What are archival silences, and why are they important?

An archival silence is when there are no (or few) records or materials documenting people, events, places, etc. Information is not there. We can speak about a silence in a specific body of records, as when a family, company, or government deliberately destroys materials related to something they consider embarrassing. Or we can speak about a silence across many bodies of records, or what is sometimes referred to as “the historical record” or “the archive” in a general sense. [Note: In future posts I’ll be giving a more formal definition, summarizing the literature search, etc.] [See, now I’m feeling defensive about just putting stuff out there quickly, but that’s what this blog is for, so I’ll have to try to learn to stop my knee-jerk reaction to apologize for just writing quickly.]

Why are archival silences important? Because often that which remains undocumented, or documented in a circuitous way is significant. People who were marginalized are often not considered significant enough to merit mention in official records, for example. Also, the silence itself can be revealing. Why don’t we have these materials? Why was this topic not discussed or mentioned? What’s going on here?

That’s certainly enough of a topic for a book, no doubt. But my thought is that I’d like to tell the story of both these gaps and the perhaps unexpected riches that also survive, and give us a spectacular window into the past. That’s my thought for now, any way.



What are archival silences, and why are they important?

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