Burton Part IIIPosted: March 7, 2011
This readings this week raise questions about the politics of the nation-state when they intersect with the archives; validity of traditional archives versus oral accounts; and the role of the archive for historians involved in public debates about the past.
Pohlandt-McCorkmick and Perry’s articles demonstrate that fundamental epistemological questions are highly volatile since they are embedded in politics and in the minds of a few officials (a justice, for example), enter the Arkheion again. Pohlandt-McCorkmick’s research was contingent upon the political shift in the 90s which allowed for greater access to state/police archival materials. Deep in the “belly of the beast” he found the unexpected: the intimate thoughts of the “subversives.” This is an excellent example of the paradox of the archive: you often find exactly what you seek in the most unexpected places. Furthermore, the more open administration after 1994 created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which fundamentally shifted the state’s epistemological philosophy by recognizing the validity or oral sources.
In contrast, Adele Perry’s analysis of the Delgamuukw v. British Columbia reveals the implications of accepting an epistemology rooted in nineteenth-century positivism. Perry concludes that
“we should move to a postcolonial practice of history–one that acknowledges and utilizes the distinctive possibilities of all archives and embraces rather than denies the interpretive challenges posed to mainstream historical methodology by the indigenous archive, alternative ways of reading the written one, and the simple admission that the ways we know the colonial past are not only multiple but necessarily and unevenly partial” (344).
Does Perry assume we all understand what “postcolonial practice of history” means? According to her analysis, post-colonial analysis simply accepts the validity of the oral tradition.
This essay also reminds me of native Californian struggles for federal recognition. In short, they are for the most part trapped in a system that only accepts a positivist epistemology (i.e. blood quanta, historical documents, and archeological data). To play the devil’s advocate, what are the dangers of relying too heavily on oral tradition?
Finally, I think both Perry and Curthoy’s both illustrate how “positivist” sources–the record written by the hand of the colonials–need to be interrogated. It should never be assumed–as did Justice McEachern and Windschulttle–that written records are inherently valid.