New Issue of History of the Human Sciences: Historians in the Archive

A new issue of History of the Human Sciences is now online. The October 2013 release is a special issue on the topic of “Historians in the Archive: Changing Historiographical Practices in the Nineteenth Century.” As described by guest editors Pieter Huistra, Herman Paul and Jo Tollebeek in the introduction, the issue  “explores the influence that archives, in a classic, institutional sense, exerted on the practices of 19th-century historiography. How did the archival turn affect historians’ working manners? How contested was this archival research imperative, with its underlying autopsy principle? And how did it spread geographically, in and outside Europe?” The seven articles that comprise the issue include pieces on the persona of the archival historian, the use of state archives, and the role of debates about testimony in the archival turn. Full titles, authors, and abstracts follow below.

“Historians in the archive: An introduction,” by Pieter Huistra, Herman Paul, and Jo Tollebeek. The abstract reads,

Historians in the 19th-century were not the first to discover the importance of source materials kept in archival depositories. More than their predecessors, however, scholars working in the historical discipline that the 19th century saw emerge tended to equate professional historical knowledge with knowledge based on primary source research, that is, practically speaking, on knowledge gained from source material that was usually kept in archives. While previous scholarship had paid ample attention to the methods that 19th-century historians employed for the study of such archival material, to the epistemologies they developed in tandem with these methods and to the institutions they created for the study of archival records, this special issue explores the influence that archives, in a classic, institutional sense, exerted on the practices of 19th-century historiography. How did the archival turn affect historians’ working manners? How contested was this archival research imperative, with its underlying autopsy principle? And how did it spread geographically, in and outside Europe?

“Inventing the archive: Testimony and virtue in modern historiography,” by Kasper Risbjerg Eskildsen. The abstract reads,

This article investigates the emergence of the archive as the primary venue for the production of historical knowledge in the 19th century. The turn to archival research, the article argues, may be considered as a response to the discussions about the problems of testimony that dominated 18th- and early 19th-century German writings on the methodology and epistemology of historical research. These discussions, especially regarding the epistemic virtues of witnesses, also helped create the particular culture of knowledge-making within German historical scholarship that enabled the archival turn. The article illustrates these developments through the examples of Johann Peter von Ludewig, who was one of the most prominent historians of the early German Enlightenment, and Leopold von Ranke, who is normally considered the founder of the modern historical discipline and the most important advocate of the 19th-century archival turn.

“Archives and history: Towards a history of ‘the use of state archives’ in the 19th century,” by Philipp Müller. The abstract reads,

This article probes the relationship between archives and history by examining the archive policy on historical research in the first modern administration state of the German lands, the kingdom of Bavaria. Given the continuing tradition of the theory and practice of the arcana imperii in the 19th century, state archives served first and foremost the state. As a result, researchers’ interest in archival material was to undergo an administrative vetting procedure, in order to safeguard the interests of the state. By examining comparatively the cases of two petitioners supplicating for the historical use of state archives in Munich, the article showcases the policy of secrecy and the resultant administrative threshold separating the sphere of the arcana from the public. Caution guided the archive politics of state officials and, ultimately, their more or less explicit notions and concerns decided which material was finally to be released, in order to become a ‘source’ for historical study. Historical researchers such as the writer Alessandro Volpi and the historian August Kluckhohn were thus required to meet specific criteria and to overcome political hurdles, in order to gain access to the desired clues guarded by the state. As a result of this, the opportunity to inspect archival material was very much dependent on the political communication between petitioner and government, and its result, the granting or denial of access, was not without ramifications for historical research and the epistemic status of historical knowledge.

“The trial of Henry of Brederode: Historians, sources and location under discussion in 19th-century historiography,” by Pieter Huistra. The abstract reads,

The Dutch historiography of the middle of the 19th century was a culture of honour. Disputes over the reputations of historical figures were manifold. This article focuses on one controversy specifically that took place in the 1840s. The subject of debate was the 16th -century nobleman Henry of Brederode, his deeds, his character and his morals. The controversy was not only about content, however. Many suppositions about doing history and being a historian that otherwise remain tacit, were made explicit in the controversy – especially concerning archive-based history. First, the participating historians themselves were judged – somewhat like Brederode himself – on the virtuousness, including the epistemic virtuousness, of their behaviour. Second, it was discussed whether archival documents (in this case: personal letters) were fit for use in historiography. To some, the use of these personal letters was ethically unjustifiable. Third, the location from which historical knowledge originated, mainly the archive, came under scrutiny. The singularity of the archive made historians relying on archival material prone to attacks on their trustworthiness.

