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Archival City

This special collection brings together a number of research papers produced as part of the I-SITE-funded international Archival City programme. Based on six study areas spread across the globe (Algiers, Bologna, Chiang Mai, Greater Paris, Jerusalem, Quito), this interdisciplinary project examines the way in which cities produce, sort, conserve, use and enhance their archives in response to development issues, to the challenges and sometimes threats posed by urban planning, and urban heritage programmes.

Archival City reflects the ‘archival turn’, which has turned archives from sites of research into objects of enquiry in their own right, considering archives not as neutral repositories of sources, but as historically constructed tools of power relations, deeply embedded in changing social and cultural contexts. The specificities of the urban context make the city a privileged observatory for taking a reflexive look at archives, and more broadly at documentation on urban history and heritage. Urban archives represent a polysemous term that covers all "documents produced on the city, in the city, by the city" (Bourillon & Coudroy de Lille, 2020), above all reflecting the multiplicity of players who act on the urban environment and produce archives. AC’s members explore the effects that processes of selection, preservation and classification can have on urban documentation.

This special collection combines the views of architects, historians, archivists, documentalists and digital humanities experts on urban archives and documentation.  The authors reflect on the constitution of corpora of archives on the city, the creation of databases, the spatialization of data and the digitisation of sources, with enormous potential for research into urban and social history. As well as sharing datasets and describing their potential for re-use, these articles address some of the key epistemological issues raised by Archival City, with the aim of exploring the notion of the urban archive. 

The authors highlight the compartmentalisation and dispersal of urban archives as a result of historical and political transitions (colonial and post-colonial), the multiplication of players involved in the city, often in competition with each other, and the rationales inherent in the transfer of archive collections. They also examine the notion of urban archives in the light of the reconfiguration of archive holdings over time and stress the need to reconstruct the genealogies of municipal technical and administrative services to understand the rationale behind the creation and preservation of archives. In addition, this special collection highlights the fact that documentation on the city is not limited to documents held in archive collections (municipal archives, for example), but also includes data produced by various actors and institutions that have an impact on the city. Finally, by analysing the links between archives, history and the digital humanities, the authors highlight the opportunities and challenges posed by digital tools in the context of urban history. They thus contribute to the debates raised by digital public history.


Guest editors:

Vincent Lemire, Gustave Eiffel University

Annalaura Turiano, Gustave Eiffel University


Keith Hodson, Accent Europe