By Arthur Asseraf and Malika Rahal
Foreign archives are a great temptation. Faced with the impossibility of gaining access to the Algerian National Archives after 1962, the national archives of any other place seem like the next-best-thing to the sacrosanct state fortress of Birkhadem.
‘The’ archive, that is, the national archive, creates a strong fantasy. In Algeria, one often hears laments about the impossibility of writing history ‘of course the archives are closed’. When historians answer back that actually, when it comes to the colonial period, most things are open and things are not that difficult, friends looked back at the researcher with pity, thinking them desperately naïve: ‘they must not have shown you the real archives.’ As Judith Scheele has pointed out, real history, in the popular imagination of most Algerians, can only be written by people with political power. In a contemporary system where most Algerians feel disempowered, the past does not belong to them, because the paper necessary to prove it is locked away. The archives can only open in an indeterminate, eschatological future, when the world is as it is meant to be.