A similar effect occurred with Lincoln's assassination a century before.37 These
presidential assassinations completely changed the course of American history
and have since been fully ingrained in our collective memory. One occurred
before the nation had full pulled itself out from under four years of civil war,
and the other happened within the lifetime of people today-people who can
still talk about it with others. Not surprisingly, events that result in 'virtually no
major institutional alterations are much less likely to become part of a society's
collective memory.'38 Lincoln and Kennedy were not the only presidents to be
murdered, yet there can be no argument that any other presidential assassination
has entered American collective memory in ways similar to those two.
Rather then exist as a nation's collective memory, archives preserve 'documents
of enduring value that represent the collective memory of society.'39 However,
archives and collective memory do not always overlap, as not everything in an
archive joins our collective memory, nor is everything in a culture's collective
memory in its archive. Archives equally record events with and without
institutional alterations. Records relating to the Revolutionary War as well as
the War of 1812 can be found in the National Archives in the United States,
despite the fact that the War of 1812 is significantly less ingrained in its collective
memory. Words and names like Lexington and Concord, Paul Revere, George
Washington, Benedict Arnold, Valley Forge, Yorktown are all deeply set in the
American memory, while the War of 1812 is largely forgotten.
In Washington, DC one can walk into the National Archives and see the
Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and understand their role
in the national collective memory.40 There is little doubt that all Americans
have their own ideas as to what those two documents are and how they fit in
our cultural landscape. They form a major part of the collective memory, but we
must separate the records and the archive from the idea of collective memory. As
archivists know, archives run much deeper than priceless historic documents,
and contain an innumerable amount of records that would not excite your
average tourist if on display. Often times these records have little or no bearing
in collective memory, yet they constitute the bulk of an archive's collection.
Archives may hold valuable artifacts that are physical representations of
collective memory, but we must be careful when using that phrase, and take into
consideration what it would mean if archives were a nation's collective memory.
The ramifications of viewing archives as the collective memory for ex-colonial
states rest on one simple fact: archives were created to 'sustain cultural traditions
and values.'41 In the case of colonial archives, these traditions and values were
of the colonizer and not the people who may currently be retaining the records.
As South African archivist Verne Harris puts it when describing how archives
are only 'a sliver of a sliver of a sliver' of the historical record, ifas many
archivists are wont to argue, the repositories of archives are the world's central
memory institutions, then we are in deep, amnesic trouble.'42 To that I would like
to add that if archives are our central memory institutions, then what ex-colonial
states are 'remembering' needs to be looked at with a discerning eye. Cultural
MICHAEL KARABINOS POST(-)cOLONIAL ARCHIVES
38 Banasik and Pennebacker, 'On the Creation', 17.
39 Brunero, 'Archives and Heritage in Singapore', 428.
40 Also on view are the Articles of Confederation - the national constitution in use from 1781 to 1787.
However, like the War of 1812, the Articles of Confederation have almost no place in our collective
memory, yet the National Archives houses both constitutions.
41 Foote, 'To Remember and Forget', 29.
42 Harris, 'The Archival Sliver', 65.