In this paper, I describe a method of learning to work with an Istanbul archive. This archive, containing the papers of the Council for the Preservation of Antiquities, provided a crucial resource for understanding one part of Istanbul's 20th‐century urban transformation. This archive felt exceptionally accessible, without the mediating staff and distance that typically define archival fieldwork in Istanbul. However, this accessibility in fact presented a methodological problem. In the absence of any documentation on how this archive was formed, I realised that apart from a handful of examples, the archive seemed to be a disorganised collection of paper that told me very little about the city. Building on recent discussions about archival fieldwork, I explain how I learned to work with this in a different way. This involved using the multiple materialities of the archive as a starting point to identify three linked practices generating the archive and shaping the relationships between its various objects: papering, arranging, and depositing. This methodological argument draws on recent interventions that ask us to follow “archives in formation,” but extends this scholarship by focusing on an archive whose formation was not documented and could not be observed. This paper's identification of the practices of papering, arranging, and depositing thus seeks to provide a model for other scholars interested in using the materialities of archives as a way to reconstruct their contexts of use and transformation.
- historical geography