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Theorizing Historical Geographies of Injustice

Authors: Patricia Lopez*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Historical Geography, Qualitative Research
Keywords: archive, geneaology, archaeology , genealogy, historical geography, black geographies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Geographers are uniquely trained (and positioned) in their approaches to archives—imagined broadly not simply as official documents neatly catalogued and filed with institutions and organizations but as a whole host of discursive traces and orders left by the past—in order to write a 'history of the present' of injustice. Drawing on my experiences in a wide array of archives, both formal and informal, physical and virtual, I examine three distinct moments that shifted my thinking about who the archive ‘belongs’ to and according to whom. In particular, I explore the disconnects between ‘official’ records and the traces left by individuals creating those records, particularly when an archive about Black lives is curated and managed by (mostly white) institutions and their actors. These three instances include a missing correspondence between the Rockefeller Foundation, the US Navy, and the Secretary of State during the U.S. occupation of Haiti (1915-1934); an email exchange with an archivist at archive.org over a mislabeled document; and, a search for 76 cu. ft. of missing materials and the disregard for their importance by the archivists charged with managing them. I conclude by thinking with Ann Laura Stoler, who has argued for an ethnography of the archives, or working with archives-as-process not archive-as-things, and what this might offer in terms of opening up broader possibilities and engagements with the archive as an historical map that not only sums up the past but also shapes the ways that the present is and the future will be understood and lived.

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