Sara Callahan
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Archive theory
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Although there is no such thing as a coherent ‘archive theory’, several key texts and conceptualisations are frequently enlisted in discussions of archives at the turn of the twenty-first century (by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Nora, Jorge Luis Borges, Wolfgang Ernst and others). The chapter outlines the most frequently referenced theorisations of the archive and suggests several socio-historical reasons why the archive became so important during the last decades of the twentieth century. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the subsequent opening up of the old Stasi archives, the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa and the discussion of the role of archival practices in implementing the country’s racial politics as well the use of archival practices to heal the nation, all brought the archive to the forefront. Postcolonial and feminist scholars interested in forms of archival exclusion also contributed in making the archive a point of interest at this time. And in addition to these factors, the shift to digital technology resulted in renewed attention to the technological basis of history writing in general, and of archives in particular. The chapter argues that the meshing of such historical events and the broad cluster of theories about archives contributed to an increasing visibility and interest in both physical archives and the archive as a concept.

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