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Praxis / Interpretive Methods

July '21

Contemporary Ar(t)chive

Contemporary Ar(t)chive

Our global contemporary is strikingly paradoxical: in a time when history is supposed to be over – when the nexus of free market capitalism, parliamentary democracy, and humanitarian ethics arrived as the ‘end of history’, the ultimate horizon of human imagination -- ‘the archive’ has taken center stage in the humanities, social sciences, and contemporary arts. Why this obsession with exhibiting the past in a present deemed to have already realized the future? Is it because we forget that history is over and, hence, need to be reminded of the consequences of this forgetting, the claim of scholarship on trauma, commemoration, and ‘transitional justice’? Or is it because history has been declared over prematurely, anachronistically? This course takes the latter perspective, that history goes on ‘behind our backs’ while we repeatedly declare its end.


We will critically analyze current approaches to the archive, both historiographic – documentary, testimony, witnessing, forensics – and artistic – practice, exhibition, publication. The course denaturalizes the presumed ‘pastness’ of archives, exposing the historicist ideology that parcels time into linear segments of ‘a past’ that was there and then, ‘the present’ that is here and now, and ‘a future’ that will be somewhere else.  We’ll focus on the praxis of the archive – at once interpretive and creative, analytical and artistic – to rethink and do justice to past, present, and future times and spaces that constitute the contemporary.

About the Professors

Pallavi Paul & Rohit Goel