|Bureaucratics: Reproduced with kind permission from Jan Banning|
The image which so struck me was a photograph of Sushama Prasad, assistant clerk at the Cabinet Secretary in
This is a photo to induce a moment of horror in any historian. We see Ms. Prasad sat at a battered and bare desk, in front of large wooden cabinets. On top of these are piled hundreds upon hundreds of aged bundles of paper. They form a grey sea of unfiled, utterly chaotic, visibly decaying bureaucratic paperwork. This is precisely the sort of thing research historians see in bad dreams – sources there in tantalising abundance, yet virtually unusable, because they are utterly disordered and unsearchable. The sight of apparently rotting official papers, sources on the cusp of oblivion, is equally distressing – it reminded me of a Polish ecclesiastical archive in which I was handed 15C episcopal letters so damp, I had to wipe my hands after using them. Banning’s photograph brings home what historic documents look like in their ‘natural state’, if left to run wild like a garden. It makes stark too how much artifice and on-going human intervention there is behind an archive, where archivists have imposed (or maintained) an order on/in the paperwork. Ms. Prasad’s office, in this striking shot, is a kind of anti-archive, a dark place in the historian’s imagination. Patna, India (above).