Current Issue: Volume 18, Issue 1/2: Special Issue on Unsettling the Archives
Published November 8, 2021
Guest editors: Gesa Kirsch, Soka University of America; Walker Smith, University of Louisville; Caitlin Burns Allen, University of Louisville; and Romeo García, University of Utah
In this special double issue, authors explore what it means to unsettle archival research across the disciplines; reflect on how to respond to and counteract and resist racist, colonial histories; and consider the prospect of traversing reciprocal, community-based, and/or decolonial archival practices. Contributors offer both critiques of archiving as a set of institutional practices, ideologies, and conventions, and introduce nuanced tactics of critical, communal, and digital archiving within and against systems of power. As such, this special double issue initiates an important cross-disciplinary conversation by bringing archivists, librarians, and information scientists into dialogue with rhetorical scholars doing archival work (see Rawson 2018, Caswell 2016).
Contributors in Part I, "Unsettling Archival Studies," discuss how tactical archival practices can decenter, reshape, unsettle, and rewrite traditional archival methodologies, with a particular focus on the ethics of archival praxis. In Part II, "Bearing Witness in Unsettling Ways," contributors draw on multimodal and digital technologies to unsettle that which appears as legible or true in order to explore the kinds of “othered” histories, memories, languages, and/or identities whose archiving is considered in Part I. The thread that binds this special double issue is the theme, Unsettling the Archives, and each contributor’s praxis of unsettling that which is constituted as legible histories, public memories, and/or knowledges works in conjunction with efforts to create spaces of and for interventions and anti-colonial, decolonial, communal, and/or transnational perspectives and approaches.
Part I: Unsettling Archival Studies
Introduction to Volume 18, Issue 1/2, Part I: Unsettling Archival Studies
Walker P. Smith & Gesa E. Kirsch
Praxis, Not Practice: The Ethics of Consent and Privacy in 21st Century Archival Stewardship
Anna Culbertson & Amanda Lanthorne
This article considers ethical issues of consent and privacy during each phase of archival stewardship. The authors examine flaws in traditional archival theory that contribute to oppression and silencing and highlight unique collections and practices at San Diego State University that begin to set the 21st century archive apart. We focus on responsive collection stewardship with two case studies—a collection of correspondence from individuals being held in a detention center and a zine collection. Drawing on a framework of radical empathy and ethics of care set forth by Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor (2016), we will critically dissect, dismantle, and unsettle traditional approaches to consent and privacy. The first case study scrutinizes privacy and consent issues surrounding the documentation of vulnerable populations with an emphasis on ethics. The second case study examines the need for increased sensitivity and flexibility in collecting zines. The article shares ideas for how to acquire and manage these types of collections in socially and ethically responsible ways, using an archival ethics worksheet that prioritizes consent and privacy throughout the stewardship process.
Community First: Indigenous Community-Based Archival Provenance
Krista McCracken & Skylee-Storm Hogan
Archives contain records that document the lives, cultures, and histories of Indigenous communities that are often organized within a governmental or colonial creation structure. This structure can create barriers to access for Indigenous communities and researchers that depend on those records. This article re-imagines archival methods of organization and proposes archival provenance based on Indigenous community needs and understanding.
Reparative Processing of the Luis Alberto Sánchez papers: Engaging the Conflict between Archival Values and Minimal Processing Practices
This essay uses the reprocessing of the Luis Alberto Sánchez papers, the collection of a prominent Peruvian politician and author housed at Penn State University, to argue that ethical and reparative processing needs should be prioritized within an archives’ overall extensible processing program. The author explores the tension between two differing threads within the archival literature of 1) using minimal or extensible processing practices to efficiently process backlogs and 2) of acknowledging the power of archivists in shaping the historical record and their ethical responsibilities towards communities represented within their collections. This essay argues that archivists should prioritize collections where archival practices have perpetuated in obfuscating or marginalizing the records of traditionally underrepresented communities. It also argues that prioritizing this work capitalizes on the inherent flexibility within an extensible processing framework.
Digital Repatriation as a Decolonizing Practice in the Archaeological Archive
Krystiana L. Krupa & Kelsey T. Grimm
Repatriation of archival materials holds great potential for decolonizing archaeological archives. This paper argues that while repatriation of human remains and cultural objects is required by law under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), traditional manuscript archives can and should be subject to the same standards for repatriation. The entirety of the archaeological archive can therefore be repatriated to descendant communities. In fact, many museums and other institutions have adopted the practice of digital repatriation of both documents and artifacts. By repatriating a facsimile of an important cultural item, institutions may actually perpetuate the colonial perspective that the original item’s proper place is with the institution instead of with its community of origin. This paper addresses situations in which it is both appropriate and inappropriate to repatriate a digital copy instead of the original object.
