Archival Cures: Refiguring Provenance and the Desire for the Whole / Gracen Brilmyer (McGill University)

Lying at the intersection of disability studies and archival studies, this paper addresses the directionality of provenance—the emphasis of the origin, history and custody of a record or fonds—in order to illuminate ways of grappling with the erasure of disability in history. Drawing attention to the historical underpinnings of how many archivists work to reconcile with records that have been moved, rearranged, and dispersed to reconstruct a fonds, this talk highlights the ‘curative’ and ‘rehabilitative’ orientations of provenance. Put in conversation with disability studies scholarship—which critiques rehabilitating, curing, and restoring—the concept of provenance can be radically refigured, placing less emphasis on ‘fixing’ or reconstructing a fonds (which might have never been in the first place). Instead this research addresses the reality of archival material to acknowledge the new relationships created because they are always already fragmented. Given the plethora of records created around disability, such as medical records and asylum documentation that tell one side of disability history, this research looks to less obvious archival sources to tell a history of disability outside of the medical, asylum, and often violent forms of documentation of disability. This paper asks “how can we tell the history of disability when there is partial or even no evidence of disabled people?” and thus radically reframes the concept of provenance in order to provide an expansive lens through which to read disability in history. Moreover, this talk emphasizes how digital tools can provide platforms for archivists to expand and complicate provenance, highlighting the multiplicities of relationships between records, histories, and people in nuanced ways.

Provenancial Fabulation: Exploring Records Creation in Digital Archives of Feminist Activism / Jessica Lapp University of Toronto)

Focusing on how creatorship has been figured and reconfigured in two digital archives: Alternative Toronto and Rise Up! A digital archive of feminist activism, this paper explores how these sites stretch our understanding of fonds, collection, and interface in the creation of digital surrogates. Informed by Saidiya Hartman’s ‘critical fabulation’ and Donna Haraway’s ‘speculative fabulation,’ provenancial fabulation is a means of understanding and characterizing how records origins are imagined differently in archives of feminist materials. This analysis explores how creatorship is stratified, iterative and continuous; not all forms of creatorship exert the same force, while also demonstrating how digital archives of feminist materials have the ability to distribute creatorship across myriad bodies. In creating structures of meaning that play with relationality, time, space, origins, creatorship and authorial voice in order to circulate feminist knowledges and practices, Alternative Toronto and Rise Up! demonstrate provenancial fabulation as a generative and imaginative practice of building archival context and meaning in digital space.

Digital Archives and Freedom from Political Repression / Ayantu Tibeso (University of California, Los Angeles)

This paper presents findings from a study with activist-scholars in Ethiopia whose work seeks to document historically marginalized communities. It provides an analysis of archival history in Ethiopia alongside the experiences of participants as a way to contextualize the intersection of the historical, political and archival as it informs their work. The experiences of participants reveal a fierce struggle against political repression, archival exclusion and marginalization. Historically, the archival landscape in Ethiopia favored written elite histories while ignoring and denigrating robust and ancient oral recordkeeping practices. Consequently, it silenced the histories, cultures and identities of the vast majority of Ethiopia’s people. I propose digital archives as a pathway through which to address political repression and historical and archival exclusion. By highlighting the experiences of activist-scholars in Ethiopia, this paper contributes theoretical and methodological insights that are relevant to contexts where independent archives are not available or permitted.