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Archives and Memory


  • Credit value: 30 credits at Level 7
  • Convenor and tutor: Dr Joseph John Viscomi
  • Assessment: a 5000-5500-word essay including essay plan, analysis of primary source material and analysis of repository, archive or place of storage (100%)

Module description

What counts as an archive? How have scholars and theorists of history understood the material bases of historical sources? Have these concepts changed in tandem with political, social and environmental transformations? Can our everyday landscapes be read as historical archives? What are the archives of the future?

This module explores these questions, and others, by interrogating the history of archives and by considering problematics raised in archivisation practices and theories. We will cover repositories of historical knowledge as well as a range of disciplinary perspectives on what constitutes an archive, and why. We will also consider broader historical processes: from state formation, bureaucracy and empire to decolonisation, and from migration and displacement to environmental change. Moreover, we address how different materials function as sources of the past: from intimate collections, photographs and artefacts to orality and the very landscapes we inhabit and, at times, abandon and leave to waste. Finally, we will consider the future of archives in light of ongoing and anticipated changes in the world around us.

Indicative syllabus

  • History of the archive, premodern origins
  • Seeing archives like an anthropologist
  • Institutionalising archives: bureaucracy, the state and empire
  • Post-imperial and decolonised archives
  • On absence: dealing with archival silences
  • Intimate practices: families, communities and photographs
  • Orality as/in archives
  • Objects and landscapes as archives
  • Abandonment, rubbish and waste: forgotten archives?
  • Archival futures/Archives of the future

Learning objectives

By the end of this module, you will:

  • have understanding and familiarity with historical and contemporary debates about archives and their meanings
  • be aware of key disciplinary and historical differences in archiving practices and theories
  • have a sophisticated awareness of the kinds of sources (oral, documentary, material objects) that have been used in historical work
  • have skills to differentiate what types of materials might serve as potential sources for historical analysis
  • be able to apply your knowledge of source typologies to historical writing and critical interpretation
  • be able to situate changing histories of archival practices within broader local, transnational and global processes.