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This week, our readings examined the idea of the “archive”–its meaning as an institution and as a social formation, ways to expand what constitutes an archive, and, consequently, how to move away from the colonial archive. I am struck by the effort to trace the “archive” back to (and subsequently disentangle it from) its ancient eurocentric roots, and the impact that redefining or reconstructing the archive might have on the production of knowledge. In The Reorder of Things Roderick Ferguson begins his work by citing Derrida’s theory that the word “archive” comes from the Greek arkheion, meaning the residence of those who commanded. To this, I add that we can break down the word even further to arkh, the Greek word that can mean magistracy, but also can mean power or sovereignty in a more general sense, as well as origin, beginning and foundation.

Ferguson and Romeo Guzmán (our guest this week) both problematize and expand upon what constitutes an archive. Ferguson defines the archive as, “a diverse assemblage of documents…coordinated so that they may articulate an ideal unity,” illustrating that the archive acts as a model  for finding “unity with the reality of heterogeneity,” or e pluribus unum (Ferguson 19). From this, he shows how, in the university, the inclusion of interdisciplinary studies in the sixties and seventies–while embracing diversity– is an institutionalizing and “archiving” project (Ferguson 36). Guzmán, in his blog post “Unofficial Archives: Crafting History from Family Documents & Material Culture” discusses how he worked with students to create new historical narratives by using primary sources found in “unofficial” family archives, which I hope to hear more about in discussion this week.

The question that rethinking the archive rises for my own research is, how to respond when a specific archive–or indeed the whole notion of archive–is perceived as a threat and is thus met with violence and erasure? My project deals with this very issue–the destruction of archives in Syria because they are perceived as centers of secular and imperial knowledge. The violent break away from the (de)colonial projects preserving the ancient past is, for these militant groups, an attempt to rewrite and reestablish official historical narratives and reject other dominant histories. As scholars invested in the preservation and production of knowledge, even in the attempt to address issues of colonialism and the archive, what is the responsible reaction? What lessons, if any, can the destruction of sites in Syria provide scholars interested in moving away from the colonial archive?