Principles of ‘Radical Archiving’

I have been recently re-reading the South African book Refiguring the Archive edited by Carolyn Hamilton et al (New Africa Book, 2002) and I came across a reference that I must have missed before. In Graham Reid’s chapter on the Gay and Lesbian Archives of South Africa is an account of New York’s Lesbian Herstory Archives (pp201-3), including a reference in a note to the Archives’ commitment to principles of ‘radical archiving’ that they had themselves devised. Although differing slightly from the principles as printed in Reid’s account, these radical principles based on a commitment to independence and autonomy appear on the LHA website thus:

Principles: Many of the Archives’ principles are a radical departure from conventional archival practices. They are inclusive and non-institutional and reveal the Archives’ commitment to living history, to housing the past along with the present. Among the basic principles guiding the Archives are:

  • All Lesbian women must have access to the Archives; no academic, political, or sexual credentials will be required for use of the collection; race and class must be no barrier for use or inclusion.
  • The Archives shall be housed within the community, not on an academic campus that is by definition closed to many women.
  • The Archives shall be involved in the political struggles of all Lesbians.
  • Archival skills shall be taught, one generation of Lesbians to another, breaking the elitism of traditional archives.
  • The community should share in the work of the Archives.
  • Funding shall be sought from within the communities the Archives serves, rather than from outside sources.
  • The community should share in the work of the Archives.
  • The Archives will always have a caretaker living in it so that it will always be someone’s home rather than an institution.
  • The Archives will never be sold nor will its contents be divided.

Now not everybody involved in a community archive would want to sign up to all of these points and remain totally independent but I guess there are many principles here people would feel very comfortable with. If anyone is interested in reading more, an account of the LHA’s early years can be found in Joan Nestle, ‘The Will to Remember: the Lesbian Herstory Archives of New York’ in Feminist Review 34 (Spring 1990).


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