“The heroic study of records: The contested persona of the archival historian,” by Herman Paul. The abstract reads,

The archival turn in 19th-century historical scholarship – that is, the growing tendency among 19th-century historians to equate professional historical studies with scholarship based on archival research – not only affected the profession’s epistemological assumptions and day-to-day working manners, but also changed the persona of the historian. Archival research required the cultivation and exercise of such dispositions, virtues, or character traits as carefulness, meticulousness, diligence and industry. This article shows that a growing significance attached to these qualities made the archival turn increasingly contested. As the case of the German-Austrian historian Theodor von Sickel and his critics shows, it was not the necessity of archival research as such on which historians in late 19th-century Europe came to hold different views. Sickel’s critics were rather concerned about the potentially detrimental effects that the increasingly philological ethos of archival studies could have on the historian’s character. What was primarily at stake in late 19th-century debates on the gains and losses of increased commitments to archival study was the persona of the historian – his character traits, his dispositions and the virtues and skills in which he excelled.

“The untamed archive: History-writing in the Netherlands East Indies and the use of archives,” by Charles Jeurgens. The abstract reads,

Interest in the history of colonized areas has always been existent. For utilitarian purposes colonizers wanted to know more about the past of the areas they started to trade with and where they settled themselves. This article is confined to the use of the sources for the writing of history in the Dutch East Indies in the 19th century. On a limited scale and for diverse purposes, colonial civil servants, scholars and amateur historians started to investigate the history of the colony. This article scrutinizes whether in the 19th-century Dutch East Indies the European tendency to base history writing on a systematic use of archival sources became in vogue. This question, however, raises immediately some epistemological and practical problems that will be discussed in this article. Was there a similar European concept of archives in the Dutch East Indies? How were indigenous archival sources valued and used? What infrastructure was available to study historical archives? This explorative case study shows how historical interest within a 19th-century colony got stuck into an almost obsessive collecting of historical archives and other source material as a prerequisite for historical research.

“The European model and the archive in Japan: Inspiration or legitimation?,” by Margaret Mehl. The abstract reads,

The influence of European and especially German historiography on the formation of the modern academic discipline in Japan is undisputed, as is the importance of the German historian Ludwig Rieß. Undeniably, Rieß contributed to the organization of the academic discipline by teaching future historians and taking an active part in the establishment of the Historical Society, as well as by the example of his own research in the history of Japan. But how significant was his influence on the establishment and maintenance of archives in Japan? Japanese scholars had been collecting and working with primary documents long before Rieß arrived; indeed, the earliest efforts predate even the measures introduced under the Meiji government in the 1870s. This article outlines the beginnings of komonjogaku (the study of primary documents), giving particular attention to the work of its pioneer, Kume Kunitake. The author argues that while European methods based on archival research inspired and served to justify Japanese activities, indigenous traditions were at least equally important. Moreover, parallels with western countries are not merely a result of western imports but reflect the common responses to global processes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Wild archives: Unsteady records of the past in the travels of Enno Littmann,” by Henning Trüper. The abstract reads,

The article examines the scholarly travels of Enno Littmann (1875–1958) in Syria and Ethiopia as providing an alternative model for understanding ‘the archive’ as a theoretical topos in connection with the production of historical knowledge in the 19th century. The argument seeks to dismantle the nexus between classification and modern European statehood – here discussed with the help of Derrida’s Mal d’archive – that has come to dominate debates on the epistemological place of the archive. Instead, the article seeks to sketch an understanding of practical work on plural, collected and textual records of the past in terms of epistemic situations displaying a high degree of spontaneity, thus ‘wildness’. For this purpose, reading procedures, archival material and normative orders purportedly regulating archival work are scrutinized in turn for signs of wildness.

About Jacy Young

Jacy Young is a professor at Quest University Canada. A critical feminist psychologist and historian of psychology, she is committed to critical pedagogy and public engagement with feminist psychology and the history of the discipline.