Monday, September 13, 2010

Archive Stories edited by Antoinette Burton~★★★★★

Editor: Antoinette Burton
Title: Archive Stories: Facts, Fiction, and the Writing of History
Release Date: December 30th, 2005
Publisher: Duke University Press
Genre: Non-fiction

Book Cover: "Despite the importance of archives to the profession of history, there is very little writing about actual encounters with them---about the effect that the researcher's race, gender, or class may have on her experience within them or about the impact that archival surveillance, architecture, or bureaucracy might have on the histories that are ultimately written. This provocative collection initiates a vital conversation about how archive around the world are constructed, policed, manipulated, and experienced. It challenges the claims to objectivity associated with the traditional archive by telling stories that illuminate its power to shape the narratives that are 'found' there.
Archive Stories brings together ethnographies of the archival world, most of which are written by historians. Some contributors recount their own experiences. One offers a moving reflection on how the relative wealth and prestige of Western researchers can gain them entry to collections such as Uzbekistan's newly formed Central State Archive, which severely limits the access of Uzbeck researchers. Others explore the genealogies of specific archives, from one of the most influential archival institutions in the modern West, the Archives national in Paris, to the significant archives of the Bakunin family in Russia, which were saved largely through the efforts of one family member. Still others explore the impact of current events on the analysis of particular archives. A contributor tells of researching the 1976 Soweto riots in the politically charged atmosphere of the early 1990s, just as apartheid in South Africa was coming to an end. A number of essays question what counts as an archive---and what counts as history---as they consider oral histories, cyberspace, fiction, and plans for streets and buildings that were never built, for histories that never materialized." 

Taryn's Review: What do you think of when you think of an archive? For me, I used to think of a dusty old room in the back of a library, filled with various collections, and being helped by a nice old librarian lady. When I went to my undergraduate university, they built a brand new archive in their brand new library, which was a small, quiet room with tables and chairs. It had some shelves housing some old books and things and it had a collection room where the librarians housed much of the collections (and the space was very specially climate-controlled). That was about it as far as my thoughts on archives went.

This book really opened my eyes to how much the archive is shaped by people, places, and things, just like so much of history. What if the archivist won't let you have access to a collection you know the library has? It happened. What if archivists dissuaded you from your topic because in the country's culture where the archive is, it isn't "right" for a woman to be studying such a thing? It happened. What if a country completely denied a certain part of their history and eliminated sources and barred access to any material that contradicted that belief? Again, it happened.

One of my favorite essays in the book was by Adele Perry and her work, "The Colonial Archive on Trial: Possession, Dispossession, and History in Delgamuukw vs. British Columbia." It presented the question of oral sources---are they archives, are they legitimate sources and can oral sources be used as evidence in court? A native tribe without a written history sued British Columbia for their rights to take back their land and presented their oral history in court. It was a really fascinating read.

There are many different essays that cover an array of topics. I really enjoyed his book as well as the predicaments and questions it raised. History fans, researchers, and library lovers might really find themselves enveloped in this work.

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