adler....................225
Classiaed Federal Records and the End of the Cold War: The Experience of the Assassination Records Review Board William L. Joyce....................237
"Just a Car": The Kennedy Car, the Lincoln Chair, and the Study of Objects Judith E. Endelman....................245
Memories of Colonization: Commemoration, Preservation, and Erasure in an African Archive Frederick Cooper....................257
Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance: On the Content in the Form Ann Laura Stoler....................267
The Provincial Archive as a Place of Memory: Confronting Oral and Written Sources on the Role of Former Slaves in the Cuban War of Independence (1895–98) Rebecca J. Scott....................280
Maroons in the Archives: The Uses of the Past in the French Caribbean Laurent Dubois....................291
Redemption's Archive: Remembering the Future in a Revolutionary Past Paul K. Eiss....................301
Documenting South Africa's Liberation Movements: Engaging the Archives at the University of Fort Hare Brian Williams and William K. Wallach....................321
"The Gift of One Generation to Another": The Real Thing for the Pepsi Generation Ian E. Wilson....................333
Social History, Public Sphere, and National Narratives: The Social Origins of Valencian Regional Imaginary in Nineteenth-Century Spain Mónica Burguera....................343
The Inbuence of Politics on the Shaping of the Memory of States in Western Europe (France) Paule René-Bazin....................353
The Role of the Swiss Federal Archives during Recent Politico-Historical Events and Crises Christoph Graf....................361
Television Archives and the Making of Collective Memory: Nazism and World War II in Three Television Blockbusters of German Public Television Wulf Kansteiner....................368
Revolution in the Archives of Memory: The Founding of the National Diet Library in Occupied Japan Leslie Pincus....................382
The New Masters of Memory: Libraries, Archives, and Museums in Postcommunist Bosnia-Herzegovina Robert J. Donia....................393
Writing Home in the Archive: "Refugee Memory" and the Ethnography of Documentation Penelope Papailias....................402
Qing Statesmen, Archivists, and Historians and the Question of Memory Beatrice S. Bartlett....................417
The Role of Archives in Chinese Society: An Examination from the Perspective of Access Du Mei....................427
Archives and Histories in Twentieth-Century China William C. Kirby....................436
Archives and Historical Writing: The Case of the Menshevik Party in 1917 Ziva Galili....................443
Russian History: Is It in the Archives? Abby Smith....................451
Archiving Heteroglossia: Writing Reports and Controlling Mass Culture under Stalin Serhy Yekelchyk....................459
Ethnicity, Memory, and Violence: Rebections on Special Problems in Soviet and East European Archives Jeffrey Burds....................466
Hesitations at the Door to an Archive Catalog Vladimir Lapin....................480
The Historian and the Source: Problems of Reliability and Ethics Boris V. Ananich....................490
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