Anthropologists engaged in post-colonial studies are increasingly adopting an historical perspective and using archives. Yet their archival activity tends to remain more an extractive than an ethnographic one. Documents are thus still invoked piecemeal to confirm the colonial invention of certain practices or to underscore cultural claims, silent. Yet such mining of thecontent of government commissions, reports, and other archival sources rarely pays attention to their peculiar placement andform. Scholars need to move from archive-assource to archive-as-subject. This article, using document production in the Dutch East Indies as an illustration, argues that scholars should view archives not as sites of knowledge retrieval, but of knowledge production, as monuments of states as well as sites of state ethnography. This requires a sustained engagement with archives as cultural agents of “fact” production, of taxonomies in the making, and of state authority. What constitutes the archive, what form it takes, and what systems of classification and epistemology signal at specific times are (and reflect) critical features of colonial politics and state power. The archive was the supreme technology of the late nineteenth-century imperial state, a repository of codified beliefs that clustered (and bore witness to) connections between secrecy, the law, and power.
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Michel Foucault, “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History”, in Daniel Bouchard (ed.),Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews by Michel Foucault (Ithaca: Cornell University Press  1977), p. 139.
On the “historic turn,” see the introduction to Terrence J. McDonald (ed.),The Historic Turn in the Human Sciences (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966). This essay represents a condensed version of Chapter 1 from my book in progress,Along the Archival Grain (Princeton: Princeton University Press). Parts of it are based on the 1996 Lewis Henry Morgan Lectures delivered at the University of Rochester entitled “Ethnography in the Archives: Movements on the Historic Turn.” A different version of this piece appears in Carolyn Hamilton (ed.),Refiguring the Archive (forthcoming).
E.E. Evans-Pritchard, “Social Anthropology: Past and Present, The Marett Lecture, 1950”,Social Anthropology and Others Essays (New York: Free Press, 1951) p. 152 Claude Levi-Strauss,The Savage Mind (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1966), p. 256.
For some sense of the range of different agendas of the current “historic turn,” see Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner (eds.),Culture, Power, History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press,  1994), Terrence J. McDonald (ed.),The Historic Turn in the Human Sciences (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996); specifically on history in the anthropological imagination, see Gerald Sider and Gavin Smith (eds.),Between History and Histories: The Making of Silences and Commemorations (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1997). Also see Richard Fox's “For a Nearly New Culture History”, in Richard G. Fox (ed.),Recapturing Anthropology: Working in the Present (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1991), pp. 93–114, and James Faubion, “History in Anthropology”,Annual Review of Anthropology 22 (1993): 35–54.
See for example, the introductions to and essays in Nicholas Dirks (ed.),Colonialism and Culture (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1992) and in Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (eds.),Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
See “Genealogies of the Intimate”, in Ann Laura Stoler and Frederick Cooper (eds.),Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
See Michel de Certeau, “The Historiographic Operation” (1974), inThe Writing of History (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988).
On archives in relationship to popular memory, see Richard Price,Convict and the Colonel: A Story of Colonialism and Resistance in the Caribbean (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998); Luise White,Speaking with Vampires: Rumor and History in Colonial Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000); Ann Laura Stoler and Karen Strassler, “Castings for the Colonial: Memory Work in ‘New Order’ Java”,Comparative Studies in Society and History 42(1) (2000): 4–48, and the references therein.
On the power of images in the making of colonial rule, see Elizabeth Edwards, guest editor, “Anthropology and Colonial Endeavour”, inThe History of Photography 21(1) (Spring 1997).
E.E. Evans-Pritchard,Anthropology and History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1961), p. 5.
See Carlo Ginzburg,Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University, 1989).
Bernard Cohn, “History and Anthropology: The State of Play”,Comparative Studies in Society and History 22(2) (1980): 198–221.
On the trips to archives as “feats of [male] prowess” in nineteenth-century middle-class culture, see Bonnie G. Smith, “Gender and the Practices of Scientific History: The Seminar and Archival Research in the Nineteenth-Century”,American Historical Review 100(4–5) (1995): 1150–1176.
