The Trouble with the Archive
On May 3rd, 2021, the PLSC hosted a public talk by Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj, as part of the inaugural lecture series of the Palestine Land Studies Center.
Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj:
Dr. Nadia Abu El-Haj is Ann Olin Whitney Professor in the Departments of Anthropology at Barnard College and Columbia University, Co- Director of the Center for Palestine Studies, and Chair of the Governing Board of Columbia’s Society of Fellows/Heyman Center for the Humanities. She is the recipient of numerous awards and the author of journal articles on topics ranging from the history of archaeology in Palestine, to the question of race and genomics, to the workings of American militarism during the post 9/11 wars. Dr. Abu El-Haj is the author of two books: Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society (University of Chicago Press, 2001), which won the Albert Hourani Annual Book Award from the Middle East Studies Association in 2002, and The Genealogical Science: The Search for Jewish Origins and the Politics of Epistemology (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Her third book, to be published by Verso (2022), is a study of contemporary American militarism as it operates in and through the idiom of combat trauma and the obligation of American citizens to care for soldiers sent off to war in their name.
For decades now, post-colonial studies has been invested in the work of re-reading the archive –– reading “against” or “along” the archive grain in order to recuperate histories suppressed or erased by colonial projects. Recovering the histories of the colonized or enslaved is understood as a radical political project, important not just as a scholarly project but also, as crucial to contemporary anti- and post- colonial struggles. In this talk, I draw on my work on Palestine and Israel in order to reconsider this faith in the power of historical recuperation, and suggest a very different configuration of knowledge and power with which we need to contend today.