Archives and Access: Introduction

Posted by Aparna Balachandran at Dec 11, 2008 11:00 AM |
The members of this research project team are Aparna Balachandran and Rochelle Pinto from the Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore and Abhijit Bhattacharya from the Centre for the Study of Social Sciences, Calcutta. This intial post tries to outline the concerns underlining this project which will attempt to critically examine archiving practices and policies in India in order to conceptualize ideas about ownership and use towards the goal of the greatest public good; reflect on issues of digitization and access; and facilitate public conversations and the articulation of a collective voice by historians and other users on possible interventions in these institutions.


This project argues that there is a pressing need to apply the questions and concerns that have arisen around the contemporary archives – of ownership, access and use – to the historical archive. The ‘conventional’ approach sees manuscript and paper archives solely as a source for researchers, or as a pedagogic appendage, or as a national legacy, held permanently in safekeeping either by privately held collections or particularly in tightly controlled state archives. In contrast, contemporary archives (often in a digitized format)  allow users to catalogue, edit, comment and add their own data and thus poses some challenging questions to a conventional approach to the archives. Again, the potential access it offers to non-specialist users interrogates the idea of archival collections meant for academic consumption alone. 

This project will consider the ways to conceptualize a move away from a relationship from both the state or knowledge economy driven models of archiving. Instead it will explore the possibilities that technology holds out to enhance control, centralization and exclusivity, or to dissipate it. It will also focus on questions of access; on who potential users are; on mutually recognized open access policies between institutions, and on finding interest groups and archive-related projects and other contexts for use of the archives. 

Importantly, it will also discuss the embedding of the archive within the construct of a cultural legacy. It will attempt to compare the significance of the archive to that of the painting, or sculpture or architecture and the similarities and differences that can be cited inclusive of things that are not manuscripts and texts.
Towards this end, this project will focus on three sites: it will examine the National Archives of India; as well as consider Goa and Tamil Nadu as incidental territories which enable a view of distinct issues that emerge in the interface between technology and society in the context of archiving.


Aparna Balachandran