Ranajit Guha, “The Proses of Counter-Insurgency”, in Nicholas B. Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner (eds.),Culture, Power, History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory (Princeton: Princeton University Press,  1994), pp. 336–371. Greg Dening,The Death of William Gooch: A History's Anthropology (Honolulu: Hawaii University Press, 1995), p. 54.
Carlo Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm”, inClues, Myths and the Historical Method Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), pp. 96–125.
David William Cohen,Burying SM: The Politics of Knowledge and the Sociology of Power in Africa (Portsmouth, NH: Heineman, 1992).
Joanne Rappaport,Cumbe Reborn: An Andean Ethnography of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994). Also see the contributions to Sarah Nuttall and Carli Coetzee (eds.),Negotiating the Past: The Making of Memory in South Africa (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1998).
See Andrew Ashforth,The Politics of Official Discourse in Twentieth-Century South Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 5.
—, 1988 ), p. 75.
A phrase used by Jane Sherron De Hart to underscore the “problematics of evidence” in contemporary historical reconstruction: see “Oral Sources and Contemporary History: Dispelling Old Assumptions”,Journal of American History (September 1993), p. 582.
Jacques Derrida,Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995).
Natalie Zemon Davis,Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1987) Thomas Richards,The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire (London: Verso, 1993); Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria,Myth and Archive: A Theory of Latin American Narrative (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Sonia Coombe,Archives Interdites: Les peurs françaises face à l'Histoire contemporaine (Paris: Albin Michel, 1994). See also Dominick LaCapra, “History, Language, and Reading”,American Historical Review 100.3 (June 1995): 807, where he also notes that the “problem of reading in the archives has increasingly become a concern of those doing archival research.”
See, for example, Greg Dening,The Death of William Gooch: A History's Anthropology (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995).
Michel-Rolph Trouillot,Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995)The Combing of History (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994).
Bonnie G. Smith, “Gender and the Practices of Scientific History”,American Historical Review 100(4–5) (1995): 1150–1176.
On the history of archives and how archivists have though about it, see Ernst Posner's classic essay, “Some Aspects of Archival Development since the French Revolution”, in Maygene Daniels and Timothy Walch (eds.),A Modern Archives Reader (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Record Service,  1984), pp. 3–21; Michel Duchein, “The History of European Archives and the Development of the Archival Profession in Europe”,American Archivist 55 (Winter 1992): 14–25; and Terry Cook, “What is Past is Prologue: A History of Archival Ideas Since 1898, and the Future Paradigm Shift”,Archivaria 43 (Spring 1997): 17–63.
See, for example, Richard Berner,Archival Theory and Practice in the United States: An Historical Analysis (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1983) Kenneth E. Foote, “To Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture”,American Archivist 53(3) (1990): 378–393; Terry Cook, “Mind over Matter: Towards a New Theory of Archival Appraisal”, in Barbara Craig (ed.),The Archival Imagination: Essays in Honour of Hugh A. Taylor (Ottawa: Association of Canadian Archivists, 1992), pp. 38–69; James M. O'Toole, “On the Idea of Uniqueness”,American Archivist 57(4) (1994): 632–659. For some sense of the changes in how archivists themselves have framed their work over the last fifteen years, see many of the articles inThe American Archivist andArchivaria.
Terry Cook, “Electronic Records, Paper Minds: The Revolution in Information Management and Archives in the Post-Custodial and Post-Modernist Era”,Archives and Manuscripts 22(2) (1994): 300–329.
This metaphoric move is most evident in contributions to the two special issues ofHistory of the Human Sciences devoted to “The Archive”, 11(4) (November 1998) and 12(2) (May 1999). Derrida's valorization of “the archive” as imaginary and metaphor predominates both. On the archive as metaphor, also see Allan Sekula. “The Body and the Archive”,October 39 (Winter 1986): 3–64.
