The Archives as a Source of Social History: Studying Belonging of the Indian–Chinese Community

Published date01 June 2024
DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1177/23210230241235358
AuthorAbir Lal Mazumder
Date01 June 2024
Subject MatterNotes on Method
The Archives as a Source of Social
History: Studying Belonging of the
Indian–Chinese Community
Abir Lal Mazumder1
Introduction: What Is an Archive?
Archives often speak about how identities and meanings are created and change over time. Dube (2020),
while speaking about Dalit identity and their religion, wrote that archives were ‘ongoing, unfinished,
open-ended’ processes contingent on the authoritarian politics of the state. Archives are building blocks
of history and may often provide more answers than official narratives of events. The significance of this
article is to locate how the ambiguity of archival material is often a boon in disguise to anthropologists
looking into complex events in modern society, wherein official narratives are also contingent on similar
politics that are produced by the state.
Archives are of myriad interest to academicians from various backgrounds. They are repositories that
house significant materials that help us to historicize our world. Archival material is usually carefully stored
in a particular order. One invokes the use of archives when one is seeking to trace and uncover gaps or
imperfect historical facts. Archival researchers often, therefore, look upon various source materials, and
depending on value assumptions they make of the social world which they investigate (Drake et al., 1994
Gailet, 2012; Ogborn, 2014).
In a discussion around archival research, L’Eplattenier (2009) talks about combining both methods
and methodologies of using archives. She states that while methodologies help researchers set their goals
for research, it is the method that gives clues to how we get to the task of carrying out research. In the
case of the study of archives, one goes back to the College English (CE) journal issue of 1999, where
multiple authors (Buckley et al., 1999; Brerton, 1999) published about their own experience of working
in the archives, and they raised several questions, as follows:
1. What should be in the archive?
2. How can we secure access? Which tools should be used to explore the past?
3. What is present or missing in the context of the research in the archive?
4. Can access now be improved upon in future through better techniques, and will the nature of
access change too?
This raises the question of how to define or even describe an archive for what it is. Archives are viewed
as a primary means of creating new epistemologies. They are not ‘inert repositories of artifacts but rather
Notes on Method
Studies in Indian Politics
12(1) 135–141, 2024
© 2024 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Article reuse guidelines:
in.sagepub.com/journals-permissions-india
DOI: 10.1177/23210230241235358
journals.sagepub.com/home/inp
Note: This section is coordinated by Divya Vaid (divya.vaid.09@gmail.com).
1 Department of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad, Telangana, India
Corresponding author:
Abir Lal Mazumder, Department of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad, Hyderabad,
Telangana 500046, India.
E-mail: abirsombit@gmail.com

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