In chapter two of The Burden of Representation, John Tagg writes about “a novel form of the state and a new and developing technology of knowledge” (63). The emergence of a collection of information and the need to archive this collection of knowledge is something that many of the articles we are reading discuss. In “The Body and the Archive” Allan Sekula writes “the early promise of photography had faded in the face of a massive and chaotic archive of images,” noting that “the problem of classification was paramount” (26).
While the articles are directly concerned with photography, this growing compulsion of the state to note, classify, and file (Tagg 64) information about people to be recalled at a later point is certainly anticipated in A Scandal in Bohemia. Upon hearing that the case concerns a certain Irene Adler, Holmes turns to Watson and says, “Kindly look her up in my index, Doctor” (Doyle 15). Watson goes on to explain to the reader that “for many years he had adopted a system of docketing all paragraphs concerning men and things, so that it was difficult to name a subject or a person on which he could not at once furnish information. In this case I found her biography sandwiched in between that of a Hebrew Rabbi and that of a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon the deep sea fishes” (15). For Holmes, recording information is crucial to his trade as a way of supplementing his powers of observation. He understands the importance of compiling his own records in much the same way that the state was beginning to. Regarding organization, however, one can only imagination what kind of system he utilized. Initially it is easy to assume that it was alphabetical (Hebrew Rabbi, Irene Adler, etc.), but knowing Holmes, I would like to think that it was somewhat more imaginative.
I only call attention to this to demonstrate yet another way in which Arthur Conan Doyle brings his awareness of contemporary issues into the Sherlock Holmes tales. The Victorian Era was really a period of flux, and Doyle brilliantly captures this.