A history lesson from Star Wars

“If an item is not in our archive it means it doesn’t exist” – Archivist/Librarian to Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars 2 (no 5; Attack of the Clones, 2002) A little later the suggestion is made that the information was erased but to find the information (a missing planet) Obi was to go to the centre of where gravity concentrated. It precedes the discussion on ‘losing a planet‘.

Who would have thought one could obtain such helpful research advice from a space film? 

There have been cases of documents removed from archives (FOI request) and on occasion fake documents added to collections (news report)- hence the strict restrictions some have for consulting material. Other documents go missing or are destroyed due to poor archive practice invariably through ignorance or lack of funding (Endangered Archives Programme).  However, an astute historian paying attention to silences and triangulating material to check logic and plausibility is generally able to locate the ‘center of the pull of gravity’ in time.

While secondary sources hold their own logic in that they address a specific question the author had (my biography on Kitchener is a good example), reading across multiple sources can highlight discrepancies and raise questions. Accessing primary source material might appear disjointed but it is important to engage with to ensure information is not accidentally erased from the constructed narrative.

It is through these primary sources that the involvement of so many has been brought to light in the Great War in Africa. Compare what we know today with what was published in the 1960s. If any further incentive is needed for getting into the archives, it should be this: dis-erasing (is there such a word?) the past.

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