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Imagining Archives Against Annihilation: Two Acts and A Proposition with Michelle Caswell

  • Thursday, June 02, 2016
  • 6:00 PM - 8:00 PM
  • Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
  • 110


Registration is closed

The Center for Jewish History (CJH) and the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (A.R.T.) are pleased to present CJH's annual Archival Leaders Advocate event:

"Imagining Archives Against Annihilation: Two Acts and A Proposition" with Michelle Caswell

The Center for Jewish History’s annual event, Archival Leaders Advocate, features prominent figures in the archives field addressing issues of broad relevance to all archivists. This year’s talk, "Imagining Archives Against Annihilation: Two Acts and A Proposition" featuring Michelle Caswell, will again be cosponsored by A.R.T.

In the 1970s, feminist communication scholars first proposed the term “symbolic annihilation” to describe the ways in which women are absent, underrepresented, or misrepresented in mainstream media. Taking this concept as a starting point, the first act of this talk will examine the ways in which mainstream archival practice has symbolically annihilated communities of color and LGBTQ communities through absence, underrepresentation, and misrepresentation. In the face of such symbolic annihilation, marginalized communities have formed their own independent community-based archives that empower them to establish, enact, and reflect on their presence in ways that are complex, meaningful, and substantive. Based on interviews with dozens of community archives founders, staff, and users, this first act will propose a tripartite structure for assessing the impact of such archives on the individuals and communities they serve: ontological impact (in which members of marginalized communities get confirmation “I am here”); epistemological impact (in which members of marginalized communities get confirmation “we were here”); and social impact (in which members of marginalized communities get confirmation “we belong here”). In the second act, this talk will examine the relationship between symbolic and actual annihilation. Symbolic annihilation both precedes and succeeds actual annihilation in that communities are rendered nonexistent, invisible, or expendable before they are subject to violence, and then, after violence, such acts are often rendered invisible or expunged from the record, magnifying and mimicking the violence itself. Finally, this talk will end with a proposition for archivists to “imagine otherwise,” that is, to conceive of and build a world in which communities that have historically been and are currently being marginalized due to white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, gender binaries, colonialism, and ableism are fully empowered to represent their past, construct their present, and envision their futures as forms of liberation.

Michelle Caswell, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Her work examines the ways in which traces of the past are used to build more just futures, with an emphasis on independent community-based archives. She is the author of the book Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), as well as more than two dozen articles. In 2014, she edited a special double issue of Archival Science on archives and human rights and is currently co-guest editing a special issue of The Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies on critical archival studies. She holds a BA from Columbia University, a master’s in theological studies focusing on South Asian religions from Harvard University, an MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a PhD in LIS from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She is also the co-founder of the South Asian American Digital Archive, an online repository that documents and provides access to the diverse stories of South Asian Americans.


This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP by June 1, 2016. Please note that an attendee list will be provided to the security staff, and you will be required to pass through a security screening. The event will be video-recorded; in attending, you automatically consent to being recorded.  For details on accessibility at CJH, please see click here.

Questions? communications@nycarchivists.org

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