Turn the Source into a Problem
Posted on May 20, 2013
In my previous post on the Global Archivalities Research Network, I described the recent virtual conference and the range of topics discussed. The concept of addressing the “social logics” of the archive was compelling, and it helps to reframe the discourse involving archival studies as one of complexity and imagination.
Another interesting concept, presented at the virtual conference by Dr. Filippo De Vivo, was “to turn the source into the problem.” By this, De Vivo meant to consider how the abundance and variety of archives across the globe could be a point of convergence rather than a point of apprehension. Instead of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the task, scholars should move even further into the myriad dynamics of archival networks, considering multiple agencies and pathways despite a lack of clear boundaries.
De Vivo considered this move toward an even more open concept of the archive as a strategy used successfully by historians of the book. By “enlarging the scope of the research” historians of the book, as noted by De Vivo, were able to create a field of research that was wide enough and inclusive enough to contain within itself multiple dimensions of study. In this case, relevance comes not from precisely describing the task at hand within certain academic limits, but instead by motioning to the immensity of the task and welcoming new interpretations. Indeed, this is the direction that Global Archivalities is taking by considering what might be referred to as non-traditional archives, non-archived archives, and archives outside of state control.
At our recent Material Cultures of the Book meeting at UCR, we discussed some of these very issues regarding archives, but in the frame of book history. The title of Heather Van Mouwerik’s post about this gathering, “Fixity in an Ephemeral Meeting,” speaks to the problem of defining books or texts with any concrete sense. However, rather than falling into a pit of despair we concentrated on the possibilities of research, and how the concept of the book itself can be a point of study.