Some comments on the history of archival science

Jamila Ghaddar



My paper provides a historically grounded theoretical exposition of the symbolic and material role of archives in the twined making of nation and empire. I consider three institutional sites and related archival activities, namely UNESCO, Library & Archives Canada, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, to think through the relation of knowledge production and power at the core of my exposition. On the one hand, archives were central to the establishment, administration, and legitimization of western colonial rule (Stoler 2002). They were both instruments of, and mechanisms for, the production of imperial states. On the other hand, archives arose in conjunction with the nation state, and symbolize the continuity and coherence of the nation (for relevant archival discussion, see Cook 1997). They are an expression of, as much as a vessel or repository of, nationalism. Even colonial archives that are an instrument for overseas rule serve to reaffirm national identity in the metropolitan, while reassuring the imperial centre and metropolitan population of the mastery and superiority of the imperial state (Richards 1993). Hence, viewing archival practices in their cultural and historical specificities paradoxically reveals the entanglement between the local and the global, the national and the imperial (Mejcher-Atassi and Schwartz 2012, 25). It also reveals the central role of race thinking and patriarchy in the making of the archival enterprise. With these considerations in mind, I delineate the need for historical excavations of archival science that are attune to how archives emerge through multifaceted global processes and structures, and are embedded within larger discursive formations in which multiple cultural sites, texts, and contexts are active.

Gilroy, Paul. (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Harvard University Press.
Gilroy, Paul. (1993). The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness. Harvard University Press.
Mejcher-Atassi, Sonja and John Pedro Schwartz (eds.). (2012) Archives, Museums and Collecting Practices in the Modern Arab World. Surrey, England: Ashgate Publishing.
Richards, Thomas. (1993). The Imperial Archive: knowledge and the fantasy of empire. London: Verso.
Stoler, Ann. Colonial Archives and the Arts of Governance, Archival Science, 2.1-2 (2002): 87-109.



I am a third-year doctoral student at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, where I completed a Master of Information specialized in Archives & Records Management. I hold an undergraduate degree in Anthropology with a minor in Linguistics from McMaster University. Before joining the University of Toronto as a doctoral student, I worked for many years in the social service sector as a front-line worker and program coordinator.