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Democratizing Knowledge: Examining Archives in the Post-custodial Era

Saturday, November 7

Drew University (Madison, NJ)

Submission deadline: August 24, 2020

To acknowledge the archive as a construct is to understand that power, as Michel-Rolph Trouillot has argued, “is constitutive of the story.” Yet, for too long historians have operated as if the archive were a foregone conclusion, ignoring the ways in which history is a narrative shaped as profoundly by omission as by any material presence. The archiving of history rarely proceeds from the primary impact of events. Archives, rather, follow as a consequence of the “winning” of history, through processes which obscure the underlying social relations, preferencing one history over another. “Effective silencing,” Trouillot suggests, “does not require a conspiracy, nor even a political consensus. Its roots are structural.”

Trouillot is but one of a number of contemporary theorists, including Foucault and Derrida, who’ve challenged inherited archival practice, inspiring new approaches to the archive’s construction. The present post-custodial mode, for example, promises a more collaborative approach, giving voice to those previously silenced by institutional power. By shifting emphasis away from a centralized, physical archive towards digital repositories and archival networks constituted by social media and crowdsourcing, distance between the event and its commemoration collapses. Community access to and participation in the archive is prioritized, precluding institutional intervention. Archivists and librarians, among them, Michelle Caswell, Chaitra Powell, Mario H. Ramirez, Samantha Winn, and Jarrett Drake, have produced vital scholarship centered on representation, marginalization, and power in the archive, advancing essential dialogues that will inform future archival praxis and the responsible safeguarding of our collective past.

The eighth annual Dean Hopper Conference seeks to bring into conversation historians, theorists, archivists and collection managers from across a range of disciplines to discuss past practice and imagine novel approaches to the archive. Thinking through the archive, broadly conceived, we ask the following: what is the future of archives? How might new archival practices foster more equitable distribution of resources? Should digital technology be more central to archives and material culture collections, rather than as a mere adjunct? What new risks threaten the production of history going forward? This conference is planned for Saturday, November 7th, 2020 at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. In the event that we will be unable to meet in person, a virtual platform is planned.

We invite proposals on this theme from graduate students, scholars, and professionals across the humanities. Proposals for individual papers and panels are welcome. Additionally, proposals for undergraduate poster presentations, whether based on a faculty-directed project or individual research, are also encouraged. Please send a 250-word abstract or a proposed poster, as well as a brief biography to hopper@drew.edu by August 24th. For panel proposals, please submit a 200 word panel abstract in addition to individual paper abstracts.


Online event


Drew University