Reading: Critical Archival Studies

The most recent issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies is a special issue focusing on critical archival studies.  The issue is edited by Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand and it is completely open access.

The journal issue tackles the ways in which “records and archives serve as tools for both oppression and liberation.”  Many of the articles discuss archives in the context of social justice, community activism, and human rights. The introduction defines critical archival studies as:

those approaches that (1) explain what is unjust with the current state of archival research and practice, (2) posit practical goals for how such research and practice can and should change, and/or (3) provide the norms for such critique. In this way, critical archival studies, like critical theory, is emancipatory in nature, with the ultimate goal of transforming archival practice and society writ large. As an academic field and profession, critical archival studies broadens the field’s scope beyond an inward, practice-centered orientation and builds a critical stance regarding the role of archives in the production of knowledge and different types of narratives, as well as identity construction. (p.2)

The application of critical theory has the potential to change the shape of archival practice and highlight the politics and power relationships involved in archival collecting.  The articles in the issue are largely focused on the work of archivists engaged with marginalized communities. I’m still working my way through the issue but so far Anne J. Gilland’s article of “A Matter of Life or Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly Displaced” and Jamie Anne Lee’s “A Queer/ed Archival Methodology: Archival Bodies as Nomadic Subjects” have both been excellent reads.