Producing the Archival Body
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Producing the Archival Body

Jamie A. Lee

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  1. 170 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Producing the Archival Body

Jamie A. Lee

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About This Book

Producing the Archival Body draws on theoretical and practical research conducted within US and Canadian archives, along with critical and cultural theory, to examine the everyday lived experiences of archivists and records creators that are often overlooked during archival and media production.

Expanding on the author's previous work, which engaged archival and queer theories to develop the Queer/ed Archival Methodology that intervenes in traditional archival practices, the book invites readers interested in humanistic inquiry to re-consider how archives are defined, understood, deployed, and accessed to produce subjects. Arguing that archives and bodies are mutually constitutive and developing a keen focus on the body and embodiment alongside archival theory, the author introduces new understandings of archival bodies. Contributing to recent disciplinary moves that offer a more transdisciplinary emphasis, Lee interrogates how power circulates and is deployed in archival contexts in order to build critical understandings of how deeply archives influence and shape the production of knowledges and human subjectivities.

Producing the Archival Body will be essential reading for academics and students engaged in the study of archival studies, library and information science, gender and women's studies, anthropology, history, digital humanities, and media studies. It should also be of great interest to practitioners working in and with archives

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Part I

Body parts

Chapter 1

Archival underpinnings

Prologue: Archives story

In March 2013, I set up my tripod and digital video camera in a small classroom in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Tucson, Arizona, where I would conduct a full day of oral history interviews with feminists and lesbian feminists who had gathered from all over the U.S. for their fortieth anniversary. I checked the batteries on my wireless microphone and then walked to the classroom next door to help Anastasia, a feminist undergraduate student volunteer, set up her camera equipment for interviews. Lavina Tomer and Deborah Dobson, the co-organizers of this reunion of Southwest Feminists Reunite Group, had invited me to record the oral histories from women who had lived in Tucson in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Anastasia and I had met with the co-organizers to create lists of questions for the different groups of women they had scheduled for us to interview: Women In The Media; 5th Avenue Women’s Collective; Rape Crisis Center; Artemis Childcare Center; and Antigone Bookstore. Groups of two to six women sat with me and Anastasia at scheduled times to tell their stories of coming together to organize and support other women and their families in Tucson. That long day was filled with introductions and stories, and changing and labeling MiniDV tape after tape.
As a community archivist being trained through graduate and professional education, I was caught up in the tension between the traditional archival paradigm’s objective practices that I was studying and my personal community relations and connection to community storytellers. The former structured my thinking about what makes something valuable for the archives and what I, as an archivist, should do to then make it ‘archival.’ The latter held me to my structured ideas of belonging. As a social justice documentary filmmaker, I spent decades working closely in and with communities—sometimes as insider and sometimes as outsider. Over time, I developed a capacity and commitment to work through feminist and decolonizing methodologies as well as the principles of social justice media. I developed the expertise and methods to do respectful documentary film production. I carried this experience into the archives. In the in-between space between what archival education taught me and what I knew from working in and with communities, I found how I could be an archivist with integrity and enact archival praxis, albeit in small ways. Writing this book further supports my efforts toward archival integrity by gathering together and sharing the ‘small ways’ to enact meaningful and lasting change about how archives are understood and developed.
After transcribing, editing, compressing, and uploading each of the Southwest Feminists Reunite Group’s interviews into the Arizona Queer Archives digital repository, I was inspired to find a way to develop an outreach experience to circulate the oral histories throughout the local Tucson communities. I watched, listened to, and read through the interviews and began to think about the role the community archives can play in new understandings of (the histories of) place and of this particular generation of feminists. The Southwest Feminists Reunite Group Collection of the AQA centered on a particular time period and was place-based. The women—feminist and lesbian feminist—narrators connected their stories to streets and neighborhoods and told of their struggles and contributions in their families, in their homes, and in their communities. In January 2015, I met with the University of Arizona’s Feminist Action Research in Rhetoric (FARR)1 group and their ‘artivist’ sub-collective, which, following the critical-creative interventions of Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre, was invested in strengthening the “organic relationship between art and activism.”2 In addition to sharing queer and feminist content, they were committed to “challenging the gendered and heteronormative mechanisms by which archival knowledge is often transmitted.”3 Howard Zinn explains what has become normal and normalized is certainly in dire need of investigation and change. He notes,
The problems of the United States are not peripheral and have not been met by our genius at reform. They are not the problem of excess, but of normalcy. Our racial problem is not the Ku Klux Klan or the South, but our fundamental liberal assumption that paternalism solves all. Our economic problem is not a depression but the normal functioning of the economy, dominated by corporate power and profit. Our problem with justice is not a corrupt judge or bribed jury but the ordinary day-to-day functioning of the police, the law, the courts, where property rights come before human rights
 If all this is so, then the normal functioning of the scholar, the intellectual, the researcher, helps maintain those corrupt norms in the United States, just as the intellectual in Germany, Soviet Russia, or South Africa, by simply doing his small job, maintains what is normal in those societies.4
Rather than accepting and reinscribing this sort of archival normalcy, the FARR group of artivists pushed the AQA to attend to the ideological archival tradition that Zinn called out and then worked together with the archivists, records creators, and communities to reimagine what the records could do. Archives, as Charles Morris reminds us, are rhetorically charged sites that often “deflect queer inquiry” and diminish LGBTQ content under the guise of archival protection and preservation.5 Together, our FARR artivists imagined a public-centered archival project that could take these lesbian and feminist oral history archives back out into the streets as a means of outreach, circulation, and placed-based pedagogy and public histories.
The POP-UP Archive of the Arizona Queer Archives took place in late April 2015. It was organized as a walking tour to introduce participants to new ways of experiencing place through local histories enacted through site-based performances based on the stories shared and collected. Antigone Bookstore, a local feminist bookstore founded in 1973, hosted the first performance of this Fourth Avenue neighborhood district walking tour as the group of participants walked together from the bookstore to the Historic Y, where the Feminists In The Media met, to the 5th Avenue Women’s Collective that w...

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