'The true object of study’: the material body of the archive

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Analyses of the material properties of objects, theorised in the discipline of material culture, do not have developed equivalents in archive studies, other than those captured through purely formal descriptive practices, or included in discussions of the affective qualities of the archival encounter. This chapter considers an aspect of materiality which is particular to work in archival contexts: the materiality of the archival fonds, which is the primary archival corpus left by an individual or institution. Focussing on the archives of artists and designers, and proposing the archive as itself a primary unit of creative production, I discuss aspects of the experience of the material encounter with the archival fonds and propose means for its analysis as a single three-dimensional entity. I consider how interactions with material traces of the creator can reach out of the archive’s past moment of presentness, triangulating the relationship between the subjectivities of the archive, creator and viewer. Finally, it draws on Jules David Prown’s foundational approach to object analysis to suggest how methods from material culture offer means of investigating the tacit knowledge produced by the archival encounter, particularly those generated through the practices of the archivist, which are currently largely invisible and accessible to subsequent researchers.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe materiality of the archive
Subtitle of host publicationcreative practice in context
EditorsSue Breakell, Wendy Russell
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9780429262487
ISBN (Print)9780367206017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Oct 2023

Publication series

NameRoutledge Studies in Archives series


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