Michel Foucault, “The Statement and the Archive”,The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language, especially Part III (1972), pp. 79–134.
See, for example, Patrick Geary,Phantoms of Remembrance: Memory and Oblivion a the End of the First Millennium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), especially “Archival Memory and the Destruction of the Past”, pp. 81–114.
Ian Hacking,The Taming of Chance (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990); Steven Shapin,A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994); Mary Poovey,A History of the Modern Fact: Problems of Knowledge in the Sciences of Wealth and Society (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1998); Alain Desrosières,The Politics of Large Numbers: A History of Statistical Reasoning (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998); Silvana Patriarca,Numbers and Nationhood: Writing Statistics in Nineteenth-Century Italy (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998). On the power of “suasive utterance” in the making of scientific truth-claims, see Christopher Norris, “Truth, Science, and the Growth of Knowledge”,New Left Review 210 (1995): 105–123; and Benedict Anderson, “Census, Map, Museum”, in the revised second edition ofImagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1991), pp. 163–186.
Anthony Grafton,The Footnote: A Curious History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997).
Carlo Ginzburg,The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller (London: Penguin, 1982) pp. xvii, xviii.
Davis,, 1987, p. 4.
Derrida,—, 1995, p. 4.
Michel-Rolph Trouillot,—, 1995, p. 55.
Nicholas B. Dirks, “Colonial Histories and Native Informants: Biography of an Archive”, in Carol A. Breckenridge and Peter van der Veer (eds.),Orientalism and the Postcolonial Predicament: Perspectives on South Asia (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993), pp. 279–313.
Christopher Bayly,Empire and Information: Intelligence Gathering and Social Communication in India, 1780–1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
Ann Laura Stoler, “In Cold Blood: Hierarchies of Credibility and the Politics of Colonial Narratives”,Representations 37 (1992): 151–189.
See Michel Foucault, “The Statement and the Archive”,The Archaeology of Knowledge, pp. 79–134.
Richards,—, 1993, p. 11.
Echevvaria,—, 1990, p. 30.
Thus for Thomas Richards, Hilton'sLost Horizon and Kipling'sKim are entries in a Victorian archive that was the “prototype for a global system of domination through circulation, an apparatus for controlling territory by producing, distributing and consuming information about it.”
This link between state power and what counts as history was long ago made by Hegel inThe Philosophy of History, as Hayden White points out: “It is only the state which first presents subject-matter that is not only adapted to the prose of History, but involves the production of such history in the very progress of its own being.” See Hayden White,The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1987), p. 12.
See Echevvaria—, (1990), p. 31, for a detailed etymology of the term.
See White,—, 1987, especially, pp. 26–57.
On this point, see Trouillot, 1995. On the relationship between state formation and archival production, see Duchein (1992), cited above.
See my “Racial Histories and Their Regimes of Truth”,Political Power and Social Theory 11 (1997): 183–255.
For a more detailed account of these changes in research agenda, see the new preface to myCapitalism and Confrontation in Sumatra's Plantation, 1870–1979 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995).
I discuss some of these issues in “Perceptions of Protest: Defining the Dangerous in Colonial Sumatra”,American Ethnologist 12(4) (1985):642–658.
For a recent and sophisticated version of this culling project, see Shahid Amin,Event, Metaphor, Memory: 1922–1992 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
See the introduction, “Genealogies of the Intimate”, in myCarnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002).
See my “Sexual Affronts and Racial Frontiers”,Comparative Studies in Society and History 34 (3) (1992): 514–551.
See J. Chandler, A. Davidson, and H. Harootunian (eds.),Questions of Evidence: Proof, Practice and Persuasion across the Disciplines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).
See Fanny Colonna, “Educating Conformity in French Colonial Algeria”, in Frederick Cooper and Ann Laura Stoler (eds.),Tensions of Empire (1997), pp. 346–370.
Christopher Bayly,Empire and Information 1996.
Foucault, 1972, “The Statement and the Archive”,The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 130.
