[Though I thoroughly enjoy and largely agree with Rosenzweig’s piece, I do have to take issue with his optimistic and fallacious vision of a “complete historical record,” because it is the very nature of history and historiography to never have the “full story.” Records themselves are limited – they are representations (not manifestations) of events and experiences. However, this issue may just be semantical on my part.]
So having established that accessibility and dissemination have all played a role in “de-invisiblizing” and promoting critical engagement with pornography, should we not also consider why the visibility of porn (or any other taboo, “subcultural” materials/institutions) is the determining factor for its study? In other words, pornographic materials, throughout time and place, have served to illustrate both the public and private, the celebrated and persecuted, desires and drives of people. Porn is one of the most valuable (and undervalued) primary source “genres” for the study of sexuality. To that end, when Rosenzweig questions whether we should be trying to save everything and how we find/define our materials, implicit in his musings are how we go about prioritizing one document or byte over another and, thus, prioritizing one historical narrative over another. When does weeding become censorship? Just as the Victorians secreted away the erotica of Pompeii, we must now avoid destroying the “seedy,” sexually explicit “underbelly” of our modern society.
“[A]lthough an archivist must have agreed to accept and preserve the papers, their being in an archives was a form of burial, not of discovery.” – “‘Preoccupied with our own gardens’: Outreach and Archivists,” Timothy L. Ericson
Historians often operate under the arrogant assumption that they can/have/will “discover” something strange, old, and wonderful in the “dusty” and “forgotten” recesses of the archives. Like all wayward explorers (see “columbusing”), they are hampered by their own eagerness and positionality. Ericson, however, finds his fellow archivists to be at fault for this common misconception, proclaiming: “the archival profession has fallen short of the mark in promoting the use of archival materials” (114).
The Society of American Archivists defines outreach as “the process of identifying and providing services to constituencies with needs relevant to the repository’s mission, especially underserved groups, and tailoring services to meet those needs.” One issue with which Ericson contends is how archivists ought to conceptualize these constituencies – “one of the great myths of our profession, and one of our most debilitating misconceptions, is that archives exist simply to serve scholars” (118). In this acknowledgment, he touches on larger issues of accessibility.
We must recognize the necessity of sharing archival materials (the histories they contain) and of making them accessible for everyone. Academia’s archival “columbusing” is rooted in the fact that scholars tend to only talk to other scholars – passing “new” knowledge and ideas among themselves. Effective archival outreach initiatives have the potential to empower everyone (especially Others), via real and relevant connections to the past that emphasize the role of archivists in processing and maintaining them.
We can carry this notion into our studies of material culture and archival science – what we left behind, what we are leaving behind, and what we will leave behind in these processes of human production and consumption all comprise a collective historical record. How we decide to handle these materials is dictated by ideologies (political ideas held by the dominant classes to support their interests by promoting a belief framework). These very materials constitute the basis, the evidence, for these belief frameworks – the falsehoods that infect (and are perpetuated by) colonized and commodified historiographies.
Thus, the rationalization of archival institutions means the development of abstract, means-end calculations that shape models for preservation and determine the ruling processes of archival administration and records management. In turn, what Myburgh describes as the “institution behind archives – government or business organization” (25) comprises the organizational elite, able to get its way because it is better mobilized (it controls the material means of administration). Archival bureaucracy, then, obfuscates the moral complexities and historical bases of things like copyright law and repatriation.