Histoire croissee

Histoire croissee

The impact of how archive collections are organised is widely known and appreciated, with the focus on them being structured in a range of repressive ways as signified by stock phrases such as ‘the colonial archive’. As readers of the WWW blog over time will know, the view from its perspective is that this is often overstated and greater malevolent agency on the part of archives and archival staff is perceived than actually exists. However, there are lower key but perhaps epistemologically more important ways in which collection organisation impacts that are also worth thinking about.

One of these is that all collections have to be organised in some way or another and often this is per person, although of course some are per collective or per organisation. But focusing on those that are organised around a particular recipient or writer, there are repercussions for how the person and their life is understood. They become, to use another stock phrase, ‘the hero of their own lives‘. They are positioned as the centre, the core, the fount. But we live our lives rather differently, in constellations of people, and sometimes are first among equals, sometimes very much on the periphery, and also at all points in between. Historie croissee is an approach which recognises such complexities and that people and their lives are deeply interconnected within networks and figurations of a wide range of different kinds, with the emphasis upon the interconnections. It is not so well known within social and cultural history circles as it ought to be, for it raises and finds ways of dealing with this incredibly important matter of the interconnections between people.

These brief comments have of course relevance for how to think about the diverse range of collections represented in the White Writing Whiteness research. These are sometimes organised per person, sometimes per family, sometimes per organisation. They suggest the importance of working at a micro level with an eye on the interconnections that certainly exist but which may be lost sight of because of the way a collection is organised. And paradoxically, it is those collections organised per person where this occlusion of the connections between people is most likely to happen. So the firm suggestion is to keep histoire croissee in mind at all times, and to recognise that it fits very closely with Elias’s idea of the figuration as the basis of social organisation.

Last updated:  19 November 2021