Furniture Fit for a Queen: How a Table Led the Way to Building an Inclusive Community Approach to Archival Acquisitions
Radical empathetic access theory builds the framework to envision the archives as memory institutions and encourages archivists to redefine ourselves as stewards. When we as archivists practice empathy, we can learn and document all narratives. The root of archival sovereignty is to build an inclusive community that recognizes indigenous oral traditions as an archival practice. Moving beyond decolonization towards indigenization is to adapt a broader theory like radical empathetic access and apply it through a cultural practice. Aloha 'āina is comprised of three major tenets: to recite genealogies (mo'okū'auhau), to tell the stories (mo'olelo), and the responsibility (kuleana) to share the knowledge. This article will provide a case study on how this author moves through each affective responsibility of the radical empathetic access theory, while practicing aloha 'āina in helping to return the Queen’s table to her home, Washington Place.
A Continuum of Archival Custody: Community-Driven Projects as a Path toward Equity
Chaitra M. Powell, Kimber Heinz, Kimber Thomas, & Alexandra Paz Cody
Typically, when a community’s historical materials encounter a large academic library’s archives, the engagement is transactional: they sign forms, they hand over their archives, and we assure them that their materials will be valued by researchers. These procedures make assumptions about comfort with gift agreements (what if communities seek compensation?) or value ascribed to academic researchers (what about other kinds of information seekers?). These approaches may work for communities who have only been extolled and affirmed by the formal archive, but other communities need a different approach. We argue that community archives are strengthened with the strategic support of institutions, and institutional aspirations thrive with the inclusion of community voices and practices. In this paper, we use examples from the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries and its community partners to demonstrate how putting work with community-based collections in sharp relief with the practices of institutional repository reveals the fundamentally white supremacist foundation of archival studies and gives us an opportunity to imagine what is required for sustainable repair and healing.
Historical Metadata Debt: Confronting Colonial and Racist Legacies Through a Post-Custodial Metadata Praxis
Itza A. Carbajal
How can the creation, management, and use of metadata developed as part of post-custodial archival projects and partnerships between United States based institutions and Latin American organizations improve current archival description praxis? By recognizing that many historically colonized and oppressed communities in Latin America seek to redefine and address longstanding racism, homophobia, cultural hegemony, and classism both locally and abroad, this article argues that this work cannot rest solely on the shoulders of those most impacted by colonialism and White supremacy. Through a critical archival studies lens, the author situates traditional metadata practices while also juxtaposing them against those used in a post-custodial paradigm. In addition, anti-colonial and anti-racist frameworks interrogate the cultural, power, and racial dynamics within the partnerships. Concrete examples from the author’s work in Colombia and Brazil provide the backdrop for a critical reflection on the unique methodologies used throughout various post-custodial projects. In order to truly unsettle institutional archives, archivists and others in positions of power must relinquish authority and complete control through the work of description in an effort to make space for those most oftentimes excluded or ignored.
Archival Imperialism: Examining Israel’s Six Day War Files in the Era of “Decolonization”
Tamara N. Rayan
This research investigates how the interventions of records’ creators and archivists have shaped the Six Day War Files Collection to sustain Israel’s own narrative of the War. Using a theoretical framework of settler colonialism, epistemic delinking, and symbolic annihilation, this narrative is deconstructed to showcase how it has served to further Israeli colonialism at the expense of Palestinians being marginalized as a people and Palestine being erased as an autonomous state. In constructing this narrative, Palestinians were excluded from the telling of the Six Day War, and in instances where they could not be erased, they were misrepresented or maligned. By delinking the records from their colonial context and unsettling this narrative, Palestinians’ experience of coloniality can be reinstated where it was excluded. This paper offers a novel perspective to the current archival scholarship regarding Palestine, revealing how symbolic annihilation in the archive extends and is an extension of systemic annihilation. Moreover, it challenges traditional archival practices which have historically paved the way for acts of imperialism to occur unquestioned.
Part II: Bearing Witness in Unsettling Ways
Introduction to Volume 18, Issue 1/2, Part 2: Bearing Witness in Unsettling Ways
Caitlin Burns Allen & Romeo García
Decolonizing the Rhetoric of Church-Settlers
Settler archives are situated across the U.S. and housed within institutions such as university campuses. They were invented and placed strategically to help attune the world both to ideal representations of knowledge, understanding, and humanity and to their promises of salvation, progress, and development. In this essay, I argue settler archives importantly provide a window into the Western imaginary and the epistemic experiments that have had the structural and material consequences of devaluing and eliminating the co-existence of histories, memories, and knowledge and understanding; of inventing and then rendering the other absent or excessively visible; and of couching the possibility of the other’s humanization only by their conversion to Christianity, civilization, and/or modernization. I claim they can both help us establish a connection between past and present epistemic rhetorical activities and issues and be used as important mediums for decolonial thinking and doing.
