CFP: Failure in the Archives

The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) is pleased to announce Failure in the Archives, a conference celebrating the frustrations of archival research, to be held on 30 October 2014 and featuring a keynote address by Natalie Zemon Davis.



Failure in the Archives will provide a forum to examine everything that doesn’t belong in traditional conferences and publications, from dead-end research trips to unanswered questions.

How do we respond to the resistance, or worse, the silences and gaps, that we find in the archives? Scholarship tends toward success stories, but this conference seeks presentations from a range of disasters that arise when navigating the depths of the archive: damaged, destroyed, mislabelled, misrepresented materials, forgeries, exaggerated significance, and gaps in the historical record. Overall, the experience of failure in the archive is truly interdisciplinary, skewing the warp and woof of close reading and big data alike, not to mention posing everyday problems for archivists and librarians working on the frontlines to make their collections accessible

We welcome proposals on any aspect of early modern archival work, manuscript or print, covering the period 1500-1750. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Materials which challenge cataloguing standards
  • Uncatalogued material – how to find it, how to access it, how to use it
  • Inaccurate cataloguing – tensions between past and present.
  • Broken or dispersed collections
  • Damaged, destroyed, or compromised collections
  • The ethics of maintaining archives
  • The ethics of archival research – especially when working with sensitive material
  • Absences and silences in the archive
  • Difficulties conserving and preserving materials
  • Conflicts of information between archival sources
  • Digitisation and its discontents
  • Agents in the archives: collectors, archivists, researchers

Conference structure and submission guidelines

In order to encourage a high level of participation among all conference attendees this conference will experiment with the format of the traditional academic conference.

There will be a morning of ‘lightning round’ 10 minute papers designed to stimulate discussion as well as more traditional panels of 3 twenty-minute papers in the afternoon. Panel chairs and respondents will be as valuable to our discussions as presenters – please do get in touch if you would like to volunteer for these positions.

Conference attendees will also vote on the final session of the conference collectively: all attendees will have the opportunity to submit ‘pitches’ until the afternoon of the conference.

A ‘pitch’ follows the format of a Call for Papers: it includes a theme, a brief overview of guiding questions, methods, and problems that arise when considering the theme, proposing possibilities for driving conversation forward. Pitches will be available on the conference website, and after reading them through during the lunch break of the conference, attendees will vote for the session in which they would most like to participate.

With an aim to include as many participants as possible, Failure in the Archives welcomes proposals for two types of presentations, which will be peer-reviewed.

200 word abstracts for 10 minute ‘Lightning Round’ panels.
400 word abstracts for 20 minute presentations, which will be pre-circulated to panel chairs and respondents.

A small fund for travel bursaries will be available for postgraduate students – please indicate in your application if you would like to be considered for this.

All questions, feedback, and proposals are due to no later than 31 July 2014. More information can be found here.