To File the World: the Archive as Cultural Heritage and the Power of Remembering

This paper analyses the historic archive as a tool for the preservation of memory. Beyond the idea of the archive as a fixed and immovable space, the paper wishes to consider the archive in its dynamism, chronological evolution, and in its changing relations with both the State and the private individual. Starting from a historical perspective, the paper retraces the archive’s strong link with the nation-state and investigates its role in the identity-building process and in the legitimization of an official public historiography. In doing so, the paper underlines the elements of control and social construction behind the archive as an institution. This leads first to a critical analysis of the complex relationship between preserving, remembering and forgetting. It is then possible to analyse the origin and development of the notion of historic archive as a cultural asset and to see how this classification affects the general discipline of cultural heritage. The paper uses examples from both national legislations and international bodies in order to see how countries at different levels interpret and appropriate this idea of the archive as a cultural asset and how the establishment of dedicated institutions, guidelines and constraints shape the process of document preservation. Fruition is another central issue: the paper considers if and how allowing citizens to interact with and to access documents would permit the archive to become a space for the sharing and the negotiation of memories and cultural identities.