18 Jan 2011

Archives and the Politics of History and Memory

Archives related conference that may be of interest...

Archives and the Politics of
History and Memory
A One-Day Symposium
Saturday 29 January 2011
Grand Parade, University of Brighton
How does an archive become an archive?
How does agency and power operate in the archive?
How do historians of class, gender, sexuality, 'race', ethnicity, disability negotiate the archival record in relation to cultural politics today?
What role do archives play in the creation and contesting of cultural memory?
What strategies are available for deciphering the archive, reading with and against the grain?
How should historians respond to the 'silence' of the archives?
How might the creation of new archives contribute to the production of radical histories and/or popular memories?
Do personal papers and community archives offer an intimate antidote to absences in the institutional archives?
To what extent, and in what ways, has the digital revolution transformed the democratic potential of archives and their contribution to historical understanding?
What are the political and ethical dilemmas faced by archivists in conflict zones, and how might these best be addressed?

Sally Alexander (Emeritus Professor of Modern History, Goldsmiths, University of London and Founding Editor of History Workshop Journal);
Beverley Butler (Lecturer in Museum Studies and Cultural Heritage, Institute of Archaeology, University College London);
Red Chidgey (DIY feminist historian, blogger and co-founder of the transnational digital archive and community resource, www.grassrootsfeminism.net);
Anna Davin (Founding Editor of the History Workshop Journal);
Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre (Artist and former member of the now disbanded Remembering Olive Collective, the South London community history, archive and blog project);
Nick Mansfield (Senior Research Fellow in History at the University of Central Lancashire, formerly Director of the People's History Museum, Manchester); Alexandra Molano-Avilan (Community historian and activist, and former member of the now disbanded Remembering Olive Collective, the South London community history, archive and blog project);
Anita Rupprecht (Senior Lecturer in Cultural History, School of Humanities, University of

This event is open to all but delegates must register in advance. The registration fee is £80, with concessions for retired/unemployed/unaffiliated delegates (£50) and students (£35). The registration fee includes tea/coffee and lunch.
To register to attend please email Nicola Clewer: nc95@brighton.ac.uk
The deadline for registration is 18th January 2011.
For further information on the Centre please visit our website: http://arts.brighton.ac.uk/mnh


Panel 1
Anita Rupprecht: 'The archives of transatlantic slavery, silence, and the politics
of memory'

This paper uses the historical records of a Royal Commission of Inquiry sent to the West Indies in 1821 to reflect more broadly on the interpretive issues at stake in addressing the archive of transatlantic slavery. Black Atlantic writers have long debated the ‘unspeakability’ of slavery and the issue of archival absence, and yet they have also engaged the official archive and the mythic and debilitating narratives deposited there in a myriad of creative ways. The ethical imperative to brush history against the grain is founded in an understanding of transatlantic slavery as a historical and human catastrophe. In highlighting the generic and representational implications of this approach, the paper considers what kinds of memory work might be attentive to both mourning and redress, and how far the discourse of reparation can provide a mediating link between the idea of a traumatic history and contemporary political intervention.

Beverley Butler: 'Archival memory – elite Alexandrias and popular engagements with Palestinian "archive fever" '

My critical objective within this paper is to give concrete examples of the diverse forms and expressions of archival memory. I critically explore my own research projects as a means to understand archival memory and its contemporary efficacies at both elite and more popular level. This elite-popular shift is mirrored in my own ethnographic studies of the revival of Bibliotheca Alexandrina and research on heritage and wellbeing in Jerusalem and the occupied Palestinian territories. This shift of focus takes me from a case-study context synonymous with elite institutionalisation of the archive to that of a popular engagement in which the person/ community is in ‘dialogue’ with alternative conceptions and forms of archival memory and with the efficacies synonymous with particular modes of cultural transmission. This shift, in return, requires an alignment to the genre of ‘enchanted heritage’ (cf. Byrne 2004) in which the continuities of sacred, and magical, ideal and real discourses can be identified from North to South (see Parish 2007). It is also a movement that, I will argue, ‘transcends modernism’s limitations’ (Byrne 2004:19) and is capable of offering resonance to what has been diagnosed as a popular Palestinian ‘archive fever’ (Doumani 2009) and as such synonymous with attempts to resist the on-going violences of occupation. In my conclusions, therefore, I argue that a key of archival memory-work is the capacity to ‘speak to’ the diversity of human cultural experience and to give recognition to diverse strategies of wellbeing, and cultural transmission; many of which remain ‘outside’ dominant archival and therapeutic discourse. These need to be re-centred in future discussions and to do so is crucially important in terms of the recognition of more ‘just’ archival futures.

