Volume 18, Issue 1/2: Special Issue on Unsettling the Archives
Published November 8, 2021
Guest editors: Gesa Kirsch, Soka University of America; Caitlin Burns Allen, University of Louisville; Walker Smith, 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.
Published February 18, 2022
This double issue of Across the Disciplines features seven articles, as well as a book review. I am confident that individuals interested in research on WAC faculty development, writing in STEM, threshold concepts of writing, and writing transfer will find much of value. Two articles take up the central WAC matter of faculty development: Elisabeth Miller et al. offer important insights into ways that faculty members’ direct experiences with writing shape their approaches to teaching with writing; Amy Mecklenburg-Faenger et al. share a model of an online, asynchronous WAC faculty seminar developed at their institution and report data on disciplinary faculty members’ experiences with the model. Three contributions engage the important, challenging issue of writing transfer, including one that foregrounds undergraduates’ acquisition of threshold concepts for writing: Wendy Olson and Dave Kim examine far transfer by analyzing the junior writing portfolios of engineering students; John Whicker explores upper-level students’ perceptions of the value of the knowledge they learned in FYC; and Enrique Paz examines the ways a vertical writing curriculum in geology develops and reinforces key threshold concepts of writing. Four of the contributions to this issue offer important insights into WAC/WID and STEM education. In addition to Paz’s contribution on threshold concepts, Olson and Kim’s article on transfer, Miller et al.’s study of faculty development, Tereza Kramer et al. explore a vertically integrated approach to peer review in a kinesiology program. Rebecca Hallman Martini, in a study of disciplinary faculty members’ use of Writing in the Professions (WIP) assignments, invites the field to consider the value of WIP curricula that share affinities with both WAC/WID and business and technical communication. Intriguingly, and from very different angles, Paz, Hallman Martini, and Kramer et al. offer important insights into relationships between writing development and students’ emerging professional identities. Rounding out the issue, Andrea Williams provides an insightful review of William Germano and Kit Nicholls’ Syllabus: The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document that Changes Everything.
Introduction to Volume 18, Issue 3/4
Michael J. Cripps
Getting Personal: The Influence of Direct Personal Experience on Disciplinary Instructors Designing WAC Assignments
Elisabeth Miller, Kathleen Daly Weisse, & Bradley Hughes
This research study of a WAC learning community focuses on instructors’ behind-the-scenes decision making about assignment design. Specifically, we show how instructors use direct personal experience—as students, teachers, and scholars—to approach writing assignment design, invoking these experiences to discuss the origin of their assignments and to respond to other instructors’ assignments. Accounting for both the positive and negative influence of instructors’ direct personal experience, we argue, pushes WAC scholars and practitioners to conceptualize disciplinary instructors more fully as learners and to create strategies for instructor development that prioritize the personal experiences that instructors bring with them to designing assignments.
Making WAC Accessible: Reimagining the WAC Faculty Workshop as an Online Asynchronous Course
Amy Mecklenburg-Faenger, Brandi Handley, & Emily Donnelli-Sallee
As universities increasingly expand online education offerings, WAC directors are compelled to rethink how to make WAC training more available and accessible to a wider range of teaching personnel. In this article, we describe our unique institutional context as a liberal arts university heavily reliant on online education, and the features that can make implementing WAC at “unusual” institutions such as ours difficult—in particular, the training/support of geographically dispersed faculty teaching WAC courses in a variety of instructional modalities. We share the design of our four-week online asynchronous WAC faculty training course and present outcomes data from five cohorts that completed the course.
An Exploratory Study of Far Transfer: Understanding Writing Transfer from First-Year Composition to Engineering Writing-in-the Major Courses
Wendy Olson & Dave Kim
This study aims to investigate how engineering undergraduates perform writing transfer from first-year composition (FYC) to engineering writing-in-the major courses. A sample of seventeen engineering students’ Junior Writing Portfolios, containing FYC research papers and engineering lab reports, was chosen for analysis in five broad rhetorical categories including invention, disciplinary knowledge, audience awareness, arrangement, and style. Informed by Yancey, Roberston, and Taczack’s 2014 study of writing transfer in composition courses, we grouped 17 engineering writing samples into three types of prior knowledge as identified in their study: remix, assemblage, and critical incidents. We found that the remix group students (n = 9) demonstrated an ability to integrate new engineering disciplinary knowledge into the schema of the old FYC knowledge. We observed a mixture of productive and unproductive transfer from FYC courses to engineering major courses with the assemblage group (n = 3). The critical incident students (n=5) struggled with multiple aspects of rhetorical principles, and they received the lowest scores in audience awareness and arrangement. Results from an accompanying focus group comprised of engineering students reported their perceptions of the similarities and distinctions between FYC assignments and engineering lab reports. These combined results suggest that students developed an understanding that genre features are genre specific and informed by disciplinary contexts.
