Introducing the MIDA Archival Reflexicon: Objectives and New Avenues


TABLE OF CONTENTS: Objec­tives of the MIDA Archi­val Gui­de: New Ave­nues and Older Frame­works  |  An excur­si­on into the Ger­man archi­val land­s­capes on modern Indian histo­ry  |  Archi­val Gui­de as a site for cri­ti­cal enga­ge­ment with sourcesEnd­no­tes

Ger­man archi­ves offer a rich spec­trum of sources rela­ted to modern Indian histo­ry and a pos­si­bi­li­ty for deve­lo­ping new rese­arch direc­tions in the domain of trans­na­tio­nal his­to­ries and his­to­ri­cal com­pa­ri­son through an explo­ra­ti­on of the histo­ry of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments. The­se sources can also offer scho­l­ars the pos­si­bi­li­ty of acqui­ring new rese­arch per­spec­tives, inde­ed a new lens, for enga­ging with modern Indian histo­ry by not sole­ly prio­ri­ti­zing Bri­tish colo­ni­al archi­ves. The MIDA-Archi­val Gui­de, which accom­pa­nies the project’s online data­ba­se, is an open-access forum for refle­xi­ve dis­cus­sions on the rich India-rela­ted hol­dings of Ger­man archi­ves. One of the main objec­tives of the Archi­val Gui­de is to reflect on how the turn towards ent­ang­led trans­na­tio­nal and glo­bal his­to­ries not only rai­ses new theo­re­ti­cal ques­ti­ons, but also con­fronts us with metho­do­lo­gi­cal issu­es on the rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween ent­ang­led his­to­ries and archi­ves. At the same time, it is a site for acqui­ring com­pre­hen­si­ve over­views of India-rela­ted archi­val hol­dings of Ger­man archi­ves for spe­ci­fic the­mes.

Sin­ce Sep­tem­ber 2018, the DFG fun­ded long-term pro­ject “Modern India in Ger­man Archi­ves, 1706–1989” (“Das Moder­ne Indi­en in deut­schen Archi­ven”, MIDA) has suc­cess­ful­ly laun­ched an open-access data­ba­se (with an exten­si­ve cata­lo­gue and index) that enlists, inde­xes and descri­bes hol­dings rela­ted to modern Indian histo­ry and the histo­ry of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments, which are housed in Ger­man archi­ves. The time peri­od in focus is from the estab­lish­ment of the Danish-Hal­le Mis­si­on in South India (1706) up to the end of the poli­ti­cal divi­si­on of Ger­ma­ny (1989/90). The data­ba­se is a plat­form made avail­ab­le on a long-term basis to the inter­na­tio­nal com­mu­ni­ty of his­to­ri­ans of South Asia as a “gro­wing” and open digi­tal resour­ce.

The Archi­val Gui­de gives users a the­ma­tic and pro­ble­ma­ti­zed over­view into the hol­dings. The objec­tive is to open a space of dis­cus­sion on the hol­dings that does not limit the histo­ry of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments to a bina­ry logic and to cri­ti­cal­ly reflect on the orde­ring archi­tec­tu­re of the archi­ves.

