A – Minorities, national belonging, and state-building

Silence in/of archives: Absence, erasure, censorship, and archival politics

Event Details

  • Date

    Friday, 26 June - 9:00 – 11:00

    Friday, 26 June - 14:00 – 16:00

  • Venue
    tba
  • Theme
    A – Minorities, national belonging, and state-building
Convenor
  • Mahshid Mayar (Bielefeld University)
Chair
  • Mahshid Mayar (Bielefeld University)
Panelists
  • Yael Ben-zvi (Ben-Gurion University)
  • Oghenetoja Okoh (Loyola University Maryland)
  • Carol Magee (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Clemens Gütl (Austrian Academy of Sciences)
  • Erin Dickey (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
  • Susanne Quitmann (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)
  • Sarah Richter (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)
  • Katrin Horn (University of Bayreuth)

Papers

  • Yael Ben-zvi
    Humanization in Slavery’s Archives

    Humanization in Slavery’s Archives

    Saidiya Hartman’s “Venus in Two Acts” suggests that the absence of slaves’ voices from slavery’s archive derives inevitably from the radical dehumanization of the enslaved, arguing that slaves’ exclusion “from the category of the human” resulted in an archive that has obliterated their voices. During the four‐hundred‐year‐long accumulation of this silence, it seems that abolitionist discourse alone has challenged the dehumanization that has silenced the enslaved. This paper reconsiders the links between archival silence and dehumanization by demonstrating how a neglected aspect of the development of that silence has necessitated the humanization of the enslaved. I locate this silencing humanization, first, a founding texts of pro‐slavery discourse, Gomes Eanes de Zurara’s Chronicle of the Discovery and Conquest of Guinea (MS 1453; published 1841). Zurara’s Chronicle represents slaves’ voices and emphasizes their humanity amidst its foundational racist dehumanization of Africans. To understand the consequences of humanization’s contradictory functions in Zurara’s Chronicle, this paper explores slaves’ subsequent pre‐abolitionist humanization in two political treatises: Hugo Grotius’ The Rights of War and Peace (1625), and Samuel Pufendorf’s Of the Law of Nature and Nations (1627). In both texts, slaves are essential for understanding freedom and power as they function simultaneously as the objectified, bestialized edge of humanity, and as figures of quintessentially humansubjection. By analyzing these texts, the paper argues that understanding the silences that slavery’s archives institute demand nuanced attention to the clashes between humanization and dehumanization that have legitimated slavery and produced its archives.
  • Oghenetoja Okoh
    Silencing the History of the Niger Delta: How the Archive Contributes to its Marginalization

    Silencing the History of the Niger Delta: How the Archive Contributes to its Marginalization

    This paper will reflect on a primary methodological challenge in tracing the history of marginalization of western Niger Delta communities in Southern Nigeria: a fragmented archive. This reflection is part of a larger book project, entitled Minority Identities in Nigeria: Contesting and Claiming Citizenship in the Twentieth Century. The book presents a history of ethnic marginalization through colonial and then nationalist governing ideologies and policies, which effectively transformed western Niger Delta communities into minority citizens on the eve of Nigerian independence in 1960. The legacy of this process has been detrimental to national cohesion in the post‐independence period in ways that are particularly evident in this crude‐oil producing region. In particular, this paper will focus on the nature of the colonial archive that exists for the Niger Delta, drawing out the impact of its fragmentary nature on our existing knowledge of this region’s historical past. It will also discuss how this fragmentary knowledge has reinforced a hostile dynamic between Niger Delta communities and the Nigerian state – in its colonial, then post‐independence forms.
  • Carol Magee
    Erin Dickey
    Organic Archives and Silent Presences: A Case Study of the Nlele Institute’s Photographic Archives

    Organic Archives and Silent Presences: A Case Study of the Nlele Institute’s Photographic Archives

