Conceptualizing the archive and “archive stories”

Gosh’s experiences portray archives as “contact zones” wherein interactions with others reveals nationalist perceptions about the archive materials and new interpretations. Are the “archive stories” that emerge from these networks relevant to colonial histories or are they more useful in another form: epilogue, journal article, edited volume?  It seems to me that archive stories are most useful for a colonial history when they reflect on the methodological limits the archive creates, rather than nationalist glosses on the interpretation.  In other words, since the archive itself–as Milligan, Fritzsche, and Robertson all point out–is a deeply connected to national goals, what can archive stories tell us about history before the nation-state existed?

When are archive stories debilitating to our work?  In other words, do we have examples of historical works wherein the archive stories or ethnographic anecdotes are distracting to the work as a whole?

Barber and Berdan Part III

Worthwhile topic.  Barber and Berdan’s checklists (283) for a worthwhile topic might seem trivial but are actually really good exercise.  Regarding the criteria for a not-so-worthwhile project, the following point is important: “Is the idea interesting but unfeasible because the required data do not exist or are unavailable and cannot be gathered?”  This is a question that many fail to adequately address or discover once the sources have been explored sufficiently.  Can we think of any questions (general historical) that are not feasible because of insufficient sources?

What determines the “minor importance” of a research question and how is this mitigated by the politics of the historical enterprise today? (see page 283)


Part II Barber and Berdan, Methods

I like the point the authors make about resisting the urge to label as liars those who create documents we find to be untrue or embellished.  Using the categories of “emphasis, selection, and distortion” to analyze the “tainted” nature of sources helps us to avoid this pitfall (see pg. 164).


Visual Interpretation

B and B’s ideas on interpreting visual images was interesting.  Altogether I think they did a good job of synthesizing a vast array of perspectives and I feel that their criteria are relevant.  May I add a though I gleaned from the work of Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn who made an argument about interpreting material and visual culture (in the context of early Spanish America ethnohistory). The authors show that ethnohistorians are “programmed” to search for the pre-Hispanic indigenous elements in colonial society, making an argument for cultural persistence.  Unfortunately, many ethnohistorians forget that “hybridity” goes both ways.  For example, when building a Cathedral in Cuzco, the native Andean workers used stones from a “pagan” temple and used traditional construction methods to build the cathedral–piling up massive mounds of dirt then rolling the stones up then on rolling logs.  This example points to what Dean and Leibsohn call the “deception of visibility.”  In Mexico, native officials drew up land grants and used traditional glyphs to draw up maps.  Historians found later that a Spaniard had edited the map but used the native glyphs rather than Spanish-style iconography.  I think Dean and Leibsohn add an important insight for interpreting visual images (and any other source for that matter) by suggesting that we should no be simply looking for signs of “nativeness” but rather focuss on the mechanisms by which hybrid cultural expressions are made and enacted.  Moreover, that we tune our historical eyes to the various ways in which Europeans received and adopted new cultural practices.