Panel 2
Red Chidgey, Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre, Alexandra Molano-Avilan: 'Activist memory, alternative archives and community histories'

Fusing artistic, activist and academic approaches to making community histories, the Do You
Remember Olive Morris? project was a successful grassroots initiative that reclaimed social and political memories of Brixton-based social justice activist and British Black Panther, Olive Morris. Volunteer-run, the project generated multiple sites of archival records, including oral histories, public collections, exhibitions and the blog http://rememberolivemorris.wordpress.com. This integrated group panel aims to look at some of the means and outcomes of this project, both in terms of creating new, digital archives alongside more conventional institutional depositories, and some of the issues raised by the dissemination of the cultural memory/image of Olive Morris. We will ask questions such as: what constitutes a “usable past” within this project? and what strategies and creative methods can best be used to meet these needs? Furthermore, as the cultural memory of Olive Morris spreads, what opportunities for new connections alongside risks of appropriation and decontextualisation take place as images of Olive Morris are taken up and re-activated in various commercial and activist sites of meaning making?
Red Chidgey will begin with an introduction to the Remember Olive Morris project and some of the theoretical frameworks which can help us understand the types of memories and archives that have been produced by the project.

Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre Brief will explain the motivations to launch the project - such as the gaps within the official archival records - and the key collaborations which made the project possible. Drawing on Ana Laura's context as a community artist, this segment will also raise issues of how artistic approaches can lead to a different texture to history making.

Alexandra Molano-Avilan will reflect on the experience of making oral histories and relating the past to the present through these stories, and on the role played by activist memory in creating icons and inspiration to strengthen social movement struggles.
In the concluding segment, Ana Laura and Alexandra will critically consider how the cultural
memory of Olive Morris is now being deployed within activist, journalistic, and commercial milieus, by drawing upon a visual map outlining how images and discussions of Olive are being disseminated nationally and internationally.

Panel 3
Sally Alexander: 'Oral histories and cross class conversations: reconstructing
the structure of feeling of the welfare state'

Oral history archives, like memoir, are vital sources for re-thinking the subjective dimensions of need and desire which underpinned mid-twentieth-century social democracy and welfare states. Most oral history archives have been constituted since the 1960s, a product of radical social history; they are open, accessible to all and their particular quality lies in the vein of subjective feeling and thought which spoken memories reveal. This paper will explore the use of London childhood memories to reveal the structure of feeling of mid-century social democracy. D.W.Winnicott, paediatrician and psychoanalyst, one of the architects of maternal and infant provision in the 1940s and 50s, derived his ideas about ordinary mothers, the infant/mother relationship, the good-enough home and democracy from his forty years medical practice and 60,000 case-notes. These case-notes are not open to the public, but some are cited in his published papers; they give insight not only into intimate lives of working women and their families, but show how concepts and ideas which shaped a generation of mothers and children post-war were generated through clinical encounters and conversations.

Nick Mansfield: 'Archives and material culture - People's History over five decades'

Nick Mansfield was Director of the People's History Museum in Manchester for 21 years. The Museum looks after the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, including the archives of the Labour Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this paper he will use the history of this institution to examine changes in the way working class history has been collected and interpreted since the 1970s. The paper will also draw on previous experiences and on a subsequent academic career.

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