The Growing Influence of Popular Culture in the Archive

In “Theories of the Archive From Across Disciplines,” Manoff poses the question of what should be considered part of the archive. She argues that because society is always changing, with new events taking place and ideas being expanded upon, the archival landscape is always changing as well. The archive, Manoff says, is shaped by social, political, and cultural events. It is not necessarily an accurate historical record, but rather an interpretation of past events, often recorded with some sort of bias. If this is true, then the collection of what can legitimately be included in society’s archive can include anything from academic literature to pop cultural phenomena. Manoff’s examination of the archive mostly concerns its effect on scholarly research, especially historical and sociological research. Her essay fosters a debate on what “constitutes [the disciplines’] legitimate objects of study” (page 11). While she does not completely discredit the idea of popular culture as part of the archive, she is less concerned with its theory than with its effect on the archive as a whole.

Halberstam’s thoughts expressed in her interview read like a response to Manoff’s question. She argues that anything, even something that seems “silly” or trivial, can and should be analyzed as part of the archive. “Contrary epistemologies,” or new and unconventional ways of examining things, are just as important as serious knowledge because there is not a lot of theory about them that already exists. While Manoff suggests that the archive be considered primarily in the scholarly sense, such as the archives of libraries and universities, Halberstam has a much more liberal view of what can be studied as “legitimate theory.”

Both theorists, although they examine the concept of knowledge through different lenses, seem to agree that knowledge is constantly expanding and can be shaped by social outlooks and events, including popular culture. My question is this: what will the growing trend of popular culture analysis mean for the archive as a whole? Will theory about popular culture, such as the pieces Halberstam examines in her book, have an effect on the historical archive and inter-disciplinary research that Manoff examines in her essay?

– J.E.B.

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About J.E.B.

Six years ago I moved across the state to attend the University of Pittsburgh. I fell in love with this place and this city. But this blog is a little bit more than that - it's for all the people like me, who have passion and a thirst for exploration but don't totally know where they're going. I'm just trying to navigate my way. Life is an adventure, and this is my travel log.

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