When a piece of literature is archived, it is given an inherent amount of importance. It is deemed worthy to be saved for future generations. But what of the massive amount of literature that isn’t archived? Who is making the decisions of what to archive, and what criteria are they using?
“The architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interior suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders. As scholars, we benefit from this privilege. Yet, this architecture may also be a reminder of the archive’s susceptibility to both external and internal forces of wastage. The history of the archive, on the one hand a history of conservation, is, on the other hand, a history of loss” (Werner/Voss, i).
So, a few scholars have, historically, been responsible for archiving human culture. Naturally, whenever human judgment is involved, mistakes are made and things can go wrong. Also, things are naturally prioritized as more or less important. One might even say that’s the whole point of archiving certain things and not others. This practice is still in place today. I will use the example of the Blake Archive:
“As we indicate in the Plan of the Archive (see Significance), we chose the illuminated books as our starting point for several reasons: their historical and artistic value, the editorial and technical challenges they present, their relative coherence as an extensive group, the difficulties that their fragility and their widely dispersed present locations have created for scholars, and the need for a new map of their place in Blake’s lifetime of artistic labor. We saw the illuminated books, once we had substantially achieved our first-phase goal of including one copy from every printing of every book, as a kind of archival and editorial backbone for the project.” http://www.blakearchive.org/blake/public/about/principles/index.html
What impact does choosing the illuminated books as the backbone of the project have? Some choice had to be made as to what should be prioritized. How would the project differ if other Blake material was put in the spotlight? Will this have any impact on the future of Blake research? In the past, deeming something more important in an archive may have ensured its survival along with the destruction of another less important work. All of this is decided by a few lucky scholars. So, the politics of what is archived, what isn’t, and what is given priority seems to be an important thing to consider.