Objectives of the MIDA Archival Guide: New Avenues and Older Frameworks

Con­ven­tio­nal archi­val gui­des are often a han­dy tool kit that enab­les users to con­duct fruit­ful sear­ches rela­ted to archi­ves, their cata­lo­gues and data­ba­ses, their orde­ring princi­ples and any other fin­ding aids that may be use­ful for his­to­ri­cal rese­arch. Some gui­des have attemp­ted to fami­lia­ri­ze stu­dents with archi­val voca­bu­la­ry and his­to­ri­cal methods (for examp­le the Ber­li­ner Archiv Gui­de[1] or the archi­val gui­de of the Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists tit­led Using Archi­ves: A Gui­de to Effec­tive Rese­arch)[2] in order to redu­ce the sen­se of awe and intimi­da­ti­on indu­ced by the insti­tu­ti­on. The­re are others, howe­ver, which are more spe­ci­fic and offer details of rele­vant refe­rence books, reports of visi­tors, back­ground infor­ma­ti­on, notes, dis­cus­sions and cor­re­spon­den­ces on what one should know befo­re ent­e­ring the phy­si­cal brick and mor­tar space cal­led the archi­ve (for examp­le the inst­ruc­tive Gui­des to Rus­si­an Archi­ves made avail­ab­le by the Uni­ver­si­ty of War­wick).[3] Cer­tain archi­ves also offer high­ly sys­te­ma­ti­zed archi­val gui­des which pro­vi­de users infor­ma­ti­on on the hol­dings and their struc­tu­re, inter­ac­tive links to cata­lo­gues and gui­des, rese­arch the­mes with biblio­gra­phies and a selec­tion of pri­ma­ry sources as well as use­ful data­ba­ses and online sources (for examp­le the ela­bo­ra­te League of Nati­ons Archi­ve Resour­ce Gui­de).[4]  While some online por­tals sim­ply offer a list of several archi­ves with basic infor­ma­ti­on and some­ti­mes a brief descrip­ti­on of the hol­dings (see Ham­burg Wis­sen Digi­tal)[5], some archi­ves offer pos­si­bi­li­ties to see an exten­si­ve list of archi­val gui­des which are the­ma­ti­cal­ly orga­ni­zed and direct readers to enlisted hol­dings (as in the case of The Natio­nal Archi­ves, the United King­dom, Scot­land and Wales).[6] At the same time, cer­tain forums have attemp­ted to give com­pre­hen­si­ve over­views on archi­val orde­ring and the Ger­man archi­val land­s­cape (see Clio Online).[7] In short, the land­s­cape of archi­val gui­des is an eclec­tic one whe­re the kind of infor­ma­ti­on that users can access varies from the gene­ral to the par­ti­cu­lar. It may be sum­med up more gene­ral­ly that archi­val gui­des are a prag­ma­tic know-how appa­ra­tus, which offers a wide spec­trum of infor­ma­ti­on ran­ging from rea­ding room hours to the rules of the archi­ve and from cata­lo­gues to inst­ruc­tive inde­xes.

The MIDA Archi­val Gui­de, while being simi­lar to the avail­ab­le pletho­ra of archi­val gui­des, dif­fers in two con­cre­te ways –

1. An excursion into the German archival landscapes on modern Indian history

First­ly, it is a plat­form for pro­vi­ding users an exten­si­ve over­view on India rela­ted hol­dings in Ger­man archi­ves on very spe­ci­fic rese­arch topics (for examp­le if rese­ar­ching on the Mys­o­re wars, users can have a detail­ed insight into the land­s­cape of hol­dings that offer sources on the wars from the per­spec­tive of the Han­no­ve­r­i­an regi­ment that par­ti­ci­pa­ted in the wars from Ger­ma­ny).[8] The objec­tive here is to offer users an exhaus­ti­ve sketch of the archi­val land­s­cape in Ger­ma­ny on a topic. Whe­re should one look when working on a par­ti­cu­lar sub­ject of inte­rest? Which hol­dings are rele­vant and what can they offer? How can the­se hol­dings offer new per­spec­tives for wri­ting ‘other’ and ‘newer’ his­to­ries, which have been exten­si­ve­ly writ­ten about by rely­ing on other sources (for examp­le Bri­tish colo­ni­al sources in the case of the Mys­o­re Wars)? The MIDA Archi­val Gui­de will offer a series of posts which will enga­ge with the­se issu­es. In doing so, the posts open ave­nues for newer rese­arch by refer­ring to new­ly dis­co­ve­r­ed sources. They the­r­ein aim to evo­ke the inte­rest of users into les­ser-explo­red rese­arch are­as through the lens of sources in Ger­man hol­dings. At the same time, while ope­ning new sites of rese­arch, the posts pro­vi­de readers with an over­ar­ching syn­op­sis on the ‘whe­re’, ‘how-to’ and pos­si­ble ‘what’ of the the­me– a hel­pful out­line for how to com­mence when con­duc­ting rese­arch on a par­ti­cu­lar topic.

