AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 147

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Session 147: From Collection to Knowledge Production: Examining the Archive(s) in Southeast Asia

Organizer: Ricardo L. Punzalan, University of Michigan, USA

Chair: Andrew J. Lau, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Scholars from various disciplines have long pondered the nature and impact of archives in relation to power and knowledge production. Many argue that archives are not mere passive byproducts of past events, but are sites of representation and identity construction, where interpretation is negotiated, and the power of what, who and when to remember may even be lost or won. Notions of the nature of archives have greatly diversified in recent years: from their early, simplistic definition as institutional collections of documents, they have been redefined to embody knowledge systems, institutional practices, codification of power, boundary objects, sites of memory, and more. In addition, changes in media types have brought into question the concept of “record as document.” Archives have thus become prospective subjects or sites of knowledge production suitable for ethnographic inquiry. This panel examines archives in and about different Southeast Asian countries from various angles and represents a diversity of thought on the subject. We look at archives not as discrete collections but relate them to how categorizations and representations, practices of collection, preservation, and digitization mediate interpretation and knowledge of the region. All the panelists explore disciplinary “border crossings” and use the archive as point of contact between different viewpoints, and come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from archival studies to visual studies, ethnomusicology, psychoanalysis, religion, history and postcolonial studies. The panelists are from among the best archival studies programs in the U.S., thus embody some of the current thinking on archives in Asia.

Archiving Mass Murder: Context, the Camera, and the Khmer Rouge
Michelle Caswell, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge tortured an estimated minimum of 12,000 prisoners at Tuol Sleng, only a dozen of whom survived. Meticulous record keepers, the Khmer Rouge photographed each prisoner as they entered. These photographs provide the last surviving trace of victims before their executions. Today, more then 30 years after the regime’s toppling, archivists have preserved, catalogued, exhibited, digitized and made these photographs accessible online. However, the meaning of these photographs changes depending on the context in which they are displayed. Furthering recent work in archival studies on classification, archival description and knowledge construction, this paper examines the role of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) in contextualizing these photographs at three very different sites: the courtroom, the online database, and the memorial. Drawing on trial transcripts, interviews with archivists and researchers, and materials produced by survivors, this paper explores the following questions: How are these photographs being used as evidence in the current tribunal and how is their evidentiary value complicated by the postmodern questioning of truth? How do these photographs change when digitized and viewed online, by what categories are they classified, and what role does metadata play in providing context? How do family members use them to memorialize the dead and how are they impacting reconciliation? Throughout all of these questions runs the underlying importance of the archives in the construction of collective memory of the regime.

These Images Are Similar, But Are Not the Same: Digitization and Worcester's Visual Archives of Indigenous Filipinos
Ricardo L. Punzalan, University of Michigan, USA

This presentation examines the dispersal of colonial photographs in several archival institutions as they embrace digitized and online access. The materials in question are the photographs of Dean C. Worcester, a product of his sustained engagement in the Philippines between 1890 and 1913 in his various capacities as a colonial administrator in the islands. The photographs are mainly a series of ethnological surveys of indigenous populations to understand their habitat, life-ways, natural resource use, and the possible impact of the American pacification attempts to “civilize” and “educate.” The Worcester photographs are now owned and maintained by four heritage institutions: the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology, the Field Museum, the Newberry Library and the Smithsonian Institution. The paper is largely inspired by the following questions: How are the three institutions grapple with issues of duplication, selection and originality in the context of digitization on one hand, and the profound ethical dilemma of colonial representation of indigenous peoples, on the other? What parameters are used to determine which image ought to be digitized when multiple negative and print versions are available? How are notions of authenticity settled or negotiated among institutions that specialize in representing unique and rare artifacts? What does the ‘virtual reunification’ of disparate collections achieve for both users of images and the institutions that keep them? What are the implications of digitization and virtual reunification to the indigenous groups who were subjects of these images? Are these issues beyond these technical and ethical concerns?

The Archive in the Archives: Postcolonialisms in Archival Studies
Andrew J. Lau, University of California, Los Angeles, USA

In recent years, the humanities have developed a growing interest in the archive. However, there has been little discourse on the continuities and discontinuities between the conceptual archive and the field of archival studies. As a discipline, archival studies has developed its own methods and theories for archiving, situated in practice. That is, the corpus of archival theory and methodology developed primarily in terms of the work that archivists perform in the context of their professional duties. Despite this seemingly insular history of the codification of practice into theory, the discipline has experienced its own epistemic shifts, owing to the influence of broader ideological changes, from modern to postmodern visions of archival practice. Particularly, the latter was instrumental in catalyzing a broader interest in ethical, cultural, and social implications of archival infrastructures. While other disciplines have tarried with postcolonialism, archival studies has only expressed a passing interest, applying the term “post[-]colonial” to projects that specifically focus on decolonized nations, delimited by the reductionist binary of colonizer/colonized. In challenging this view, this presentation will offer a discourse analysis on the historical development of archival theory, and argue that interdisciplinary approaches to exploring the relationship between records and postcolonialities might elucidate the present conditions of globalization, national identity, and cultural memory in an archival context. In particular, this presentation will focus on exemplars of archival writing in and about Asia in order to emphasize a shift in the postcolonial archival discourse from a view that privileges the colonial administrative functions of archives, to one invested in the emancipatory and transformative possibilities of records and record-keeping.

Performance as Archives in Southeast Asia: An Ethnomusicological Perspective
Jesse A. Johnston, National Endowment for the Humanities, USA

This presentation will examine the concept of archives and their intersection with performance. I focus on archival imperatives arising from the need to preserve performance forms (particularly traditional music, dance, and ritual), questions of ownership of oral and other “intangible” materials, concerns about access and format, and the place of archives in ethnomusicological research. I draw specifically on archival research carried out in my research into the history of musicians in the community of Culion, site of an U.S.-established leprosarium from 1906. From its early beginnings as a planned medico-penal colony, musical instruments were bought for the patients by government administrators and donated, through Jesuit priests, in the context of religious benefactions from the United States. In tracing the history of music at the colony, I consulted various archives, particularly the Jesuit archives in Manila. By consulting published reports, photographs, colonial reports and correspondence, donation logs, and other traditional archival records, I pieced together a provisional history of musical activity in Culion. But what was the significance of this project for contemporary musicians in Culion? This presentation will suggest ways in which interviews with surviving musicians in Culion contextualized and gave new meaning to the archival materials. More broadly, I will address issues of how available materials have constrained knowledge about music in Culion, and more generally in the Philippines. Finally, I will attempt an assessment of the role of archival “silent witnesses” in the reconstruction of the community’s musical legacies.