Archive/City: the Design of Knowledge

Term: Fall 2009

Subject Code: GHIS

Course Number: 5136

The desire to collect, organize, and store artifacts for posterity constitutes a principal mode in the social production of knowledge. Archive is the metaphor that we use to describe this process as well as its physical result. It is a catalog of desires, awash in the presence of the past but also haunted by absent voices. The archive is at once an epistemology-a way of viewing the world-and at the same time a material fixture comprising texts, objects, points of access, rituals of circulation, and designed spaces. Whether open source or closed to prying eyes, the archive is a mentality that conditions its material form. In this course, students examine archives broadly defined, from the contents of our family photo albums, to vast collections housed in libraries, to the design of buildings that contain such collections. Ultimately, the city itself is examined as an archive in its own right-a vibrant collection of interrelated artifacts that records the selective presence of the past in built form. Students produce a major term project that considers the history, condition, scope, format, and design of a particular archive in New York City.

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