Democratizing Knowledge: Examining Archives in the Post-custodial Era

Amy Hester's picture
Type: 
Call for Papers
Date: 
November 7, 2020
Location: 
New Jersey, United States
Subject Fields: 
Archival Science, Cultural History / Studies, Historic Preservation, Library and Information Science, Public History

Democratizing Knowledge: Examining Archives in the Post-custodial Era 
Call for Papers

To acknowledge the archive as a construct is to understand that power, as Michel-Rolph Trouillot has argued, “is constitutive of the story.” Yet, for too long historians have operated as if the archive were a foregone conclusion, ignoring the ways in which history is a narrative shaped as profoundly by omission as by any material presence. The archiving of history rarely proceeds from the primary impact of events. Archives, rather, follow as a consequence of the “winning” of history, through processes which obscure the underlying social relations, preferencing one history over another. “Effective silencing,” Trouillot suggests, “does not require a conspiracy, nor even a political consensus. Its roots are structural.” 

Trouillot is but one of a number of contemporary theorists, including Foucault and Derrida, who’ve challenged inherited archival practice, inspiring new approaches to the archive’s construction. The present post-custodial mode, for example, promises a more collaborative approach, giving voice to those previously silenced by institutional power. By shifting emphasis away from a centralized, physical archive towards digital repositories and archival networks constituted by social media and crowdsourcing, distance between the event and its commemoration collapses. Community access to and participation in the archive is prioritized, precluding institutional intervention. 

The eighth annual Dean Hopper Conference seeks to bring into conversation historians, theorists, archivists and collection managers from across a range of disciplines to discuss past practice and imagine novel approaches to the archive. Thinking through the archive, broadly conceived, we ask the following: what is the future of archives? How might new archival practices foster more equitable distribution of resources? Should digital technology be more central to archives and material culture collections, rather than as a mere adjunct? What new risks threaten the production of history going forward? This conference is planned for Saturday, November 7th, 2020 at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. In the event that we will be unable to meet in person, a virtual platform is planned.

Keynote Speakers

Megan Rossman is assistant professor of communications at Purchase College and an award-winning documentary filmmaker. Rossman’s films have screened at festivals including DOC NYC and Outfest. Her film Love Letter Rescue Squad won best student documentary in the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival American Pavilion in 2017. Her first feature-length film The Archivettes, explores the founding and development of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, the largest collection of materials by and about lesbians. The project was awarded the prestigious Princess Grace Award.

Ariella Aïsha Azoulay is professor of modern culture and media at Brown University. Azoulay’s research and latest book, Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism (Verso, 2019), focus on the potential history of the archive, sovereignty, art, and human rights. Potential history, a concept and an approach that she has developed over the last decade, has far-reaching implications for the fields of political theory, archival formations, and photography studies. Her books include: Civil Imagination: The Political Ontology of Photography (Verso, 2012), and The Civil Contract of Photography (Zone Books, 2008). 

Deadline & Submissions

We invite proposals on this theme from graduate students, scholars, and professionals across the humanities. Proposals for individual papers and panels are welcome. Additionally, proposals for undergraduate poster presentations, whether based on a faculty-directed project or individual research, are also encouraged. Please send a 250-word abstract or a proposed poster, as well as a brief biography to hopper@drew.edu by July 10th. For panel proposals, please submit a 200 word panel abstract in addition to individual paper abstracts. 

Suggested topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • History of archives and archival theory

  • Archives and the production of memory

  • Strengths and weaknesses of current archival practices

  • Identification and exploitation of narrative silences in the archive

  • Archival activism or the “interventionist” archivist

  • The future of digital archiving

  • “Alternative” archives (film, art, bodies, etc.)

  • Museums and archival practice  

  • Public history and curation as archival practice

  • The social justice imperative in archival production

  • The archival processing of born-digital media

  • Archival networking and crowdsourcing

  • Archives of performance, oral history, music or sound, film, etc.

  • Landscape or architecture as archive

Contact Info: 

Please contact the Dean Hopper 2020 planning committee at hopper@drew.edu

Contact Email: