Cultures of Documentation

Term: Spring 2011

Subject Code: GANT

Course Number: 6715

Documents are cultural artifacts with lives and itineraries of their own. While historians treat documents as the grist of their historiographic labors, they have often neglected to reflect on the content lodged in particular documentary forms. Anthropologists, on the other hand, once steered clear of documents altogether, passively, sometimes aggressively sharing Claude Levi-Strauss contention that ethnology defines itself by the study of "what is not written." Neither of these postures and approaches holds today. Over the last decade there has been an explosion in attention both to visual and written archives, to "paper trails," to "paper empires" and to the latin root of documentation, docere, to the "teaching" task that documents perform. In this seminar, we will look at the wide-range of fields and disciplines in which the nature of documents has come into analytic focus and creative question. Our focus will be in part on how documents create the realities which they only ostensibly describe. Principles of organization, systems of storage and retrieval, forms of reproduction, technological innovation -- all shape the political forces to which they rise. Documentation can be vital technologies of rule in themselves, the apparatus that shape and permeate our lives. Among the documentary "artefacts of modern knowledge" that we will explore are identity papers, passports, state commissions, as well as letters, diaries, photo albums, electronic record-keeping, and fiction. Readings will include Annalies Riles , "Documents: Artifacts of Modern Knowledge", Chris Penney, "Camera Indica", Ann Laura Stoler, "Along the Archival Grain", Carolyn Steedman, "Dust", Natalie Davis, "Fiction in the Archives", Oz Frankel, "States of Inquiry", Annette Kuhn, "Family Secrets", Marianne Hirsch, "Family Frames", Estelle Lau, "Paper Families".

< back



 
Connect with the New School