Archive for the ‘journals and articles’ Category

Launch of Black Cultural Archives catalogue

May 29, 2009

Last week I attended a celebration and launch event for the Black Cultural Archives. It was a momentous, and very joyous occasion, honouring the contribution of so many individuals to the work of the archives (in particular on this occasion the women involved in the Black women’s movement oral history project) and marking a real milestone: the opening up of the collections to visitors and the launch of the online catalogue.

This is what it looks like (in slightly squashed form – sorry):

Screen shot of BCA catalogue 29 May 2009

Happy browsing!

Meanwhile, if this has really caught your imagination, the BCA is currently recruiting a collections manager to take the project through to the next stage. More details here.



Interesting article on multiculturalism

October 17, 2008

There is an interesting article by Rebecca Wood on the IRR website entitled “The mantra of our time: ‘British values’ good, ‘multiculturalism’ bad” that takes on the simplistic political rhetoric in this area. In particular she highlights the historical background to the current discourse, showing the extent to which much the same language was used by the Thatcher government in the aftermath of the 1981 riots. Definitely worth checking out.

Inspired by this article I wondered whether there had been anything more in depth about the background to contemporary discourse around multiculturalism on the History and Policy website, but it seems not. A big gap, it seems to me.


Genealogy and identity

August 12, 2008

I have just read a very interesting article by Hannah Little on genealogy, identity and the role of archives in Scotland (‘Archive Fever as Genealogical Fever: Coming home to Scottish Archives’, Archivaria, 64 (Fall 2007)). Indeed, I’m not alone in thinking this is an excellent piece: Hannah has just been awarded the Lamb Prize by the Association of Canadian Archivists to honour the author of the Archivaria article that, by its exceptional combination of research, reflection, and writing, most advances archival thinking in Canada. It is the senior award of the journal, for the best article overall (from the University of Glasgow website). This is an incredibly impressive achievement for a PhD student or indeed any early career researcher: congratulations Hannah!


Refoming memory work to reform memory: an early example of a radical community archive?

August 5, 2008

I have just read a fascinating essay by the Greek anthropologist Penelope Papailias: ‘Writing Home in the Archive: “Refugee Memory” and the Ethnography of Documentation’ in Blouin F.X., & Rosenberg W.G. (2006) Archives, Documentation, and Institutions of Social Memory: Essays from the Sawyer Seminar, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press (pp.402-416). Apart from the fact that it is beautifully written, what is so fascinating about this article is that it encourages us to rethink our definitions of ‘community archives’.

The essay concerns the private archive of a Greek aristocrat Melpo Logotheti-Merlier. The archive, known as the Centre for Asia Minor Studies was established with the aim of “salvaging” the history and culture of the Greek Orthodox community of Anatolia, expelled from modern-day Turkey in 1922 [wikipedia entry on Greek Refugees]. The archive, which interestingly was supported by the French state until 1963, aimed to gather both the documentary evidence of this community and, arguably for the first time, oral testimony from the refugees themselves.

The archive probably does not meet narrower definitions of a ‘community archive’ since those who collected the material were not themselves refugees (although I may be wrong – Papailias does not go into a great deal of detail about this). Merlier and her team of researchers mostly also mostly belonged to the elite, educated classes, unlike many (although not all) of the refugees. Despite its independence from the state the archive thus preserved many of the characteristics of the archive as a technology of ordering and disciplining; informant testimony was coralled into certain acceptable forms (the interview schedule) in order to be stamped, catalogued and filed.

Nevertheless, there are many parallels between the archive’s methodological radicalism and today’s community archives (indeed, the essay is concerned with revealing ‘aspects of the relationship of dominant archival cultures to peripheral ones’ (p.413)). As Papailias argues,

‘Reform of cultural memory usually cannot proceed without reform of memory work itself. In addition to disputing national narratives of Greek history, the center also critiqued the methods of Greek academic history and folklore. Given the politically conservative state of the Greek university at this time, true scholarship, Merlier might have argued, could only thrive outside of the academy […]’ (p.404)

Might not today’s community archives be seen as ‘reforming memory work’ in order to ‘reform cultural memory’? And changing archival practice from the outside?

