Archival mattering: reading missing documents of (in)justice

Authors: Patricia Lopez*, Dartmouth College
Topics: Qualitative Methods
Keywords: archival research, injustice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/10/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 37
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 the ghostly traces of missing and mislabled documents in order to think 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 archives about Black lives that are curated and managed by (mostly white) institutions and their actors. I argue that the missing documents tell us as much about the moments in which they were produced and disappeared as they do about the logics and priorities of archival mattering in the present. 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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