Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence

  • Rodney G.S. Carter


This article examines the dynamics of silence in archives. It argues that silences are, in part, the manifestation of the actions of the powerful in denying the marginal access to archives and that this has a significant impact on the ability of the marginal groups to form social memory and history. Archivists and researchers can read archives “against the grain” and begin to highlight these silences and give voice to the silenced. This, however, may be a difficult and contentious activity and one that should not be entered into lightly. The article then examines how silence can be a method used by the marginalized to deny the archives their records as a way to exercise their power over the powerful.


Ce texte examine les dynamiques du silence aux archives. Il soutient que le silence peut se définir, au moins en partie, comme la manifestation des actes posés par ceux qui détiennent le pouvoir afin d’empêcher aux marginaux d’avoir accès aux archives. Il affirme que cet enjeu a un impact significatif sur la capacité des groupes marginalisés de constituer leur propre mémoire et leurs propres histoires sociales. Les archivistes et les chercheurs peuvent lire les archives «contre le grain» et ils peuvent commencer à mettre en valeur ces silences et à donner une voix à ceux qu’on a réprimés. Cette activité peut toutefois s’avérer difficile et contentieuse et on ne peut l’aborder à la légère. Cet article examine ensuite comment le silence peut être une méthode favorisée par les groupes marginalisés qui refusent de verser leurs documents aux archives comme un moyen d’exercer leur propre pouvoir sur ceux qui détiennent le pouvoir.

Author Biography

Rodney G.S. Carter
Rodney G.S. Carter is the Archivist of the St. Joseph Region of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, based in Kingston, Ontario. He received an Honours B.A. in Art History from Queen’s University in 2002 and a Masters of Information Studies, Archival Stream, from the University of Toronto in 2005. His Masters thesis was entitled “Other Archives: The Archival Value of Photographs of Anonymous People.” He was a member of the ACA Membership Committee’s sub-committee on the formation of student chapters in 2002–2003 and has been recently named the Chair of the ACA Religious Archives Special Interest Section.
How to Cite
Carter, Rodney G.S. 2006. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence”. Archivaria 61 (September), 215-33. https://archivaria.ca/index.php/archivaria/article/view/12541.