The Small Details in the Archives and the Meaning of a Non-existent Photography from the Home of a Stationer in Helsingborg


  • Karin Gustavsson Lund University



Field work, Knowledge production, Archives, Photography, Punctum and Studium, Urban history


This article describes and problematizes the skills that are used when researching analogue archives. The article deals with the process that operates when a researcher finds small details in archival records that makes it possible to generate a story. Whether it is skill or luck that enables one to find the phenomena that create meaning is also discussed. The empirical example is fetched from the “Swedish Town project” that was initiated with the aim to write a new kind of urban history in the 1940s by Swedish art historian Gregor Paulsson. The researcher Börje Hanssen conducted field work in the city of Helsingborg in southern Sweden during the summers in 1942, 1943 and 1944. The “Swedish Town”-project explored urban history through both traditional sources such as archives, but also by interviews with contemporary town inhabitants and photographs. In the article we meet both Hanssen and some of his interviewees, and his working methods, his texts and some photographs are being analyzed. Börje Hanssen later became an influential ethnologist and in this article we encounter him in the beginning of his career. In order to examine the role played by one small detail in a large amount of material, and how such a detail can influence the researcher’s inter- pretations, Roland Barthes concepts of punctum and studium are used in the article, in order to create meaning out of small, everyday and often seemingly insignificant phenomena. Punctum and studium are fruitful analytical tools, not only in analyzing photographs, which was Barthes original use of the concept but also in other contexts, in this case archival records. The article thus discusses when a detail becomes the punctum that changes the researcher’s mindset and enables new knowledge to be produced.



Nordiska museets arkiv, / Nordic museum
Börje Hanssens personarkiv / Private archive of Börje Hanssen
Gregor Paulssons samling / Gregor Paulsson’s collection

Uppsala universitetsbibliotek / University Library of Uppsala
Gregor Paulssons personarkiv / Private archive of Gregor Paulsson


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How to Cite

Gustavsson, K. (2020) “The Small Details in the Archives and the Meaning of a Non-existent Photography from the Home of a Stationer in Helsingborg”, Culture Unbound, 12(1), pp. 173–195. doi: 10.3384/cu.2000.1525.2020v12a09.



Archive and Methods