The first Critical Archives and Records Reading Group meeting


Hello again! I’m planning to update this blog a lot more over 2019 with information about projects I’m working on.

I’ve started co-convening a new reading group at UCL’s Department of Information Studies. The Critical Archives and Records Reading Group is a space for academics, professionals, archive users, volunteers and anyone at all interested in archives to come together to discuss archival practice in an intersectionality and critical fashion.

Debates about the role of archives and records in cultural, social and political processes are of long-standing. Since the early 2000s theorists and practitioners have confronted the ways in which they have served as ‘tools for both oppression and liberation’ (Caswell, Punzalan & Sangwand, 2017).  Subsequently approaches informed by postcolonialism, critical race studies, feminism, queer theory and deconstructionism have interrogated the role of archives and records in social justice and equity for marginalised and ‘symbolically annihilated’ communities (Caswell, 2016). Recent research has emphasised the need to address imbalances of power, to support the ‘archival autonomy’ of plural voices (Evans et al, 2015), to create collaborative, open spaces in the ‘archival multiverse’ (Evans, McKemmish & Rolan, 2017) and to generate ‘radical empathy’ (Caswell & Cifor, 2016).  Critical approaches have been central to this work, in seeking ‘to liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them’ (Horkheimer, 1982) through reflection and critique.

Each month (in term time) the Critical Archives and Records Reading Group meets to discuss an article, paper, podcast or output in any media that is relevant to archival studies, in order to reflect the current state of recordkeeping practice and research using critical approaches from across humanities and social science disciplines. Sessions are open to anyone who is interested, including practitioners and students. We will try where possible to focus on resources that are freely available; if something is behind a paywall efforts will be made to share it people who don’t have access. You can find out what/where/when we’re reading here.

We had the first session this week – it was overwhelming but really great (I hope!). We looked at white supremacy in archival practice and read this article about documenting police violence in Cleveland. After that we worked together to do Michelle Caswell’s exercise about Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives. I found this (the first time I’d done it myself) to be a really helpful learning tool, and something which I’d like to incorporate into staff development in any service I manage in the future. We ended up filling a wall with post its (see above pictures), which I have also summarised in a PDF – white supremacy exercise summary I thought it would be good to circulate and share this as a way to disseminate this conversation, and also individuals to personally reflect.

Our next meeting is on the 20th February, where we’ll be discussing queering record keeping. Info available here, and get in touch with me directly (via the email on the web page) if you can’t access any of the readings.


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