Preserving Hope: Reanimating Working-Class Writing through (Digital) Archival Co-Creation
In this article, I use concepts of provenance, value, and representation to trace how a working-class writing network, the Federation of Worker Writers and Community Publishers, hoped and tried to preserve their writing for nearly forty years. Ultimately, their hope for an archive turned into a reality, as they participated in the co-curation of print and digital archives. But each step along the way was met with struggles of labor, finances, and resources. With a focus on materiality and class, I argue that in order to reanimate community literacies digitally, we must also make visible the conditions that allow, exclude, structure, and impede this work.
Counter-Amnestic Street Signs and In Situ Resistance Rhetoric: Grupo de Arte Callejero
Kristi M. Wilson
During the 1970s and 1980s, several Latin American countries went through U.S.-backed military dictatorships. In Argentina alone the number of people who disappeared between 1976 and 1983 is estimated to be at around 30,000. In the late-1980s activist and artistic efforts to preserve, archive and make memory visible began to take shape alongside criminal prosecutions of military perpetrators of crimes against humanity. An ongoing city-wide network of memory projects in Buenos Aires continues to function alongside the pursuit of justice and human rights in the courts. In this photo essay, I explore the activist art project known as the Carteles de la Memoria, a series of 53 street signs created by the Grupo de Arte Callejero (Street Art Group). These unsettling street signs are designed to confront passersby at various points throughout Buenos Aires with active memories of dictatorship violence. Like sentries of memory, these signs now line the edge of the very river that served as a place of disappearance for thousands of people. This open-air archive joins the network of memory projects that make willful amnesia impossible.
The “Nature” of Ethics while (Digitally) Archiving the Other
The article begins with an introduction to my digital archival project, the deconstructive approach in it, and the questions that are guiding both the project and the article. Then, I present the ethical dilemmas I encountered after I decided to build a digital archive. I connect these dilemmas with the—witting or otherwise—orientalist pattern behind two of the West-based digital archival projects about Nepal and South Asia. I also introduce the metaphor of pharmakon and argue for the need to interrogate archival performances through the questions of ethics. Through the discussion of my project, I attempt to offer, not a manifesto on ethical digital archives, but a possibility of making digital archives hospitable to the Other by building a dialectical relationship with the communities. My project, Rethinking South Asia from the Borderlands via Critical Digital A(na)rchiving, is a Nepali researcher’s humble, stubborn, and sincere effort/experiment of building a digital archive by bringing together community-praxis and deconstructive approaches. I aim to see if a dialogic room in digital archives can be built for and with the Other. I use the discussion of my project to raise some of the hardest questions and to offer a glimpse at the “nature” of ethics that archivists must unconditionally pursue while (digitally) archiving the Other.
Reshaping Public Memory through Hashtag Curation
Kelli R. Gill & Ruba H. Akkad
Social media campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter have demonstrated Twitter as a powerful tool for anti-racist social activism. This article traces one local hashtag, #BeingMinorityatTCU, which has resurged on the TCU campus in the wake of a university lawsuit. Drawing from Critical Race Theory (Delgado, 1989; Martinez, 2014; Yosso, 2013), specifically counterstory, and public memory scholarship (Greer, 2017; Grobman, 2017; Crawford et al., 2020), this essay argues that digitally archiving tweets is one approach to amplifying marginalized voices that speak out against institutional racism. Curating hashtags is not just as an alternative to official university record keeping, but also an opportunity for both archivists and users to reflect, process, and move towards change together.
Unruly Practice: Critically Evaluating the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives
Kathryn Comer, Michael Harker, & Ben McCorkle
This essay critically analyzes the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives (DALN), an online public collection of over 8,000 personal accounts related to literacy and learning. Intentionally designed to be somewhat unruly, the DALN’s collaborative collection and participatory curation of self-representations can also be understood as an experiment in critical archival practice. Through that lens, this article explores the ongoing challenges of open access and ethical curation in the hybrid academic, public, community-engaged DALN: How do technological and administrative infrastructures shape the power dynamics of open digital archives? Reflecting on its evolution, the authors examine the DALN’s processes and back-end design through key issues of provenance, custody, representation, and usability. This case study demonstrates how project infrastructure is inextricable from values, with implications for the study and practice of other unruly critical archives.