Power determines what is conserved and what is lost, which stories have been committed to collective memory and which ones have been erased. Engendering the Archive brings this fundamental feminist insight to bear on the examination of archival practices in the arts, literature, history, social science and in the practice of everyday life. An interdisciplinary research project that consists of working artists, documentarians, archivists, scholars, social analysts, and museum curators, Engendering the Archive explores the making of archives, specifically, the knowledge they afford and the question of what exceeds their grasp. This project stands out from other work on the archive because of its rigorous focus on the role of power in producing the archive and in positioning social groups unevenly in relation to the production of knowledge and the authority to speak.
Engendering the Archive is a three-year interdisciplinary research project focusing on gender, sexuality, race, and archival practices. We will look at categories of social difference as inescapable aspects of differential power relations that determine what societies remember and what they forget. Focusing on key questions such as--What is an archive? Who or what authorizes its construction? How do archives contribute to the production of social and cultural difference? How does the development of new media radically change the way knowledge is classified, stored, and retrieved?—the project will seek answers by taking advantage of theories and methods developed by contemporary artists, activists, and scholars of race, gender, and sexuality.
"Engendering the Archive" investigates some of these fundamental questions from a global perspective that takes account of the role of racism and colonialism in the production of archives and of categories that make legible or erase particular events and experiences. Gender, along with race, sexuality, and class, are inescapable aspects of differential power relations that determine what societies remember and what they forget.
In the current first year of this three-year project, we have organized a series of preliminary events and planning sessions and have constituted a working group of scholars from Columbia and the New York region interested in this project. Year two will involve six meetings of this working group, each centered on a particular topic, with presentations by group members and lectures by visiting fellows.
In the third year the working group will narrow its focus to the in-depth study of a specific facet of the problem of the archive that is identified in year two as particularly pressing or important. The group will meet three times in year three in preparation for a major conference in spring of 2010. Members of the working group will take turns leading sessions or contributing work to be read and discussed. Publication of papers from the working group and the conference is intended. Possible distinguished fellows for one to two-week residencies include Isaac Julien, Clive Van den Berg, Edwidge Danticat, Fred Wilson, Susan Meiselas, Antoinette Burton, and Jane Taylor.
Participants include approximately 30 scholars, activists and cultural practitioners drawn from Columbia, from other colleges and universities in the greater New York area, and from abroad, as well as several Columbia graduate students.