    To overcome the perceived limitations of archival silence, we propose the consideration of archives not as static sites for retrieval, but as organic operations which juxtapose political, cultural, and aesthetic values across time. Myriad dynamic relationships‐‐between makers of and subjects within collected materials, and people who interact with collections‐‐mark and are marked by archives. Through a case study of the Nlele Institute’s archives in Lagos, Nigeria, we argue that reconceiving archival silence allows us to attend more closely to what is present though often considered absent. Nlele is a photography training program/resource center; their collection includes a stock of photographic negatives found abandoned in a darkroom of a building formerly occupied by Nigeria’s Federal Press Agency prior to the agency’s move from Lagos to Abuja (1991). These materials document decades of political history and cultural heritage. With the goal of facilitating access and usage, we conducted a condition assessment (May, 2018). This case shows the multiple ways that silence can be broken, indicating ways that archival silence urges attentiveness. Through a discussion of photographs believed to have been taken by Jerome U. and Pius Akpan, we will demonstrate how these interactions occur in the attitudes towards cultural heritage and government archives in Nigeria; the practices of Nigerian 1980s press photography; the aims of Nlele instructors training students now; and the dialogue between Nlele instructors and U.S. consultants during assessment. Here, rather than functioning solely as a repository of historical traces, the archive itself is a trace.
  • Clemens Gütl
    “The Sounds of Silence”: A self‐critical look into the Phonogrammarchiv in Vienna

    “The Sounds of Silence”: A self‐critical look into the Phonogrammarchiv in Vienna

    The Phonogrammarchiv of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna is the oldest sound archive in the world. According to its Mission Statement its key tasks for the last 120 years have been to generate, collect and catalog audio and video recordings from all disciplines and regions all over the world, to preserve them in the long term, and to make them permanently available. In accordance with its agenda, the Phonogrammarchiv is anchored in the scholarly world. It is an archive serving general societal interests by contributing to the documentation and preservation of cultural heritage. In recent times, the role of sound archives has become the subject of extensive discussion, focusing on ethical questions arising in connection with collection methods and knowledge production, the dynamics between researchers and their “informants”, or the current production and use of knowledge, topics which are discussed in the Phonogrammarchiv. The title of my paper uses a line from a famous song to metaphorically refer to a dramatic situation. We are now approaching the threatening date of 2025, beyond which regular signal retrieval from magnetic tape is expected to cease. With every passing year, sound and video recordings are being lost all over the world. – “Silence like a cancer grows” –. Silent decay is an everyday reality for audiovisual archives in many parts of the world. Apart from physical deterioration, thousands of other sound recordings are still playable, but for other reasons nobody has ever heard nor understood them for more than one century. In my view, it is a matter of fact that we are not able to interpret most of the recordings correctly, unless the content on sound carriers is accompanied by an in‐depth analysis of the surrounding contexts and a source‐critical interpretation of additional sources, which are rarely found in the Phonogrammarchiv. Therefore, the messages maybe don’t keep acoustically silent, but still not understandable for listeners. In my paper, I’ll critically refer to some aspects in the history of the Phonogrammarchiv, link it to historical sound examples from Africa and address questions asked in the call of papers which are connected to the word “Silence” in its different meanings.
  • Susanne Quitmann
    Protecting or Silencing? Child Migrant's Voices in British and Canadian Archives

    Protecting or Silencing? Child Migrant's Voices in British and Canadian Archives

    In 2001, an interesting debate unfolded in the Times‐Colonist, a Victoria (BC) newspaper. Eric W. Lewis, a former student of the Fairbridge Farm School in British Columbia, criticized the local archives’ policy of allowing access to all the Fairbridge Farm School students’ files only to established scholars, not to “the children who suffered under the care of the Fairbridge Farms School program.” Patrick A. Dunae, Professor at the Vancouver Island University, defended the policy and further contested the claim that children like Lewis had in fact “suffered.” Lewis was one of about 100,000 to 200,000 children migrated by British charity organizations between 1870 and 1970. They were relocated from orphanages and lower‐class families of UK’s industrial cities to families and farm schools in the countryside of Britain’s settler colonies. It is difficult to assess Dunae’s assertion about these children’s experiences since even scholars are only allowed access to a previously selected part of the archival material. What is concealed remains unclear. Public and private archives struggle between protecting individuals’ privacy and providing access to his‐torical information. Lewis’ frustration about the archives’ exclusive policies might be better understood when considering that the silencing of the British child migrants’ voices and stories has very much been part of their history. My paper discusses the continuity in suppressing children’s voices, from children’s ability to raise their voice and the practices of producing archival material, to the access policies of modern archives. Fur‐thermore, it sheds light on children’s ways to nevertheless make their voices heard, and historians’ at‐tempts to tell their stories.
  • Sarah Richter
    Portrait of an Unknown Woman: An Archival Refusal

