Archives: The Promise of the Present to the Future

“…the archive affirms the past, present, and the future: it preserves the records of the past and it embodies the promise of the present to the future.”

-Marlene Manoff

The archive is a liaison between the past, the present, and the future.  It serves to communicate and preserve generations of knowledge. However, as archives change from carefully selected, prestigious collections of historical records kept in museums and libraries to digital formats, the avenue of communication between all points in time and the preservation of important historical characters and events changes drastically. The destruction of national archives, museums, and libraries has always been viewed as a type of cultural tragedy. When these stocks of historical artifacts are violently excised from their archives, so is the evidence of the memory the represent. But, war and conflict are not the only source of archival excisions. Plagiarism, faulty data, and even the fear of upsetting a group can lend to retractions and excisions from archives. Manoff describes that, “Such excisions become increasingly problematic as we come to depend upon a digital record… in the print world, publishers do not have the ability to remove articles from the archive once they have distributed copies of a paper journal.”

The possibility of redaction among archives raises questions like, who controls what information is archived? What belongs in an archive? And what efforts should be taken to preserve both physical and digital archives?

Along this line of thought Manoff says, ““Scholars are raising questions about what counts as knowledge and what are appropriate objects of study in specific disciplines. One way these issues are framed is as a question about what legitimately belongs in the archive.” She goes on to describe how the information that is archived is then the information that is available for research and studies in the future. Should this information be of the utmost prestige and quality? Or should this information represent a much broader spectrum of the present day culture?

Judith Halberstam argues for the “Silly Archive” claiming that,  “When people want to think differently they actually have to use a) a different archive, and b) different concepts.” This argument supports including documents such as cartoons, video games, and other non-traditional sources into the archives. IN addition Halberstam argues that such archives,  “are open texts, in the sense that the do not come with a readymade theory already embedded within them.”

Archives are a crucial form of communication between different periods of time. Both Manoff and Halberstam make valuable arguments for the modernization and opening of the archives to include a broader spectrum of formats and information. This broadening will aid in providing more sources for discussion, research, and study in the future.



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