Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies


3 November 2021

Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work

Michelle Caswell (UCLA)

The talk will draw from Caswell’s new book, Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work (Routledge, May 2021), to argue that archivists can and should do more to disrupt white supremacy and hetero-patriarchy beyond the standard liberal archival solutions of diverse collecting and more inclusive description. Grounded in the emerging field of critical archival studies, the talk looks toward the radical politics of community archives to envision new liberatory theories and practices. Based on more than a decade of ethnography at community archives sites including the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), the talk will explore how members of minoritized communities activate records to build solidarities across and within communities, trouble linear progress narratives, and disrupt cycles of oppression. By catalyzing corollary records from the past, communities that steward, use and are represented by community archives learn political strategies and get inspiration. Caswell will explore the temporal, representational, and material aspects of liberatory memory work, ultimately arguing that archival disruptions in time and space should be neither about the past nor the future, but about the liberatory affects and effects of memory work in the present.

Michelle Caswell, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Archival Studies in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Caswell directs a team of students at UCLA’s Community Archives Lab (https://communityarchiveslab.ucla.edu/), which explores the ways that independent, identity-based memory organizations document, shape, and provide access to the histories of minoritized communities, with a particular emphasis on understanding their affective, political, and artistic impact. In 2008, together with Samip Mallick, Caswell co-founded the South Asian American Digital Archive (http://www.saada.org), an online repository that documents and provides access to the stories of South Asian Americans. She is the author of the books Urgent Archives: Enacting Liberatory Memory Work (Routledge Press, 2021) and Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), as well as more than 50 peer-reviewed articles in critical archival studies.

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The lecture is hosted by the Utrecht Forum for Memory Studies and jointly organized in the framework of the ERC-funded project ReAct – The Cultural Memory of Protest in Europe (N° 788572) and Memorights – Cultural Memory in LGBT Activism for Rights, funded under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie action (N° 840302)