    Portrait of an Unknown Woman: An Archival Refusal

    Africa’s relationship to the archive is one that has been both defined and mediated by Western interventions. An unofficial qualifier for African artists to be included within the art historical discourse is predicated on the basis of an accessible archive. John Peffer proposes that to productively and ethically engage with an African archive, scholars must cognizantly focus on the diasporic experiences and histories of the object itself. Following this brief trajectory, this paper takes as its aim a glass plate negative in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection of an unknown woman from Senegal in 1910. Taken by an unknown photography, this image continues to productively disrupt Western practices of archiving, most notably through the absence of information about the photograph’s provenance. As the face of a 2015 exhibition, this woman’s meteoric rise to fame is predicated on the violent recontextualization of African art objects by Western collections and further highlights both the social life of images and the complicated relationship between western Art History and Africa’s photographic experiences. Portrait of a Woman’s seductive gaze is further disruptive for its seeming intimacy without transparency. This opacity thwarts neo‐colonial forms of European archival ownership through imagery.
  • Katrin Horn
    Archives of Gossip: Silencing and Remembering a Queer Past

    Archives of Gossip: Silencing and Remembering a Queer Past

    “I Wish You Would Burn These Letters” – despite this plea by Charlotte Cushman (1816–1876) to her lover Emma Crow, the actress’ (for the most part very carefully worded) letters have survived and are now accessible at the Library of Congress. Emma’s responses, however, are not. The details of their affair can only be grasped from the gaps in their correspondence and from pregnant silences that have survived in the written gossip of their circle of friends. Despite this scant evidence and the strict avoidance of the topic of Cushman’s sexuality in her posthumous memoir, recent years have seen a number of publications on Cushman’s life and career that consider it a well‐established fact that America’s biggest start of the 19th century was gay. The common denominator in this back‐and‐forth between silences about and remembrances of Cushman’s queerness, I argue, is gossip: fear of gossip on the one hand and a reliance on gossip on the other. Gossip, as Sedgwick has claimed, presents a particularly relevant mode of communication for minority communities (22). Bastin refers to gossip as “a discourse of the margins and of the marginalized” (Bastin 25) This paper hence makes the case for gossip as a powerful source of knowledge in reconstructing a queer past. Gossip here presents not only object, but method: inferring from the gaps which archives leave, and thus working with “traces (rather than evidence)” (Jobs 7).This paper therefore present Cushman’s written legacy and its traces of gossip as a case study for scholarly methods to counter the silences and silencing of sexual minorities in the archive.

Abstract

As we search for a long-gone document or contribute to digitization projects, as we page through redacted documents such as the Mueller Report, and directly linked to our 21st century concerns over saving the archive from centuries of systematic exclusion, silencing, and censorship, one most pressing question arises: What defines the historical archive: the range of documents it holds? The traces found in its margins as they point to what might be missing from or taken out of its collections? Or, the ways it provides access to the unlabeled and the displaced and earmarks the excluded and the erased? Proposed to the 6th European Congress on World and Global History (ENIUGH) on “Minorities, Cultures of Integration and Patterns of Exclusion,” this double-panel includes contributions by (art, cultural, social, global, transnational) historians of all periods and archivists whose research and work in the archives tend to the politics and patterns of marginalization in the archive and examine archival practices that uphold silence and denigrate the silenced. While silence has long been understood in post-colonial studies as a condition of the (neo-)colonized, the panel aims at broadening this perspective as historians and archivists examine the silence as temporarily imposed on politically sensitive classified documents as far from silencing and dis-empowering -- an embodiment of political immunity and privilege turn attention to the ephemera and the marginalia in order to restore lost voices and unregistered presences in the archive; take account of minorities and minority statuses (even though temporary and context-bound, such as upper-class children as a minority group with little access to writing their own history) at formerly under-examined intersections such as age, ability, gender, etc.; broaden the understanding of what counts as historical evidence both utilizing and criticizing the ‘big data’ toolbox; write critiques of historiography where focus has been either on the centers or on the margins and not on the reciprocities of the two -- entanglements that defy the minority vs. majority binary; criticize the politics behind digitization practices at archival institutions; celebrate collective and individual efforts to uncover, catalogue, and organize historical evidence differently, even at times to completely revolutionize the ways archives approach documents; explore new types of (online and offline) archives, and emerging spatial constellations thereof, and re-examine the conventions of building an archive;Interested in projects that, while subscribing to or critically engaging with global historiography, pay close attention to the politics of the archive in favor of the minorities and minority positions at the intersection of age, race, gender, and citizenship/colonial affiliations, the panel “Silence in/of the Archives” includes case study presentations, theoretical, methodological, as well as policy-oriented contributions that engage with archival silence, political censorship, the empowering effect of erasure and redaction, the minoritizing function of archiving practices, and the future of the historical archive.