DREAM Archives

                                                                                         Photo: Yann Potin, Amsterdam, IISH, 10/2018

Archives and Writing History 

The question of the archive and historical understanding is rarely, if at all, addressed in the major research projects tackling the MENA region. Similarly, filiations and historical inscriptions are hardly brought into closer focus. DREAM however strongly believes that questions of violence, ruptures and revolutions must not only be examined through the lens of what is commonly called “power”, nor should it be only approached by cultural motives. This project intends to combine these levels in a dynamic way. 

For this purpose, the research team undergoes training sessions dealing with a number of techniques, for example: understanding archive logics, learning how to describe them using Encoded Archival Description format, training on oral history and the field’s methods. It is our goal to also collect a rich archive material on the revolutionary aspirations of the past decades relying on private documents and interviews in order to eventually see fusions, overlaps, gaps, changes or stagnations with today’s revolutions. Change, thus, becomes an object to viscerally, archivally, and verbally see and understand through this multi-disciplinary and trans-historical archive. In order to access silence and whispering – to access the “world’s murmurings”, as Foucault said (1994: 164), we will need to locate actors and collect their stories and narratives in several languages, paying particular attention to people who have been neglected, or who speak less loudly than the others. In this sense, the project resembles historical anthropology. Such material will be found in public spaces – associations, refugee camps, Internet sites (harvests). We will need to make room for graffiti, addresses in the street, and other traces. In addition, we will have to take stock of the work already done in this field, such as the web archives put together by the French National Library (in particular, several elements relating to the Tunisian revolution I used as a basis for my work – Dakhli, 2011), the personal archives of revolutionary fighters (for example, the archives of Othmani Ahmed and Lellouche Simone) and in other institutions such as the Middle East Center in Oxford. Experiments have also been carried out by groups (Mosereen, Kazeboon, http://archiverevolution.com). The witness accounts assembled during the reconciliation processes in Morocco in 2004 and Tunisia in 2016-2017 should not be neglected. So that we may access even the most delicate, sensitive areas, we must not forget the art and literature: they should be considered as sources in and of themselves, and must therefore be indexed. The presence of team members having a background in literature will be a definite advantage.   

We will create a space in which to deposit the objects and poor archives that come out of private archives or the archives of associations – even the most ephemeral material. This depositing should occur in collaboration with the International Institute of Social History (IISH) archives in Amsterdam. The IISH collects archives of social movements and is thus the space and place for DREAM to create an archive through our research and amongst IISH’s established and ongoing collections. 


At IISH we will work closely with Marien van der Heijden (Head of Collection Development). Since the IISH is specialized in the protection of “poor” archival materials (pamphlets, flimsy papers) and in the collection of archives that may be in particular danger in their country of origin. We will need to think together about how to make a place for electronic archives, which will undoubtedly be large in quantity. We could for example imagine an Internet site that would allow the creation of personal (or group) archive pages devoted to revolutions. This reflection and development of a “reception site” must be carried out in collaboration with DARIAH at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin. 

Once archives have been identified, collected and gathered together, we must edit them, bring out the voices and sounds that have until now been drowned out by others who speak more loudly. Between silence and the overpowering words of leaders and victors there are projections and hopes, whispers and voices of unfinished uprisings. These voices are the common thread that may help us to create the history of the everyday aspects of uprisings, the bursts of hope and the disappointments, and the sedimentations of both.