much significance as that which the colonial archives tell us audibly, although
the conclusions that may be drawn from this must not be overestimated.3 Ann
Laura Stoler has correctly pointed out that reading colonial archives 'against
the grain' is too easily and hastily done. She questions, 'how can students of
colonialism so quickly and confidently turn to readings that are 'against the
grain', without a prior sense of their texture and granularity? How can we
compare colonialisms without knowing the circuits of knowledge production in
which they operated?'4 Her recently published book Along the Archival Grain is in
fact a substantial argument for reading the colonial archives in an innovative -
'along the archival grain'- way. She gives a colourful and metaphoric description
of all sorts of characteristic features of colonial archives. Colonial archives - she
writes - 'register the febrile movements of persons off balance - of thoughts and
feelings in and out of place. In tone and temper they convey the rough interior
ridges of governance and disruptions to the deceptive clarity of its mandates
Colonial commissions, incessant reportage in the absence of evidence, and secret
missives contained political content in their archival form. Blueprints to reshape
what people felt, what languages elders should speak to their young (...)'.5
Stoler nevertheless fails to explain in clear term what exactly she understands
by colonial archives. According to the approach she has chosen to take, the
colonial archive is mostly a 'storehouse of historical information' from which
meaningful information can be distilled about events and life in the colonies.
This obviously applies to most scientists who deal with the notion of colonial
archives. The concept of 'colonial archive' has hardly ever been set out or defined.
Among the few who have attempted to create any clarity in the meaning of the
term colonial archives, Betty Joseph and Bernard Cohn deserve to be mentioned.
The linguist Joseph distinguished between two forms of colonial archive in her
book Reading the East India Company, 1720-1840: Colonial Currencies of Gender.
In the first form she describes the colonial archive 'as the intended repository
of the official historical record of British colonialism in India' whereas she
characterises the term colonial archive in its second form in a 'Foucauldian
sense' as 'the enunciative field through which British India emerges, exists, and
disappears, the sum of all that can be said and thought about British India at
a particular time'.6 The historian and anthropologist Bernard S. Cohn chooses
a different approach. Although he is not at all intent on defining the term
colonial archive, he nevertheless provides an interesting analysis as regards
generating colonial knowledge. First, in Cohn's view, the 'metropole and colony
have to be seen in a unitary field of analysis'. By entering India, the British did
not only enter a new world, they also entered into 'an epistemological space'.
It was for these reasons that it was necessary to collect, record and interpret
information in a form that was useful for the purposes of coloniser. It was the
only way open to becoming acquainted with these new territories and - with this
knowledge - have dominion over India. There were several underlying motives
to this drive to collect, record and interpret information which Cohn calls
COLONIAL LEGACY IN SOUTH EAST ASIA -
THE DUTCH ARCHIVES
3 See for example: Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power; Spivak, 'The Rani of Sirmu' and Ballantyne, 'Archives,
Empires and the Histories of Colonialism'.
4 Stoler, 'Colonial Archives and the arts of governance', 92.
5 Stoler, Along the archival grain2.
6 Joseph, Reading the East India Company, 15.
7 Cohn, Colonialism, 5-11.
8 Scott, Seeing like a state, 22-23.