The Legitimacy and Knowledge of the Archive

When you hear someone call a piece of literature a ‘classic’ you get a sense that it will give you a sort of elevated knowledge. In the same way, libraries have millions of educational outlets of knowledge of all kinds, all of which are associated with credibility. As Judith Halberstam says, “And the great tradition is actually just a tradition, and you can kind of never say that enough in academia, because it seems to be a default mode in the academic world or in the academic consciousness forming the canon.”

Nowadays, you can find more than just classical text in the library – you can find cooking books, comic books, health and wellness books, etc. Knowledge has evolved beyond classical texts and branched out into many disciplines. In the same paragraph, she says, “Even today, we see this, and it is a very difficult thing to avoid, because you try to make sense of a lot of different text.” We have to sort through all the information we receive daily (think of how many emails you get a day!) and recognize the difference between forms of knowledge. From Facebook to popular culture magazines, how can we sift through knowledge and classify it as legitimate?

Marlene Manoff talks about the transparency of the archive and what “legitimately constitutes the archive.” Over time, it has become more difficult to definitively describe something as an archive. The evolution of a particular archive weathers time and will never truly be the full record of the archive. “Whatever the archive contains is already a reconstruction – a recording of history from a particular perspective.”

Reminiscent of the telephone game, the longer and more frequently you pass on the archive; tiny changes become evident and result in a transformation of that archive – it is almost identical, but slightly different. These transformations result in a an evolution of knowledge, and, in turn, a transformation of any given archive in relation to time and changing culture. If changes are inevitable, can new archives have the same associations of legitimacy that past archives have? Do changes in what we consider knowledge (popular culture) question the legitimacy of what is defined as an archive?




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