There are also some interesting parallels with regard to the conjunction of the private and the public/professional. Merlier struggled to have her activities recognised as ‘work’, something Papailias attributes to the gendering of historical practice which tends to see the work of men in or on the archives as serious research and the work of women as a leisure activity. (Similar tensions perhaps exist today between public sector archivists and their community-based counterparts). One reason for this is that Merlier divided much of her time between Athens and France/Switzerland and often directed operations from cafés and other temporary sites (reminding me of meetings with participants in this study in all sorts of informal locations, from cafés to their own homes). According to Papailias,

‘The determination [of Merlier] to call her letters [to her staff] work, as well as to do work in spaces of leisure, seems to have reflected her own difficulties in defining what she was doing in the absence of institutional structures. As Merlier seemed aware, the “personal” nature of this archive made it vulnerable to critique as the amateur project of a “lady of leisure”.’ (p.408)

Today’s community archivists often experience very similar pressures; the time they commit to free for a project they feel passionately about may well not be valued or appreciated in their wider personal and professional life, leading to a decline in self-esteem even as they are supporting an activity that they see as enhancing community well-being.

Papailias concludes on the following note (try substituting ‘community’ for ‘private’ in the next extract…):

‘Private archives are not outside of or irrelevant to discussions of state archives; they are important sites in which social actors actively construct their relationship to the state, assimilating its categories of identification or challenging them.’ (p.413)

It is precisely this idea of the (independent) archive as the site where a struggle over identity is played out that makes community archives such fascinating and potentially radical cultural spaces. Papailias also here expresses a justification for a focus on what may emerge as a research theme: the relationship between the mainstream institutions – state archives for example – and community archives. For it is in these struggles that identities are assigned, shaken off or given form.

Above all her research (like ours?) draws attention to the ‘desire and fantasies, fulfilled or not, that both propel the original making of archives and drive their ongoing physical and conceptual reordering’ (p.413). Ethnography (whether textual/historical like her own, or observation-based and present like ours, presumably) is the best way of getting at these desires since it is a way of drawing attention to the process of the production of historical knowledge (rather than just to the resulting paradigm shifts). With regard to the Centre for Asia Minor Studies, ‘[textual] ethnography examines the construction of rhetorical forms and social relations. In the case of the center, producing and archiving documents enacted a complex mobilization of social actors and chronotopes’ (p.414).

What is extraordinary about the Centre for Asia Minor Studies is its very early preoccupation with collating witness testimony. This, I suggest, is what situates it between a private collection and a community archive. Are there any other examples of early independent archives that operated in a similar way, or that drew on the collective experiences of a community to challenge a dominant historiographical framework (in this case the forgetting of a painful and shameful episode of the national past)?


New journal: migrations and identities

July 15, 2008

I’ve just seen this announcement for a new journal from Liverpool University Press. Although our project is not concerned with migration the journal’s aim to “interrogate notions of ‘identity'” does clearly tie in with our research aims.

migrations & identities

a journal of people and ideas in motion
ISSN 1753-9021(print) 1753-903X (online)

migrations & identities
is a new journal published bi-annually by Liverpool University Press. The title represents a programme: We aim to interrogate notions of ‘identity’ while asking how the fact of mobility and displacement does shape understandings of self and the wider world, among both migrants and ‘host’ societies. By the same token, we seek to understand how ideas and concepts are transformed as they ‘migrate’ from one place and culture to another. These issues have been, and continue to be, addressed under a number of rubrics and through a number of approaches in the humanities and social sciences. In acknowledgment of this, migrations & identities is multi- and interdisciplinary in its conception and management. It also aims to cover the widest possible range of places, periods and methods, subject only to a shared curiosity and enthusiasm about the possibilities of working at the interface between the investigation of the material conditions of migration processes and the study of ideas and subjectivities. In particular, we hope that scholars working in many fields will find in migrations & identities a forum for discussion of the methods appropriate to a project of linking observable experience and mentalities in different times and places, and that among the topics of discussion will be the real challenges involved in conversing across disciplinary boundaries.

We invite manuscripts from scholars representing all disciplines and methodologies which can contribute to this discussion. These might include case studies based on empirical research which are framed by and reflect on the methodological and theoretical issues set out above, essays which focus on questions of theory and methodology, or review articles. The journal will be published twice a year.

Volume 1 Issue 1 2008 now available

The Editors

Investigating Language and Identity in Cross-Language Narratives
Bogusia Temple

Greek Identity and the Settler Community in Hellenistic Bactria and Arachosia
Rachel Mairs

‘Writing My History’: Seven Nineteenth-Century Scottish Migrants to New Zealand Revisit their Pasts
Rosalind McClean

Immigrant Attachment and Community Integration: A Psychological Theory of Facilitating New Membership
Stanley A. Renshon

Find out more about the journal at

Principles of ‘Radical Archiving’

July 14, 2008

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).