Today’s post comes from participant Rodney Carter. Thanks, Rodney, and if anyone else would like to write a guest post on one of the other chapters or a general topic on the book, please let me know.
Memory, identity, narrative, and dreams are all touched on in Chapter 4, “The space of memory: in an archive.” This essay* is, I believe, the most useful and interesting chapter in the book from an archival point of view as it focuses on historians’ work in archives and with records, even though, as we’ve come to expect from Dust to this point, it is a wide-ranging essay which draws on a number of varied theoretical perspectives. Here Steedman examines the (ideal) Historian working in the (idealized) Archive, walking yet again with Michelet as he reads the purloined letter and breathes in the dust of those gone before him, a necessary step in making the documents speak.
In her examination of the relationship of memory, history and the Archive, drawing on Bachelard and psychoanalysis, Steedman frames the work of historians in archives as a question of longing & appropriation (81); of finding not what is there but what they want to find, be it a sense of self, the confirmation of identity or sense (77). They go beyond the accumulation of names, dates, and other facts to ponder, imagine, dream, and create a narrative of self.
Does this search for confirmation contradict the idea of the fever-inducing thrill of discovery? Are you convinced by Steedman’s idea of the archives as a space which spurs the imagination? What do you think of the Archive as “a place of dreams” (69)?
* Originally this essay appeared in an issue of “History of the Human Sciences” devoted to “the archive” (vol. 11, no.4 [Nov 1998] http://hhs.sagepub.com/content/11/4.toc , the first of two special issues on the topic. The second is Vol 12. no 2 [May 1999] http://hhs.sagepub.com/content/12/2.toc ; both are worth having look at.)