The Cyberflâneur #18: István Rév

István Rév is the Director of the Open Society Archives in Budapest and professor of history and political science at Central European University (bio).

Fittingly for an authority on archives, István has delved into ours and brought to the surface some unusual but fascinating pieces. His selections touch on museum history and politics in an authoritarian environment, to metal books and textual culture, to a “seemingly marginal eighteenth-century controversy over elephant copulation that raged in biblical scholarship and natural history” but which “point[s] at an important shift between different regimes of truth and credibility”. A cornucopia of cyberflânerie!

~ Evgeny Morozov


Istvan’s Selections

I.

The Book of Job and the Sex Life of Elephants: The Limits of Evidential Credibility in Eighteenth-Century Natural History and Biblical Criticism

The article provides a curious analysis of the seemingly marginal eighteenth-century controversy over elephant copulation that raged in biblical scholarship and natural history, in order to point at an important shift between different regimes of truth and credibility.


II.

Life, Unlimited: Russian Archives of the Digital and the Human

Following the footsteps of a strange nineteenth-century Russian philosopher, librarian, archivist and early techno-futurist, Russian immortalist and post-humanist activist archivists try hard today, to make use of the combination of information technology and archival practices in the service of embodying and resurrecting the dead.


III.

“A New Form of the Book”: Modernism’s Textual Culture and the Microform Moment

An informative text about the largely forgotten precursors of present ambitions to transmit words (of the book) directly to the mind.


IV.

How Collections End: Objects, Meaning and Loss in Laboratories and Museums

A useful and thorough introduction to a special issue on the varied and fascinating ends of public and private collections, with an inventory of the reasons, causes, and the consequences of death and dispersion of all sorts of collection from blood samples, Paleoamericans, DNA databases to drosophila stocks, among many others.


V.

Tradition’s Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria

An unusual and surprising take on the fate of the Library of Alexandria that convincingly proves that for the philologist (or for that matter, the archivist) the “origin is not the presupposition of his work but its sole and final product. He is not the dutiful scribe who records what has been said but the critic who reads what was never written”.


VI.

Disciplines, Serendipity, Case Studies

“Can an individual case, if explored in depth, be theoretically relevant?” – asks the historian, who, after a labyrinthine exploration that leads through the Inquisition files, “Venetian roulette”, paradigmatic and anomalous cases, clues and casuistry, answers in the affirmative.


VII.

All Data Are Local: Thinking Critically in a Data-Driven Society

Based on detailed case studies about one of the largest collections of living trees, as well as millions of cataloging cards in the Digital Public Library of America, NewsScape, an enormous, real-time television archive and Zillow, the real estate data site, with allegedly all homes in the U.S., the book forcefully argues that all data are created at a specific time, in a definite place, with the then available technology, so without taking the locality and historical specificity into account, data cannot be understood, interpreted; it simply does not make sense.


VIII.

AHR Conversation: Museums, History, and the Public in a Global Age

A very long, informed, politically correct but still (or for that reason?) highly instructive conversation about the interplay among museum history, contemporary museum practice and politics in an emerging authoritarian environment. Especially interesting is Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s story about the fate of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, in Warsaw under the heavy-handed rule of the radical right-wing Law and Justice Party.


IX.

Speaking for the Grotesques: the Historical Articulation of the Disabled Body in the Archive

This is an MA thesis on the beginnings of disability studies that supposedly started with (Shakespeare’s) Richard III. The thesis proves that it is not (just) academic merit that makes a text worth reading; perplexing directness, personal honesty, disarming naiveté can turn a text into an illuminating reading.


X.

Against Economics (a review of Money and Government: The Past and Future of Economics by Robert Skidelsky)

A review of an unorthodox book, in praise of heterodox ideas by the anthropologist and activist, the ideologue (if there was one) of the Occupy Wall Street movement, who claims: “There is a growing feeling, among those who have the responsibility of managing large economies, that the discipline of economics is no longer fit for purpose.


More by Istvan Rev – from our Stacks

Our archive of high-quality content across text, video and audio – our “Living Syllabus” as we call it – has already reached over 10,000 items and grows larger every week.

Here are some recent pieces by or featuring Istvan from those archives:


More About our Cyberflâneur Series

To learn more about how this particularly eclectic edition of our syllabi works, head over here. Note that if you subscribe to any of our weekly syllabi, we’ll keep you posted on our latest cyberflâneurs too. Our subscribers also get a monthly Highlights From the Cyberflâneur edition.

You can also take a look at the previous editions of the Cyberflâneur:

  • #10 Raquel Rolnik – Architect & Urban Planner
  • #11 Laleh Khalili – Professor of International Relations at Queen Mary University
  • #12 Zephyr Teachout – Professor of Law at Fordham University
  • #13 Quinn Slobodian – Historian and author of Globalists
  • #14 Katrina Forrester – Political Theorist and Intellectual Historian at Harvard University
  • #15 Kaiser Kuo – Writer, Musician, Podcaster
  • #16 Atossa Araxia Abrahamian – Senior Editor at the Nation, Author of The Cosmopolites: The Coming of the Global Citizen
  • #17 Li Andersson – Finland’s Minister of Education and the Chairperson of the Left Alliance party

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