Academic journal article Trames

Micro-Historical Inspirations in the Interpretation of the Archive Collections of the Polish Ethnographic Atlas (Selected Examples: Maciejowka Caps and Wooden Shoes)

Academic journal article Trames

Micro-Historical Inspirations in the Interpretation of the Archive Collections of the Polish Ethnographic Atlas (Selected Examples: Maciejowka Caps and Wooden Shoes)

Article excerpt

Claude Levi-Strauss [explored how culture is experienced by common people, analyzing totems and tattoos]. "Why not try a similar strategy for the study of eighteenth-century France?" "Because you cannot interview the 18th-century French", the skeptic would answer, adding that archives will never serve as a substitute for field research. Yes, it's true, but the Ancien Regime archives are unusually rich and you can always put new questions to old material (Darton 1984, 4).

1. Introduction

Rereading the meanings of the material gathered in the past provides the researcher with an opportunity to build a different image of the past. Posing completely new questions to old material offers a new interpretative perspective of the past events. Archival ethnographic data, repeatedly subjected to different analyses, provide different answers depending on the questions posed. In this context, an essentially unchanged material constantly leads to different observations and conclusions. Similar approach to sources is included in Clifford Geertz' concept or in the theory of Hayden White, of which Ewa Domanska writes that "they have undermined the objective status of the anthropological/historical science, showing that its source is not a (past) reality as such, but its interpretations" (Domanska 1999: 70).

New possibilities of interpretation are also offered by the huge collection of empirical data collected for the purposes of the Polish Ethnographic Atlas project. So far, this information was primarily used to determine the presence of certain artefacts in the studied area, indicating their age and characterizing their differentiation. This purpose was served by the ethnogeographic method.

A change of perspective in the perception of the data collected and posing new questions to it reveals its new content and interpretative value. It includes, among others, a great deal of information which makes it possible to determine the chronology of selected cultural artefacts, and consequently, reading the processes taking place in the rural culture and discovering the phenomena which led to their appearance, existence and disaapearance.

The Atlas data, both represented on the maps, as well as the data which has not been put on the map, have mostly incomplete chronological information. This means that the informants pointed to the time of appearance or disappearance of a given element of culture. For the most part, the answers pointed to the period of departing from the old forms, which could be described as traditional, and acquiring new ones, coming from the urban culture, often based on industrial production. Determining the chronology of the disappearance of the studied phonomena enables to capture the dynamics of the changes, which mostly took place in the lifetime of the informants. Negative information, which is manifested in the lack of knowledge or amnesia regarding the appearance of the studied artefacts, expands the possibilities of interpretation. In the context of the processes analyzed they strengthen the beliefs about the character of the changes taking place. This means that they allow the observation of the old forms of culture (artefacts), which in the classical approach constituted the traditional culture, departing into the past, and the dissemination of those that lead to the uniformization of culture.

Among the data collected there are narratives where the speakers specify both the time of appearance and disappearance of certain elements of culture. Such cases are rather rare and they are evidence of different mechanisms of change taking place in the rural culture. They refer to single, specific components of a given culture. The memory of these processes covers not only the time when they appeared and disappeared, but also the circumstances in which the processes took place. Thanks to such records it is not only possible to track the course of these processes, which undoubtedly constitutes an important source of knowledge about changes in culture in a broad context, but above all, to uncover the individual, subjective evaluation of the processes as manifested by the residents of the surveyed villages. …

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