Reversing the Archive

When Jim asked us to rethink the previous session and where Chakrabarty might open up new conversations, I suggested the archive. The archive, or more specifically the postcolonial archive, is an institution that forces us to conform to Western European ideas of progress, time, space, and how it is categorized and documented–maybe the “colonial” archive is a more fitting term after all, since archives remain spaces of European world-views. The understanding of a postcolonial archive is, in both title and essence, a hallmark to the western subjugation of colonial knowledge and viewpoint of the world. How might we then re-read Anne Stoler or Antoinette Burton? I do worry, however, that in order to reconceptualize the archive, we must first dismantle it. The archive is a bastion of western civilization and European dominance over history. Even if we are to read against the grain, subaltern world-views are lost among the ideological and material bureaucracy that plagues archives.


But, I feel that a starting point for subaltern archival research begins with thinking of the archive as a reverse system of documentation. I think that it would be beneficial for historians to reconsider Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, whereby he argues that the third world created Europe. If we are to think of colonialism in reverse, perhaps a too blunt of an approach, the exploration of the postcolonial archive may tell us more about the process of empire, and the “third world” role in creating and a/effecting Europe. While I understand this still has the label of “Europe” attached, and it offers no solution to escaping the hypperreal Europe that concerns Chrakabarty, I believe that reclamation of the archive provides a springboard for pursuing subaltern history outside of European lenses. As Chakrabarty would attest, it is not about resource exploitation or military conquest on the part of Europe, rather, in looking at the archive from the viewpoint of the colonized rather than the colonizer, it problematizes how we do European history as well as how we do the history of former European colonies.


Perhaps my analysis is not analytically deep enough. If so, I ask that you help me work through a more appropriate stance towards the postcolonial archive. 

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