ABSTRACT

What happens when a researcher arrives at an archives, only to find that the materials requested are not in the repository? This article argues that when applying Eliot Eisner's concept of the null curriculum (what is missing is just as important as what is present), the absence of materials is just as significant to a researcher as the contents of present materials. To accomplish this, it uses a case from a larger study of General Education Board (GEB) funding in the US West comparing the holdings of the Rockefeller Archive with those in the state of Texas. Ultimately, archivists and researchers should do null history to recognize that rather than setting limitations on the project, a lack of evidence instead can be used to expand the project by applying the principles of the null curriculum. This article is not intended to be an interrogation of the archives themselves, but another lens through which the researcher can view (and an archivist can prompt) both the holdings and lack of holdings. The article is not meant to argue the semantics around the absence of the phrase “null curriculum” from the fields of history or archives; instead, it is meant to open the door to conversations about silences and the power of the archive.

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