A fellow student, Stephanie referred me recently to a paper on the archive which was an interesting overview of the questions I had been considering at the end of Context & Narrative. It is a surprisingly fascinating read, and the link is attached below.
Some scholars have argued that the archive functions for the humanities and social science disciplines as the laboratory functions for the sciences. Both the archive and the laboratory are sites of knowledge production.(27) Pushing this analogy further, sociologist Thomas Osborne proposes that we think of the archive as a “centre of interpretation,” similar to “courts of law, psychotherapeutic encounters and departments of the humanities.”(28)
As Hayden White has forcefully argued, transforming archival data into historical narrative is a subjective act.(43) The writing of history always requires the intervention of a human interpreter. Moreover, according to Michael Lynch, “the archive is never ‘raw’ or ‘primary,’” because it is always assembled so as to lead later investigators in a particular direction.(44) Because there is never sufficient archival material, Carolyn Steedman goes so far as to declare that the historian’s craft involves the ability to “conjure a social system from a nutmeg grater.”(45) For these reasons, Steadman contends that “historians read for what is not there: the silences and the absences of the documents always speak to us.”(46) (Manoff, 2004)
Secondly, I watched Rachel Smith’s lecture on The Materiality of Images, from the recent OCA Photography Symposium, held in Doncaster. It was a highly academic deconstruction of whether and how analogue images differ from physical photos, and what these differences might be. Given that I am currently interested in the concept of the physical photograph and how it can be altered to add meaning, this lecture is of great interest to me. Smith’s work is very much at the academic end of photographic study, and a look at her web page shows that her work is cross-media. She is interested in the idea of materiality in all sorts of arts media. I will keep this lecture in mind to inform my own work, which is more at the creative end of the spectrum.
Manoff, Marlene. (2004) ‘Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines.’ In: Libraries and the Academy, 4 (1), pp. 9–25. [online] At: http://uwf.edu/dearle/capstone/manoff.pdf (accessed on 26 May 2016)