On the administrative distinctions between the “political” and the “private”, and the “criminal” versus the “subversive,” see my “Perceptions of Protest: Defining the Dangerous in Colonial Sumatra”,American Ethnologist 12 (4) (1985): 642–658; and “Labor in the Revolution”,Journal of Asian Studies 47(2):227–247.
Paul Starr, “Social Categories and Claims in the Liberal State”, in Mary Douglas and David Hull (eds.),How Classification Works: Nelson Goodman among the Social Sciences (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1992), pp. 154–179.
Frans Husken, “Declining Welfare in Java: Government and Private Inquiries, 1903–1914,” in Robert Cribb (ed.),The Late Colonial State in Indonesia, (Leiden: KITLV, 1994), p. 213.
Ian Hacking, “How Should We Do the History of Statistics?”, in Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (eds.),The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991), p. 181.
A good example of what Ian Hacking calls “dynamic nominalism” or “the looping effect” in categorization.
I discuss the politics of colonial comparisons elsewhere and therefore will not do so here. I have used the 1902 Indies Pauperism Commission, commentaries around it, and enquiries that preceded it, in much of my writing over the last fifteen years on the construction of colonial racial categories. The South African Carnegie Commission and the enquiries that preceded it are compared in a chapter in my forthcoming book,Along the Archival Grain. A more general discussion of the politics of comparison can be found in my “Tense and Tender Ties: American History meets Postcolonial Studies,” paper delivered to the Organization of American Historians in April 2000; and in my “Beyond Comparison: Colonial Statecraft and the Racial Politics of Commensurability,” paper delivered as a keynote address to the Australian Historical Association in Adelaide, July 2000.
Students of colonialism could come up with a host of others. For an unusual example of someone who deals with the commission as a particular form of official knowledge, in this case with the South African Native Affairs Commission, see Adam Ashforth,The Politics of Official Discourse in Twentieth-Century South Africa (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990). Also see Frans Husken's discussion of the Declining Welfare Commission in Java, cited in footnote 62.
The Poor White Problem in South Africa, Report of the Carnegie Commission (Stellenbosch: Pro Ecclesia Drukkerij, 1932), p. xx.
Royal commissions have a longer history still. See, for example, David Loades, “The Royal Commissions”, inPower in Tudor England, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997), pp. 70–82. On statistics and state-building, see Alain Desrosieres, “Statistics and the State”,The Politics of Large Numbers (1998): 178–209. For the twentieth century, see William J. Breen, “Foundations, Statistics, and State-Building”,Business History Review 68 (1994): 451–482.
See Arjun Appardurai's discussion of numerical representation in colonial India as a “key to normalizing the pathology of difference”. “Number in the Colonial Imagination”Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1996), pp. 114–138.
See Gramsci's discussion of “state and civil society,” in Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Smith (eds.),Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1972), esp. 257–264; and Timothy Mitchell, “The Limits of the State”,American Political Science Review 85 (1991): 77–96.
George Simmel once wrote that “the historical development of society is in many respects characterized by the fact that what at an earlier time was manifest enters the protection of secrecy; and that, conversely, what once was a secret, no longer needs such protection but reveals itself”, in Kurt Wolff (ed.),The Sociology of George Simmel (London: Free Press, 1950), p. 331.
Algemeen Rijksarchief (The Hague) Ministerie van Koloniën. Geheim No. 1144/2284. From the Department of Justice to the Governor General, Batavia, 29 April 1873.
Algemeen Rijksarchief. Verbaal 28 March 1874, no. 47. From the Department of Justice to the Governor General.
Marc Ventresca,When States Count: Institutional and Political Dynamics in Modern Census Establishment, 1800–1993. Ph.D. thesis: Stanford University (1995), p. 50.
Jean and John Comaroff,Ethnography and the Historical Imagination (Boulder: Westview Press, 1992).
—, p. 107.
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Stoler, A.L. Colonial archives and the arts of governance. Archival Science 2, 87–109 (2002). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02435632
- colonial archives