The French Revolution has been widely regarded as a turning point in archival history, yet few have probed the complexity and numerous contradictions of this transitional period. Rather than smoothly ushering in a new concept of archives or archival practice, the Revolution fostered two divergent tendencies. Records and documents from the Old Régime were reviled and frequently destroyed, even as archival structures were developed to care for new records of the Republic, and for selected records from the past. This article explores both of these tendencies in order to provide a fuller picture of archival development during the Revolutionary period. Yet the very fervor surrounding archives during that time also provides the basis for more universal reflection. The battle over the appropriate formation and content of archives demonstrates the extent to which they are, above all, cultural institutions, and the ways in which archival documents are frequently of importance as much for their symbolism as for their content. This article concludes by examining the ways in which archives, as "sites of memory," are very much products of their time, invested with a meaning that may be changed--as during the French Revolution--by changing beliefs and values.

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