“Types of Writing,” Levels of Generality, and “What Transfers?”: Upper-Level Students and the Transfer of First-Year Writing Knowledge
John H. Whicker
Transfer-focused pedagogies like Writing about Writing (WAW) or Teaching for Transfer (TFT) have claimed to better facilitate transfer of writing knowledge from first-year composition (FYC) courses. These pedagogies have emerged alongside research indicating that students in upper-level writing intensive courses often do not transfer FYC knowledge. While research has suggested that these transfer-focused pedagogies do improve transfer during subsequent semesters, research has not sought to determine whether students’ long-term attitudes toward FYC knowledge is affected by these pedagogies. This article presents the results of an IRB-approved pilot survey study of what students enrolled in upper-level writing intensive courses at a small, private, Catholic, suburban university in the Midwestern United States remembered learning in their FYC courses, and whether they perceived that knowledge as having been useful for their writing. Results seem to indicate that some transfer-focused pedagogies do have significant effects on students’ perceptions of the usefulness and transferability of what they recall learning in FYC. Additionally, many students identify conceptual knowledge of genre and discourse communities as useful for their upper-level writing, though often using alternative terms, particularly types, styles, forms, or formats of writing. To a large extent, this is true regardless of whether students enrolled in a transfer-focused course or not, but responses from those who experienced a transfer-focused course give indications of a more sophisticated understanding. These results might indicate that students may be predisposed to remember and connect knowledge at intermediate levels of generality that could lead to new possibilities for teaching for transfer.
How Timing and Authority in Peer Review Impact STEM Students: A Comparative Assessment of Writing and Critical Thinking in Kinesiology Courses
Tereza Joy Kramer, Joe Zeccardi, Chi-An W. Emhoff, Claire Williams, Robin J. Dunn, & Joshua Rose
This comparative, mixed-methods study illustrates the impact of weekly facilitated peer review (“Writing Circles”) in STEM courses across time: 1) in a lower-division course, Circles improve all learning outcomes for writing and critical thinking, and most significantly, writing; 2) in an upper-division course, Circles are most effective at improving learning outcomes for critical thinking; 3) when comparing scores in the lower- and upper-division courses, we see that critical thinking improves significantly from second to fourth year; 4) finally, we see that upper-division students grant their peers more disciplinary authority during the Circles peer review.
Changing Conceptions of Writing through Situated Activity in a Geology Major
This essay explores how students' misconceptions about writing might be transformed into accurate threshold concepts of writing through disciplinary writing experiences. Through an activity analysis of a geology major and students’ writing in that program, I demonstrate that these students' conceptions of writing changed through their legitimate peripheral participation in geological activity. Students' learning in the major situated writing within the activity of professional geological communities, and they recognized both how writing constructs and circulates knowledge within their discipline and their need for writing to enable participation in those communities. Their example suggests that WID programs attend to conceptual change and legitimate peripheral participation as essential mechanisms for creating transformative writing experiences that enable student learning.
More Useful Beyond College?: The Case for a Writing in the Professions Curriculum in WAC/WID
Rebecca Hallman Martini
Drawing on interviews with faculty and administrators across the curriculum, this article argues for a new approach to WAC/WID that I call writing in the professions (WIP). A WIP curriculum emphasizes writing with/for audiences outside the university and in genres that are intended for use beyond the classroom, rather than in simulated genres written for the professor. In its emphasis on preparing students for their writing lives beyond the university, WIP works from four primary concepts that emerged categorically during interviews with faculty. First, students must learn to compose visually and orally, in addition to alphabetically. Second, students must learn to write in a team-based, collaborative environment that requires effective project management. Third, students must learn to develop clarity in their writing. And fourth, students must learn to write in ways that are accessible to non-expert audiences.
A Review of Syllabus: The Remarkable, Unremarkable Document that Changes Everything, by William Germano and Kit Nicholls. (2020). Princeton University Press. 232 pages. [ISBN 978-0-69119-220-8]
Reviewed by Andrea Williams, University of Toronto