In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Archives

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Key Monographs
  • Key Collections
  • Archives and Theory
  • Study of Archives
  • Audiovisual Archives
  • Digital Archives and Claims to Difference
  • Consent, Ethics, and Anonymity
  • Indigenous and Citizen-led Archives

Anthropology Archives
David Zeitlyn
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 April 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 March 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0198


Archives and archival studies have an increasingly high profile within anthropology. The term gets used to cover several different fields: in theory it is used to talk about how governments control their populations, including by controlling what sort of history gets written (Derrida 1995 cited under Key Monographs), and generalizing from this, also by controlling how the population thinks about the past and future and about political alternatives (see Foucault 2002 cited under Key Monographs). At a more specific level, one focused more on particulars, archives have become the focus of research in historical anthropology and memory (though the parallel between archives and memory is itself questionable). See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Memory.” Studies are now being undertaken of how archives are created and how archivists do their work on the basis of parallels with museum studies. See the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Museum Anthropology.” Digital archives enable new forms of research, although some and perhaps even most of the conceptual issues around them as archives are in fact the same as for analogue archives, and the digital exponents (who no longer warrant being called pioneers) risk ignoring important precedents and having to relearn the same lessons as their predecessors. The term “archives” can identify the repositories of material (buildings, suites of rooms, or a web address) and the materials contained therein. There is often slippage between these two senses, and some authors pit them against each other. Professional archivists usually discuss “an archives”: the word is plural (because one building/website contains many files). By contrast, theorists who use the idea of records in an extended (metaphorical) sense, following Foucault 2002 and Derrida 1995 (both cited under Key Monographs), discuss the singular “archive,” often with a definite article, so we have “the archive” and sometimes even “the Archive.”


Many anthropological journals regularly include articles that rely on archival materials or discuss more theoretical issues concerning the archive, often when talking about history and memory. The specialist journals particularly cater to historians and archivists but very often include articles of relevance to anthropologists as well as some special issues dedicated to topics such as nonstandard or indigenous archives. Other relevant titles are included under the Journals heading in the separate Oxford Bibliographies article “Museum Anthropology.” Of the specialist journals, Archival Science has an explicitly global remit, unlike Archivaria, with a Canadian focus, and Archives and Manuscripts, which concentrates on Australia. Both, however, have published important papers about decolonization and the creation of indigenous archives of general significance. Collections is different in that it makes connections between both museums and archives, which all too often are considered separately. Gradhiva: Revue d’anthropologie et d’histoire des arts is predominantly in French; this journal and its English-language counterpart, History and Anthropology, are the main anthropological journals publishing on archival matters. Vestiges: Traces of Record is a new journal publishing in English and French that includes both theoretical discussions and detailed case studies of archival material.

  • Archival Science: International Journal on Recorded Information. 2001–.

    Archival Science has an explicitly global remit and publishes articles about archives in many different parts of the world. See, for example, the special issue Whatley and Brown 2009 (cited under Key Collections). Available online by subscription.

  • Archivaria: The Journal of the Association of Canadian Archivists. 1975–.

    Archivaria has a Canadian focus. It has published important papers about decolonization and the creation of indigenous archives; see also Archives and Manuscripts. Available online by subscription.

  • Archives and Manuscripts: The Journal of the Australian Society of Archivists. 1955–.

    Although explicitly concentrating on Australasia, it publishes on archival matters around the world, and has included important papers on Aboriginal archives. Available online by subscription.

  • Collections: A Journal for Museum and Archives Professionals. 2004–.

    Although aimed at those working in the institutions in question rather than at researchers using them, this has the advantage of bridging museums and archives, which all too often are considered separately when they should be taken together. Available online by subscription.

  • Gradhiva: Revue d’anthropologie et d’histoire des arts. 2005–.

    Originally established as Gradhiva: Revue d’histoire et d’archives de l’anthropologie in 1986. The name and emphasis changed when the new series was launched in 2005, but even the new series includes many titles that use archival materials or relate to archive studies.

  • History and Anthropology. 1984–.

    This is the main anthropological journal that regularly covers archival issues. Available online by subscription.

  • Vestiges: Traces of Record. 2015–.

    A relatively new gold (no-fee) open access journal created after a workshop in Cameroon. It has a particular focus on research using archives in Africa but will consider papers about any region. It takes a very wide definition of archives including archaeology and art history. Recent issues have included monograph-length special issues and the republication and translation of a Hausa-language history text from northern Nigeria. The Vestiges website has made available other previously inaccessible texts.

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