History of Art 290, section 2: Silent Archive/s

Instructor: Professor Sugata Ray

The 1980s arrival of an archive fever, le mal d’archive, saw the development of new methods of fieldwork and research in visual studies and art history. This, in turn, provoked a questioning of the conceit of the archive as a panoptical repository of objects and documents. The move towards reading the archive-as-subject (ethnographies of the archive), rather than the archive-as-source (study of objects housed in an archive), leads us to reexamine the archive function in both history and historiography. Our aim in this seminar will thus be twofold:

(i) Through an engagement with key theories on the archive as both a literal and a figural site, we will critically approach questions of marginalities, anxieties, silences, and erasures in the archive of visual studies and art history. How do we recover marginal voices in the archive? How do we read the archive against itself to explore (mis)representations of silence? Can performative bodies, oral histories, and literary texts operate as archive/s for visual studies? Might there be an inappropriate archive? What marks the limits of archival retrieval? Students are expected, indeed encouraged, to think about the theory and praxis of the silent archive/s in relation to their own research.

(ii) We will delve into a museum and a private collection of colonial print culture in San Francisco to engage with the practical aspects of archiving. Simultaneously, Skype conversations with museum professionals in New York, Amsterdam, New Delhi, and Hong Kong will allow us to engage with the hermeneutics of the archive in a global field. We will also experience the affective drama of archiving that exceeds all forms of theorizations by participating in the Berkeley South Asian Radical History Walking Tour.

  • Elective Requirement: This course fulfills an elective requirement for the DE in REMS.