The essays that comprise Elusive Archives raise a common question: how do we study material culture when the objects of study are transient, evanescent, dispersed or subjective? Such things resist the taxonomic protocols that institutions, such as museums and archives, rely on to channel their acquisitions into meaningful collections. What holds these disparate things together here are the questions authors ask of them. Each essay creates by means of its method a provisional collection of things, an elusive archive. Scattered matter then becomes fixed within each author’s analytical framework rather than within the walls of an archive’s reading room or in cases along a museum corridor.
This book follows the ways in which objects may be identified, gathered, arranged, conceptualized and even displayed rather than by “discovering” artifacts in an archive and then asking how they came to be there. The authors approach material culture outside the traditional bounds of learning about the past. Their essays are varied not only in subject matter but also in narrative format and conceptual reach, making the volume accessible and easy to navigate for a quick reference or, if read straight through, build toward a new way to think about material culture.