Reading Archives

With this blog, I am planning to offer, as regularly as possible, critical observations on the scholarly and popular literature analyzing the nature of archives or contributing to our understanding of archives in society. I hope this blog will be of assistance to anyone, especially faculty and graduate students, interested in understanding archives and their importance to society.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Truth Commissions and Archives

The growing number of truth commissions around the world, whatever success they may have in a particular society, are generating massive amounts of archival materials. Greg Grandin and Thomas Miller Klubock, eds., Truth Commissions: State Terror, History, and Memory, issue 97 of the Radical History Review (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007) provides an interesting view of how this works. The editors indicate that the essays in this volume are considering the “internal contradictions and tensions in truth commissions’ historiographical projects, raising a number questions about the role of historical narratives in legitimizing state rule” (p. 2) The various authors cover truth commissions in South Africa, Chile, and Guatemala; there are also some calls for a U.S. Truth Commission, for its role in the subjugation of Native Americans, African American slavery, the infringement of the civil rights of African Americans, and atrocities in Vietnam and other nations. The focus here is not on archives per se, but this publication supplements the growing literature on truth commissions and provides a context for those interested in the documentation they accumulate and how archivists might approach working with these groups to document their activity. As archivists consider aspects of late twentieth and early twenty-first century society they need to document, truth commissions will be high on their list.