The Allure of the Archives (The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History)
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Arlette Farge’s Le Goût de l’archive is widely regarded as a historiographical classic. While combing through two-hundred-year-old judicial records from the Archives of the Bastille, historian Farge was struck by the extraordinarily intimate portrayal they provided of the lives of the poor in pre-Revolutionary France, especially women. She was seduced by the sensuality of old manuscripts and by the revelatory power of voices otherwise lost. In The Allure of the Archives, she conveys the exhilaration of uncovering hidden secrets and the thrill of venturing into new dimensions of the past.
Originally published in 1989, Farge’s classic work communicates the tactile, interpretive, and emotional experience of archival research while sharing astonishing details about life under the Old Regime in France. At once a practical guide to research methodology and an elegant literary reflection on the challenges of writing history, this uniquely rich volume demonstrates how surrendering to the archive’s allure can forever change how we understand the past.
lines, we clearly see one thing that was not discussed, because it seemed as if it was always being talked about: women. In the archives, apparent gender neutrality is torn away and the give-and-take of sexual differentiation is laid bare, even if the subject itself has been neglected. The archive speaks of the Parisian woman and makes her speak. Motivated by urgency, our first step is clear: seek her out, collect her like an unknown plant or an extinct species, trace her portrait as if
separate the history of men and women from that of social relations and antagonisms. Indeed, certain social groups only came into being through the experience of struggle. Similarly, confrontations of groups against groups, sex against sex, the people against elites, created moments that transformed the course of history and which must be analyzed. A history of relationships of power can also take into account sufferings and deceptions, illusions and hopes. History must be able to take charge of
become easy. Unless, of course, the reading room supervisor is seized by one of his endless whistling coughs, which cut through the air and put him in a foul mood, causing him to turn his ire on the electric lights, finding them guilty of endangering the preservation of manuscripts. The room is now dark. The silence in the archives is more brutal than any schoolyard racket. Their cathedral-like acoustics mercilessly amplify the body's rumblings, making them aggressive and pernicious sources of
virtue of having spotted the traps we have eluded their grasp. Captured Speech The judicial archives reveal a fragmented world. The majority of police interrogations consist of questions whose answers are incomplete and imprecise, quick snippets of speech and life whose connecting thread is difficult to make out. On the other hand, the more one becomes interested in the archives, the more expressive these trivial complaints about trivial matters become—people quarreling over stolen tools,
Nicolas Rétif de la Bretonne, Les Nuits de Paris, 2 vols. (Paris, 1930). 3. Arlette Farge and Michel Foucault, Le Désordre de familles, les lettres de cachet des Archives de la Bastille (Paris: Gallimard, 1982). 4. These are names of punishments incurred in the eighteenth century, and we might add to these the stocks, and banishment, where the delinquent is ordered to leave his or her province. 5. Natalie Zemon Davis, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century