Whe­re­as some posts intend to re-open the­mes which have pre­vious­ly been exten­si­ve­ly rese­ar­ched (albeit main­ly wit­hin colo­ni­al archi­ves) through the prism of hol­dings housed in Ger­man archi­ves (as men­tio­ned, the Mys­o­re wars is an illus­tra­ti­ve examp­le of the same), others aim at evo­king inte­rest in topics which have been gene­ral­ly less explo­red. The­se hither­to rela­tively under­ex­plo­red the­mes can be inst­ruc­tive in two ways–

(i) They can open new rese­arch ave­nues in the histo­ry of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments (for examp­le, see the post on the GDR diplo­mat Her­bert Fischer in India or the posts on forestry and bota­ny as a site of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments) and;

(ii) They can draw our atten­ti­on to smal­ler archi­ves and pri­va­te collec­tions housed in Ger­man archi­ves, which may offer new insights into the­se ent­ang­led his­to­ries as well as their accom­pany­ing ent­ang­led archi­ves (for examp­le, see the post on the Horst Krü­ger collec­tion housed in the archi­ve of the Leib­niz-Zen­trum Moder­ner Ori­ent, Ber­lin or the post on the Petra and Joa­chim Heid­rich collec­tions in the same archi­ve).

2. Archival Guide as a site for critical engagement with sources

Ano­t­her objec­tive of the Archi­val Gui­de is to reflect on lar­ger theo­re­ti­cal and metho­do­lo­gi­cal con­si­de­ra­ti­ons which ari­se when enga­ging in the see­min­gly banal job of cata­lo­guing, describ­ing, orde­ring and index­ing. Whe­re­as the gui­de does aim to show users what is to be found in the rich hol­dings of Ger­man archi­ves when rese­ar­ching on the­mes in modern Indian histo­ry, we also intend to do so trans­par­ent­ly by sharing the how of our own pro­cess of cata­lo­guing and collec­ting infor­ma­ti­on on such sources.

The Digi­tal Turn has enab­led the extrac­tion of infor­ma­ti­on from archi­ves and their re-orde­ring in newer digi­tal archi­tec­tures. Easy access to this new­ly orde­red infor­ma­ti­on can be high­ly bene­fi­ci­al in that it can enab­le access to a world of new­ly dis­co­ve­r­ed and unex­plo­red sources, some­ti­mes even wit­hout the rese­ar­cher having to phy­si­cal­ly visit an archi­ve. It can, howe­ver, also de-con­tex­tua­li­se infor­ma­ti­on and iso­la­te it from whe­re it is phy­si­cal­ly housed. Full-text sear­ches often lead to very exact infor­ma­ti­on that usual­ly belongs to a lar­ger archi­val envi­ron­ment. The rela­ted­ness of any two hol­dings that have sources on modern Indian histo­ry may some­ti­mes not be visi­ble in the­se full-text sear­ches. Such con­tex­tu­al infor­ma­ti­on, which can often be cru­ci­al for his­to­ri­ans, espe­ci­al­ly when wri­ting trans­na­tio­nal his­to­ries of ent­an­gle­ments, can be lost in the pre­ci­se spe­ci­fi­ci­ty of search results. The MIDA Archi­val Gui­de is thus dif­fe­rent from con­ven­tio­nal archi­val gui­des in that it brings such issu­es to the fore­front of dis­cus­sion through its essays.

Given that the data­ba­se offers users the pos­si­bi­li­ty to do full-text sear­ches and that it also incor­po­ra­tes a vast cor­pus of key­word inde­xes (made for each archi­ve enlisted in the data­ba­se), the Gui­de does not intend to repeat the­se exten­si­ve lists of key­words in the form of an open access the­sau­rus made avail­ab­le in the gui­de. A the­ma­tic orga­ni­za­ti­on of the posts, howe­ver, enab­les users to get over­views of hol­dings on par­ti­cu­lar the­mes. A lar­ger over­ar­ching aim is cri­ti­cal­ly reflect on the results that are to be seen in the data­ba­se. The­se dis­cus­sions beco­me all the more necessa­ry in order to avo­id the trap of re-enfor­cing the wri­ting of his­to­ries, which may con­form to the insti­tu­tio­nal and ter­ri­to­ria­li­sing logic of exis­ting archi­ves. The Gui­de will address the­se aspec­ts in two ways out­lined below.

