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Silence, Accessibility, and Reading Against the Grain: Examining Voices of the Marginalized in the India Office Records


This paper deals with issues of power and silencing of the “Other” within colonial archives, particularly regarding British East India Company records of an attempted mutiny of Bengali sepoys and Javanese aristocrats in 1815, now housed in the India Office Records of the British Library. It recommends incorporating a postcolonial approach and reading records against the grain in order to recover these marginalized voices. The body of this paper is broken into three sections. The first section introduces the historical context of the attempted mutiny, questions the incomplete nature of archival and colonial records, and discusses the archivist’s responsibility to present as complete a record as possible. The second section discusses the introduction and importance of postmodern theory to the archival field. Particularly significant are arguments by practicing archivists who advocate reading records against the grain to recover voices of the marginalized, how this can be incorporated into archival practice, and the ensuing difficulties which may emerge. Finally, the third section discusses problems of access to colonial records such as those held in the India Office Records, and how the practices of digitization, international cooperation and preservation, and reading records against the grain are able to produce a plurality of voices.

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