Apologies for my random Dr. Who reference, but considering we are dealing with historical silence it seems appropriate. The above creature is known as the Silence and cause anyone who sees it to forget that it saw it or interacted with it. The only way anyone could keep track of the times that this being was encounter was making some sort of notation about an encounter. In the context of a couple of episodes, the characters would use a marker to place hash marks on their body to document their encounters, but the only evidence they would have of the encounters were these marks. They only represented the encounter not the substance, nature, or details. In some respects, this is analogous to what Trouiliot was discussing. We know something occurs but the pieces aren’t always present. A record documents the event but misses many of the important details or more importantly leaves our certain perspectives.
I was particularly drawn to the idea that there are four major points where silence enters the historical narrative according to Trouiliout(26).
- “The moment of fact creation
- The moment of fact assembly
- The moment of fact retrieval
- The moment of retrospective significance”
The first two to me are probably most interesting as an archivist because they deal with issues of record creation and selection. This is probably a bit of semantic quibble because I’m going to use the term record instead of facts, because I tend to contend that the materials we use for historical research will have data and information in them. Occasionally, this data and information isn’t exactly factually. For me a record is a “persistent representation of an event or an occurrence made by an observer, participants, or authorized proxy.” (Yeo). Better said that records, or as you’d probably call them primary sources, document the perspective of participants. Inherent in the creation, is that not every participant creates records or in many cases unauthorized proxies create the records. So there’s a bias in the creation process. Even to some extent in the modern world, there’s still a bias in the creation process of records, but we should also think about what constitutes as a record. Are only textual records authentic sources, or do some oral traditions merit examination? If we examine an oral tradition how do we certify its authentic representation of events or emotional understanding of the events? This is where the moment of assembly comes up at least for archives.
The “moment of fact assembly” is also a problematic moment where silences can creep in to the understanding of a subject. Derrida would call this process archivization or the process through which information is determined to be worthy of belonging in an archives. Archivist would call this process appraisal and selection. Inherently this is a process of making a value judgement on the materials that are available and going through the process of acquiring those materials. I could speak at length about the politics of acquisition, but for sake brevity and focus, I’ll do that at another time. The major issue with the acquisition process is who is making those decisions, why are they making those decisions, and how are those decisions made. As an archivist, I’d call this evidence more that fact, although Trouiliot prefers the term fact, but I agree with him when he states “that history begins with the bodies and artifacts: living brains, fossils, texts, buildings.” (29) The determination that has to be bad is what are the reputable or I might say authentic bodies that can be consulted. Even if a record is bias, it still could be archival in the sense that it gives the bias thoughts of its creator. So what processes go into this determination. They are many an vary from archive to archive. Inherently because there’s no objective system to determine archival value, there is bias in all systems of archiving. This leads to the archival silence. The key for archivist and historians to acknowledge issues with the archives and determine methods for making the archive louder for many different voices. Modern archives do this through a number of methods including, community archiving, oral history projects, assessing current collections, documentation projects, etc,. These are beginning to deal with some quiet voices, but there’s still more to do.
I think it’s important to think about the processes that we trust to provide us with the sources for our research and to ask how can we ensure sources are authentic.