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Unsettled: Redefining Archival Power: An Interview with Csaba Szilagyi

2 Jun 2022 8:00 AM | Anonymous

The ACA 2022 Annual Conference is approaching fast! The ACA blog, In the Field, is featuring the profiles of a few conference presenters. This post features Csaba Szilagyi, Chief Archivist/Head of Human Rights Program at Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives (Blinken OSA) at Central European University (CEU), Budapest/Vienna. 


Q: What is the title of your conference presentation?
Csaba: Taming the ghosts: Uncovering ‘tacit narratives’ by rethinking power relations in archives of violent past(s) 
Q: Can you walk us through your academic and professional path? 
Csaba: For over 25 years, I have worked in human rights archiving and archival activism in various institutional environments, including the Blinken OSA, Columbia University, Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Foundations. Since 2019, I have been an archival consultant with the Srebrenica Memorial Center Archive in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). As an educator, I have co-taught an archival course and a specialization for students in law, history, and cultural heritage studies. I have an MA in American Studies and am currently a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture at the University of Amsterdam. 
Q: What brought you to the field of archival studies and practice? 
Csaba: As an advanced graduate student, I got involved with archives by coincidence. Because of my relevant language skills and knowledge of contemporary history, I was hired as a part-time archives assistant to physically process records related to one of the harshest Communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe. In just a few months, working with records on violations of fundamental rights, censorship, and state sponsored terror, as well as curating the microhistories of the oppressed ordinary people inscribed in them, became a lifetime commitment. 
Q: What does the theme of the ACA 2022 conference, “Unsettled: Redefining Archival Power,” mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice? 
Csaba: In the past years, I have been exploring ways of making record keeping more hospitable to voices that had been traditionally ignored, misrepresented, obliterated, or entirely excluded from the archives by rethinking archival standards and practices and the agency of the archivist within. The current theme of the ACA 2022 conference underscores the importance and timeliness of these inquiries and promotes inclusion and power relations in the forefront of archival thinking and practice. 
Q: Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives? 
Csaba: My current research project focuses on the roles, responsibilities, and limitations of archives/archiving in creating knowledge on violent past(s)and transforming memory politics relating to violent past(s), based on the documentary heritage of the 1992-1995 wars in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am critically examining existing archival standards and curatorial practices and proposing necessary changes to transform knowledge production on and creation of collective memory of political violence in the archives. Finally, I am looking at how bottom-up archiving can contribute to postwar mnemonic practices outside the frames of archives and transitional justice. 
Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference? 
Csaba: Although I will not be physically present at the conference, I hope that I will have the chance to meet colleagues and peers working on related topics online. Case studies on reinstating groups and individuals at the margins of our society in the archives from other parts of the world have always been inspirational for my work. And, hopefully, there will also be something for others to take home from our work at Blinken OSA.


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