Archiving – Method of Political Accountability

By | September 16, 2014

Last week’s visit to the new york Municipal Archive was an eye opening experience for me. It was an opportunity to actively engage with the process of archiving and see how it is relevant in today’s society. To begin with I had always considered archiving to be akin with the arts and literature, an archive to be assimilated with the gallery or library as a collection of cultural items long forgotten or passed over. The introduction to the archive as a society’s collective memory was as such a profound idea to take in, but was definitely best framed within the context of a political archive.  A municipal archive as an extensive collection and restoration of important historical artefacts that heavily contribute to the modern ideology of political accountability and responsibility definitely questions how we perceive what an archive is and what they represent, and rasises some questions such as the ones below;
How do politicians act knowing that every piece of paper they see and use will be collected? What can we learn from their notes and annotations on already interesting articles of information? Is there an omnipresent consideration in the running and management of a political office in regards to the knowledge of municipal archives? If so, how are these systems represented within that environment?
These questions are the tip of the iceberg in considering the implications relevant to the arching of political and municipal documents, and represent the basic level of depth with which the study of archives exists today.
The paper on colonial archives by Ann Laura Stoler poses some interesting questions on the power of the archive in reference to it’s technological capacity in the late 19th century. How does the idiom ‘Knowledge is power’ translate into the profession or ownership of archives? She also proposes that the study of archives should turn from treating the archive merely as the source but instead as the object. This in turn implies in my opinion questions of bias, authorship and responsibility. If the archive is an object, who is responsible for it’s construction? What method do they use to construct and/or deconstruct it?
As we begin to look further into these topics I will be interested to explore how we can understand more about the process of archiving, and what it means for us as a society.
Oliver Bolton – 9/16/14

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