Bones of Contention: The Living Archive of Vasil Levski and the Making of Bulgaria's National Hero

Bones of Contention: The Living Archive of Vasil Levski and the Making of Bulgaria's National Hero

Bones of Contention: The Living Archive of Vasil Levski and the Making of Bulgaria's National Hero

Bones of Contention: The Living Archive of Vasil Levski and the Making of Bulgaria's National Hero

Excerpt

This book is about documenting and analyzing the living archive around the figure of Vasil Levski, arguably the major and only uncontested hero of the Bulgarian national pantheon. In the course of working on the problem, it became clear that this cannot be a finite task. The processes described, although with a chronological depth of almost two centuries, are still very much in the making, and the living archive expands not only in size but constantly adds surprising new forms. While archives continue to occupy an almost sacral place both in the public imagination (as the repositories of truth) as well as in legitimizing the historical profession (as the centerpiece and major tool of the historians' work), they have become themselves objects of sophisticated scrutiny. It has been long (although not broadly) recognized that “ar-

1 I wish to acknowledge, with thanks, Bruce Grant's idea that I present my
story under the overall rubric of the living archive. I am using “archive” here
in a very broad sense, beyond its institutional meaning of a repository of
documentation, but still within its physicality, rather than in a purely meta
phorical sense, as a synonym for memory, i.e. any non-archival documen
tation, cultural memorization, electronic or other storage and oral commu
nication. Archives have become a significant topic of late, especially within
cultural history. On archives and their meaning, see: Carolyn Steedman,
Dust: The Archive in Cultural History, New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers Univer
sity Press, 2002; Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, Chi
cago: University of Chicago Press, 1995; Randolph Starn, “Truths in the
Archives,” Common Knowledge 8.2 (2002), 387–402; Kenneth E. Foote, “To
Remember and Forget: Archives, Memory, and Culture,” American Archi
vist
53 (Summer 1990), 378–92; Jo Tellebeek, “'Turn'd to Dust and Tears':
Revisiting the Archive,” History and Theory 43 (May 2004), 237–48. It is on
the basis of colonial historiography, especially in the Indian context, that ar
chival presumptions have been most fruitfully critiqued: Thomas Richards,
Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire, London: Verso, 1993;
Nicholas Dirks, “Annals of the Archive: Ethnographic Notes on the Sources
of History,” in Brian Keith Axel, ed., Historical Anthropology and Its Futures:
From the Margins
, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002, 47–65; An
toinette Burton, ed., Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of His-

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