LECTURE BY YANN POTIN AT THE SIMÓN BOLÍVAR ANDEAN UNIVERSITY (UASB): « THE IMPORTANCE OF ARCHIVES ».

Monday, March 2, 2020, Evening: (6:30 to 8:30 p.m.):

Many Ecuadorian researchers associated with Archival City were present as well as students of the Master of Andean History at the UASB.

After the words of welcome by Guillermo Bustos, director of the PhD in Andean History at the University, Georges Lomné introduced the speaker: Yann Potin has received a double training: École Normale Supérieure and agrégation d’histoire then École des Chartes where he defended his thesis. He taught at the Universities of Marne-la-Vallée, Paris-I Panthéon-Sorbonne, Reims and Paris-Ouest Nanterre before joining the National Archives in Paris as a palaeographer-archivist. At the same time, he continues to teach the history of law at the University of Paris-Nord. He has edited numerous works, including l’Histoire mondiale de la France with Patrick Boucheron et alia. He has also edited collections of selected works by Françoise Dolto, Jules Michelet and Lucien Febvre. In short, Yann Potin is as much a historian of the Middle Ages as an archivist and epistemologist. The making of archives and the making of historical narrative are his two passions.

Yann Potin first raised the many issues introduced by the UNESCO « Universal Declaration on Archives » adopted by the 36th Session of the General Conference of UNESCO on 10th November 2011. By postulating, from its preamble, that archives “are a unique and irreplaceable heritage passed from one generation to another”, this declaration omits to consider that archives were only recently constituted (in the 18th century, with the exception of the Hispanic World, a pioneer in this field) and that the science of archiving is even more recent. In short, the 19th century invented archives at the same time as the national framework.

Yann Potin then wondered of what the archives are the trace of, to put forward the idea that they speak first of those archives that we miss! The distinction was then introduced between Archive and Archives. The plural introduces a patrimonial logic, an imperative of conservation, while the singular indicates a contemporary sickness: “Archive Fever”. The difficulty lies in working on the gap between the set of rules of the Archive – which reflects a Power, sometimes oppressive – and the « carnival of possibilities » of the Urban Archives – which often refers to an unsuccessful attempt to record reality.

Three main questions were then asked: Who is it for? For whom? For what purpose? In response to « For whom? », it was suggested that archives are « a booster for the future ». In response to the question « From whom? », it was stressed that talking about urban archives is a magical, propitiatory act, because the city is not separable from its inhabitants and those who pass through it. The city is an archive of its own, even beyond the archive collections that have been built up. Finally, in response to the « What for? « it was recalled that to archive is to naturalize traces that will replace reality. Gathering lists of archival funds is perhaps the only way to identify gaps and shortages in the urban social history. In short, an equation through inventories.

By way of conclusion, Yann Potin insisted on the fertile tension between archives and the way in which the City archives itself. He also reminded us that every City draws from a reservoir of Cities. Thus, the importance of Jerusalem for Quito!


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