Lucas Z.

Sep 6, 2021

12 min read

What does it mean to be a spy in the archives?

A comparative book review of ‘A Spy in the Archives’ and ‘My Life as a Spy’.

What would you do if you see descriptions of yourself as a spy in spy archives?

Two female researchers from elite universities in the UK and the US were doing thesis archival field work. In the Soviet Union and Romania, they sought to uncover history and society when Cold War was intense. What were meant to be sobering exchanges became entangled in the politics of espionage, in turn reflecting the deep mutual distrust between capitalism and communism, the East and the West. Yet, seemingly powerless individuals became influencers, on a non-traditional battlefield, shedding light on the mysterious regime with access to information. This knowledge is an entitlement that forms the basis of Anglophone thinking and imperialistic arrogance, further accentuating power imbalance. Nevertheless, what constitutes as spying stems very much from intention, despite the uniquely strange overlap between espionage and academic research. In the hunt for information, not intelligence, the academics did not stalk and catch out anyone. Because they did not conduct research with the ill intention to criminalize, harm, sabotage, inflict injury or dishonour on anyone or country, they were not real spies. They should not be regarded as such, no matter what the Soviets thought, or when they questioned their own motivations.