Before the emergence of large-scale, widely accessible digital databases of print documents, the concept of archive was relatively consistent across institutions, disciplines, and other discursive bodies of knowledge. Archives were depositories for the "indefinite accumulation of time" and knowledge (Foucault, "Of Other Spaces" 26). National and state archives catalogued and housed documents of the nation-state. Libraries, both public and private, collected physical volumes of printed material, organized them and preserved them for posterity. And galleries and museums collected and organized cultural and natural artifacts for observation and study. The term "archive," then, suggested the collection and organization of objects over time. Equally important, however, archives generally served as physical places where people congregated to study and examine the archived objects. In fact, they have always been sacred places that reflect us and our cultures.
This dual nature of pre-digital archives as both depositories of knowledge and physical spaces affords them special status. For example, rare and culturally significant objects like the Dead Sea Scrolls were cloistered within the Israel Antiquities Authority's archives from their rediscovery in 1947 through 1991. As recently as 1992, fewer than fifty scholars were offered physical access to what is called the Qumran Collection. Such physical control over the Qumran archive caused significant and contentious scholarly debates and public outcry for "intellectual freedom and the right to scholarly access" by the Biblical Archaeology Review. As a result, the Biblical Archaeology Society published "a computer-generated version as well as a two-volume edition of the scroll photographs" in 1991 (Barry, "Scrolls From the Dead Sea").
Equally important to the actual space (for intellectual investigation) of pre-digital archives is the social and theoretical function of such spaces. Michel Foucault is profoundly interested in how the spaces we occupy determine who and what we are. This interest leads him to identify specific kinds of lived space, in a 1967 lecture, which have the curious property of linking to all other sites in our culture but in a way that contradicts, neutralizes, inverts, or reflects the "set of relations that they happen to designate" (Foucault 22). He calls places like cemeteries, formal gardens, theaters, libraries, and museums "heterotopias" to reflect the "space in which we live," as opposed to the utopian spaces that we can only imagine (23).
We are drawn to Foucault's metaphor of heterotopia to describe certain digital archived spaces because of the fruitful ways it reflects and subverts current economic and cultural assumptions about academic publishing.
Foucault singles out libraries and museums under his fourth principle,
which links heterotopias to slices in time. Since the end of the seventeenth
century, these places have served as general archives to accumulate everything--to
enclose in one place, which is itself inaccessible to the ravages of time,
"all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes . . ." (26). Such places,
Foucault explains, belong "to our modernity" and are "proper to western
culture of the nineteenth century." Had Foucault been alive to witness
the emergence of cyberspace, he might have
identified certain online spaces as heterotopias as well and observed that
they are proper to Western culture and late twentieth century postmodernity.
Furthermore he might have noted that, like the heterotopian mirror, electronic
archives are helping institutions reimagine social relations, institutional
policy, and even literacy: how we read, what we read, and even what we