(i) Metho­do­lo­gi­cal­ly this ent­ails a dis­cus­sion on how the data­ba­se ‘digi­tal­ly’ trans­forms the archi­tec­tu­re of archi­val hol­dings listed in it. The Glossa­ry of Archi­val and Records Ter­mi­no­lo­gy, published by the Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists dis­tin­guis­hes bet­ween two orde­ring princi­ples: pro­ven­an­ce (Pro­vi­ni­enz-Prin­zip) and per­ti­nence (Per­ti­nenz-Prin­zip). The princip­le of pro­ven­an­ce is defi­ned as “1. The ori­gin or source of some­thing. – 2. Infor­ma­ti­on regar­ding the origins, cus­to­dy, and ownership of an item or collec­tion”[9]. Alter­na­tively, “[p]rovenance is a fun­da­men­tal princip­le of archi­ves, refer­ring to the indi­vi­du­al, fami­ly, or orga­ni­za­ti­on that crea­ted or recei­ved the items in a collec­tion. The princip­le of pro­ven­an­ce or the respect des fonds dic­ta­tes that records of dif­fe­rent origins (pro­ven­an­ce) be kept sepa­ra­te to pre­ser­ve their con­text”[10]. In con­trast to this, the other orde­ring princip­le in archi­val ter­mi­no­lo­gy is the princip­le of per­ti­nence. This is defi­ned as: “A princip­le of arran­ging records based on con­tent, wit­hout regard for their pro­ven­an­ce or ori­gi­nal order”.[11]  Hol­dings rela­ted to India are housed in Ger­man archi­ves in accordance with the princip­le of pro­ven­an­ce. The MIDA data­ba­se trans­forms the­se cate­go­ri­za­ti­ons accord­ing to the princip­le of per­ti­nence by extrac­ting such sources and orde­ring them the­ma­ti­cal­ly, with India as the focus.[12]

One of the objec­tives of the pro­cess of pro­du­cing the data­ba­se has been to simul­ta­ne­ous­ly mir­ror the archi­tec­tu­re of the archi­ve con­cer­ned and none­theless show­ca­se the India-spe­ci­fic sources in a new sys­te­ma­ti­zed order. How can this be done effec­tively so that the data­ba­se allows users to view the sources as they exist in the con­text in which they are embed­ded in the archi­val struc­tu­re while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly inser­ting them in a new sys­te­ma­tic? The Archi­val Gui­de opens a dis­cus­sion on the­se ques­ti­ons to under­line the metho­do­lo­gi­cal impli­ca­ti­ons of cata­lo­guing India-rela­ted hol­dings in a new data­ba­se.

(ii) The­ma­ti­cal­ly, the Archi­val Gui­de is an ever-expan­ding site for dis­cus­sions on new rese­arch topics. Whe­re­as nume­rous posts high­light and reflect upon the results alrea­dy readi­ly viewa­ble in the data­ba­se (for examp­le the post on Her­bert Fischer, many of who­se sources are housed in the hol­dings of the Bun­des­ar­chiv listed in the data­ba­se), newer the­ma­tic ave­nues open par­al­lel to the deve­lop­ment of the pro­ject. Some of the the­mes, which might not be ade­qua­te­ly rep­re­sen­ted in the hol­dings listed in the data­ba­se, can nevertheless be cove­r­ed by posts writ­ten for the Archi­val Gui­de by experts on such spe­ci­fic rese­arch topics. This is a stra­te­gy neces­si­ta­ted by the awa­reness that, owing to limi­ted man­power, not all India rela­ted hol­dings in all Ger­man archi­ves can be enlisted in a peri­od of twel­ve years wit­hin the data­ba­se. The Archi­val Gui­de will thus be an open plat­form which will invi­te exter­nal scho­l­ars for con­tri­bu­ti­ons on their area of exper­ti­se. This will the­r­ein make it pos­si­ble to have posts which give over­views of Ger­man archi­val hol­dings on the­mes not cove­r­ed by the data­ba­se and, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, mark the begin­ning of exchan­ge with a lar­ger com­mu­ni­ty of his­to­ri­ans of South Asia.

(iii) Theo­re­ti­cal­ly our con­cerns rela­te to how a pro­ject like MIDA can crea­te a new struc­tu­re of meta­da­ta that cuts across the insti­tu­tio­nal and ter­ri­to­ri­al logic of exis­ting archi­ves and, at the same time, avo­ids, repla­cing this logic with an equal­ly nar­row and ter­rito­ry-bound bila­te­ral ‘Indo-Ger­man’ logic? Which for­mats of fin­ding aids are requi­red for crea­ting trans­na­tio­nal rese­arch faci­li­ties in the con­text of such a pro­ject so as to over­co­me the fal­se sepa­ra­ti­on of the ‘tech­ni­cal’ and the ‘sci­en­ti­fic’? The Archi­val Gui­de aims to address the­se ques­ti­ons through a ran­ge of cri­ti­cal­ly enga­ging posts. Besi­des, theo­re­ti­cal dis­cus­sions on ent­ang­led archi­ves and ent­ang­led his­to­ries, Digi­tal Huma­nities or ent­ang­led insti­tu­tio­nal and oral archi­ves will enga­ge with deba­tes wit­hin exis­ting lite­ra­tu­re and the pos­si­bi­li­ty for new theo­re­ti­cal direc­tions in modern Indian histo­ry and the histo­ry of Indo-Ger­man ent­an­gle­ments.

