Rula Shahwan: Language and Terms of the Palestinian Archive

As an archivist working in a Palestinian archive under the conditions of a fragmented geography, history, and society, Shahwan struggles with the language and the terms of classification and description. If the archive is a vital infrastructure for the memory of individuals, and collectives, a basis for cultural heritage and life of any society in modern times the Palestinian archive poses particular and general questions to the language and the terms of any archive. While memory has always been of particular importance for Palestinians since the Nakba, the archive has attracted increasing attention among cultural actors, civil society institutions and the public sector in recent years. Institutions from these three spheres are engaged in collecting archival materials in different formats, whether in the form of texts, images, videos and posters, in different capacities and under various conditions, for different aims, purposes and perhaps also different publics. The particular history, context and possibilities of the Palestinian archive has created fragmented physical archives across Palestine as well as transnationally. Without any coordination or connection between these entities, we find ourselves at a loss due to each institution’s endeavor to protect and increase its personal collection, to categorise and label and to store everything without sharing and coordinating with other institutions who are doing the same or similar work. Sometimes it seems that it has become a race over the control of resources of representation, over control of the knowledge for business or politics. To deal with this problem, a consortium has been formed by most of the institutions that work with archives in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. This consortium works on evaluating the situation of the archive, its language and terms, and tries to figure out the role of academic and civil society institutions in de-privatizing the archive and making it accessible for the public.

Rula Shahwan is an archivist, working on collecting and preserving Palestinian historical archives, mainly visual ones. She currently manages the Policy and Conflict Resolution Study Center at the Arab American University. She started her career at the Palestinian Ministry of Culture as a director of the Cinema Archive Department, before moving to work at the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) as the head of the Visual Archive Unit where she was able to recollect parts of the lost archive and involved in digitizing projects. She received her MA in Conflict Resolution with a thesis entitled “The Power of Visual Archive, Collective Memory and National Identity”. Shahwan received her BA from Birzeit University in History and Political Science and holds a diploma in Management and Development from the Continuing Education Center of Birzeit University. She presented and published on questions of Palestinian memory and the role of visual archives at several conferences and in various journals.


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