Ann Laura Stoler’s Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (2010) is a dense but eye-opening monograph. Stoler sees that many scholars of empire and colonialism enter the archives searching to moments when the subalterns exercise agency—they examine colonial documents “against the grain”—without trying to understand the motivations and epistemologies of the colonizers. She calls for scholars to first read “along the grain,” so that they get a sense of the mentalities of the colonial administration, then read the same documents “against the grain.”
Stoler was assigned in a seminar in spring 2015 and has been one of the most intellectually stimulating books I’ve read. I’m still unsure what clicked in my head when reading Stoler—perhaps it was her generous use of metaphors and other literary devices—but it attuned me to thinking of archives as processes (her term) and as living things; Archives, grow, shrink, transform, and die.
Read this book if: You study colonialism, empire or archives or if you want to take the archival turn.