The Archive as Chronotopos in the Nineteenth Century: Toward a History of Archival Times

The archive produces patterns of time consciousness and makes it possible to order time through its materiality and visibility. Thus, as an institution and as an idea, the archive offers a historical concept of time that is based on specific evidence and perceived authenticity. This hypothesis forms the main focus of my article. Scholars have recently argued that time cannot be perceived when it is in motion; fixing it would therefore enable the handling of time and the construction of specific—that is, historically contextualized and socioculturally and politically relevant—chronotypes. Hence, the archive's status as a complex of repository buildings, archival documents, institutional structures, and scientific practices means that it can be understood as a paradigmatic institution in which projects involving the formation of a concrete chronotype are carried out. This special quality of the archive enables us to discuss its relevance not only at times of crisis and temporal acceleration but also in the experiences of contingency that can be observed in almost all nineteenth-century European societies. With this historical context in mind, my article raises the question of whether the archive can be read as an authority that helped people to regain orientation in time by constructing and communicating a specific pattern of time. To be more precise, it understands the archive as a physical and conceptual space of time—a chronotopos—in which a historically, nationally bound concept of time is rooted. This interpretation of the archive as a time-ordering institution helps to shed light on the assemblage of temporal orders in modernity. I thus propose that the historical conceptualization of time qua archive—and the archive's materiality and organic nature—helped to foster a nationalized understanding of time that was not abstract and arbitrary but rather evident and authentic.