The MIDA Archi­val Gui­de is thus a Refle­xi­con- a refle­xi­ve lexi­con- of how to navi­ga­te through India rela­ted hol­dings in Ger­man archi­ves, acqui­re an over­view of the same for spe­ci­fic topics, and of how to cri­ti­cal­ly enga­ge with lar­ger theo­re­ti­cal and metho­do­lo­gi­cal deba­tes that emer­ge from the exer­ci­se of tra­cing, extrac­ting, lis­ting, orde­ring and index­ing infor­ma­ti­on.

We hope you enjoy the navi­ga­tio­nal expe­ri­ence!

Endnotes

[1] Ber­li­ner Archiv Gui­de, Hum­boldt-Uni­ver­si­tät zu Ber­lin in co-ope­ra­ti­on with Fac­ts and Files, Ber­lin, https://www.iaaw.hu-berlin.de/de/region/suedasien/publikationen/archiv/berlinerarchivguide_hub_2010.pdf, last acces­sed Novem­ber 26, 2017.
[2] L. Schmidt, Using Archi­ves: A Gui­de to Effec­tive Rese­arch, Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists, 2011, pp. 1–16, http://files.archivists.org/pubs/UsingArchives/Using-Archives-Guide.pdf, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 4, 2018.
[3] M.J. Ber­ry and M.J. Ilic, Using the Rus­si­an Archi­ves: an Infor­mal Prac­ti­cal gui­de for Begin­ners Based on Users’ Expe­ri­ence, Bri­tish Aca­de­mic Com­mit­tee for Col­la­bo­ra­ti­on With Rus­si­an Archi­ves, in asso­cia­ti­on with the Cent­re for Rus­si­an and East European Stu­dies, Uni­ver­si­ty of Bir­ming­ham. First published July 1999. Revi­sed for elec­tro­nic publi­ca­ti­on Decem­ber 2002, https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/staff/mharrison/archive/guides/, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 5, 2018.
[4] The League of Nati­ons Archi­ves Resour­ce Gui­de, http://libraryresources.unog.ch/c.php?g=462663, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 7, 2018.
[5] Ham­burg, Wis­sen Digi­tal, http://www.hamburgwissen-digital.de/weitere-angebote/archivfuehrer.html, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 7, 2018.
[6] The Natio­nal Archi­ves, UK, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 7, 2018.
[7] F. M. Bisch­off, Archi­ve, 2016, https://guides.clio-online.de/guides/sammlungen/archive/2016, acces­sed Sep­tem­ber 8, 2018.
[8] See post by M. C. Füchs­le, „Quel­len zu den Mys­o­re-Krie­gen (1766–1799) aus deut­schen Archi­ven“, MIDA Archiv­füh­rer.
[9] The Glossa­ry of Archi­val and Records Ter­mi­no­lo­gy, Chi­ca­go: The Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists, 2005, p. 317.
[10] The Glossa­ry of Archi­val and Records Ter­mi­no­lo­gy, Chi­ca­go: The Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists, 2005, p. 317.
[11] The Glossa­ry of Archi­val and Records Ter­mi­no­lo­gy, Chi­ca­go: The Socie­ty of Ame­ri­can Archi­vists, 2005, p. 292.
[12] For more reflec­tions on the pro­cess of re-struc­tu­ring through data­ba­ses, also see, Bajpai, A., Hey­mann, J. and Suski, T., “Tra­cing India in Ger­man Archi­ves: Ent­ang­led Pasts in the age of Digi­tal Huma­nities”, in: South Asia Chro­ni­cle, 6, pp. 289–314.

Anan­di­ta Bajpai, IAAW, Hum­boldt Uni­ver­si­tät zu Ber­lin