New Publication: Alf Lüdtke/Tobias Nanz [Eds.]: Laute, Bilder, Texte. Register des Archivs. Göttingen: V & R unipress 2015.

978-3-8471-0236-6Published in 2015. ISBN 978-3-8471-0236-6. 137 pp. with 36 images. Available in print (€30.00) and e-book (€23.99).


Link to the publication; link to the table of contents and a sample chapter

Review by Stefanie Martin, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz

Preserving traces of the past – the main task of an archive – is important for personal, national, and cultural affirmation as well as for the production of knowledge concerning the past. Thus, the archive is a central instrument to answer questions with historical focus of all fields. Concerning book historical questions, archives also play an important role: Amongst other things, they give insights into the history of publishing houses and booksellers as well as author-publisher relationships.

The goal of Laute, Bilder, Texte. Register des Archivs (“Sounds, Pictures, Texts. Indexes of the Archive”) is to show the vast range of archival practices and the wide variety of archives. Except for two articles, the essays of this volume are revised and extended articles presented at the workshop “Historicity. Imperial versus Indigenous Archives” (“Geschichtlichkeit. Imperiale versus indigene Archive“) in Weimar in February 2013. The contributions deal with a large spectrum of different sources (records, photographs, film, objects) and their storage as well as a variety of foci (India, South Africa, USA, Morocco, Israel, Germany).

In their introduction, Alf Lüdtke and Tobias Nanz show the development of the archive and its role in conserving traces of the past since the 16th century. Archival collections first focused on written files concerning documents, which had significance for the legitimation and affirmation of power. Before the emergence of a public sphere and thus the limitation of the arcane sphere, archives were seen as “safes of secrets” (p. 10). Due to a changing understanding of history in the 19th century, they were increasingly visited by researchers. But only in the second half of the 20th century claims of democratic participation led to the liberation of archives from the ruling class. The emergence of new media resulted in the reproducibility of sources and in increasing accessibility. Even though digitisation enables worldwide access to files, the authors see the possibilities of new media critically amongst other things due to their uncertain durability. New kinds of media also have led to an interest in non-textual sources such as recorded sounds and voices. The extension of the archive has also resulted in a broader awareness of “subaltern” actors and their types of heritage.

In her essay Britta Lange analyses both the vast distributed propagandistic sources and so far nearly unknown audio documents, which are stored at the Berliner Lautarchiv. These historical sources deal with the German ship “Möwe”, which captured and sunk hostile ships during WWI. Using the audio file report of the Indian sailor Mohammed Hossin from 1918 as an example, Lange examines whether Hossin was talking (meaningless/unheard) or speaking (meaningful/heard). His report, recorded in Bengali, depicts the experiences during the capture of his ship and his war captivity. It was intended for linguistic research. Thus, not the content but the language it was recorded in was of importance. Lange argues that Hossin, who sailed the world and probably knew gramophones, addressed his fellow prisoners with his report or knew that his report might be listened to at a later time. Thus, Hossin saw his report as a kind of testament. Therefore, in Lange’s opinion he was not talking but speaking. Lange’s essay is one of the most interesting of this volume. It gives an insight into the origin of the audio file as well as its provenance. The author argues that such reports have not been taken into consideration so far, because they are testimonies of subaltern positions. The essay shows that these reports can give answers to completely different questions than to those they were originally intended to answer. Hence, it encourages further research and the provided material can be used as a starting point.

Wolfgang Hesse presents results of the DFG project “The Eye of the Worker” (“Das Auge des Arbeiters”) at the Institut für Sächsische Geschichte und Volkskunde in Dresden, which houses a collection of photographs of the Weimar Republic mainly taken by amateurs. With the help of a picture postcard from 1930, he shows how these photographs provide an inside view of non-bourgeois social classes. These pictures had different functions. For example, they show different usages of recordings for the supra-regional agitation. The photo serves as a self-representation of political activists in form of a simulated private photo from everyday life. Since other pictures were in the photo, it refers to an archive organized by a labour union as well as to an archiving practice.

In their essays, Dietmar Schmidt and Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann analyse how films can function as archives. Schmidt examines the cartoon “We owe them a living” from the 1930s, which is based on an ancient fable by Aesop. The article demonstrates the new possibilities of animated film to process a story. Schmidt argues that the fable gives a plot, whereas the cartoon displays a movement pattern. He shows that the film mirrors the historical marks in Disney’s movies on the background of the New Deal, a self-description of society. Furthermore, Schmidt refers to the cartoon’s intention to determine the state of the aesthetic.

In “Film as an Archive” (“Film als Archiv”) Ebbrecht-Hartmann considers Israeli movies, which have historical film material as their basis or starting point. These films use the footage and combine it as well as edit it and integrate these montages into their plot. Instead of creating a closed archive system, the filmmakers produce cinematic archives. Furthermore, they raise questions concerning current behaviour in relation to the Isreali history. For example, in the movie “Waltz with Bashir” cinematic memories of the Holocaust are combined with cinematic memories of the Lebanese war.

In their articles Anja Dreschke, Martin Zillinger, and Carolyn Hamilton examine the storage of indigenous traditions. Dreschke and Zillinger deal with the archiving methods of the Sufi brotherhood in Morocco. Since they had no access to colonial or post-colonial archives, the members have started to build their own archives in the 1980s to store their rites for instance in the form of audio and video files. The archives are used for example for prestige, as media of memory for the further development of the rites. The files circulate in transnational networks of migrants and are processed in instalments.

Carolyn Hamilton outlines a parallel treatment of the South African past. While there is a vast formal archival inheritance related to the country’s colonial and apartheid eras, indigenous traditions have not been considered. She petitions for ancestor-related practices and memories to be archived. In the form of rituals and oral traditions the past is transferred to the present. By using the conceptual tool of “counterpoints” Hamilton points out the similarities between the two forms of archival traditions.

Heike Gfrereis’ article “Uprising of the Things” is an homage to unexpected findings in literary archives. Apart from text documents, surprising objects (such as a dried bat in the estate of Ernst Jünger) can be found at Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. She argues that it is not easy to determine the value of “things”. A “fortunate moment” often makes the difference. The article illustrates the importance of inanimate objects for insights into the life and work of an author.

The volume concludes with a commentary by the medieval historian Ludolf Kuchenbuch. Kuchenbuch sees a double reorientation in the archival field. This reorientation is displayed by an increasing interest in new kinds of references. Hereby, the priority of texts and the organisation of archives is questioned. This results in a blurring of the boundaries between institutions such as archives and museums. The interest in other kinds of sources enables a new view on historical developments.

“Laute, Bilder, Texte” clarifies the diversity of historical sources and the characteristics of their storage. The volume shows the diversity of archival material and the varied questions it may be able to answer. It directs attention to certain sources and kinds of heritage, which have not been sufficiently noticed so far. The examples given and the variety of illustrations stimulate further research. However, the vast range of contributions as well as the deviation between the workshop’s and volume’s topic blur the central theme. To facilitate a more abstract understanding of archives, a definition of the term would have been helpful. Nonetheless, the range of topics and the provided material makes the volume interesting for lay readers and scholars in the areas of history, ethnography, book history, cultural studies, etc.


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