Public lecture: Feminism’s Archive
Part of the ANU Gender Institute 2014 Public Lecture Series Feminist Theory Now
Presenter: Associate Professor Maryanne Dever
Event date: Wednesday, 24 September 2014 – 5:30pm to 7:00pm
Venue: Seminar Room 1 (3.02), Sir Roland Wilson Building (Bld 120), Australian National University, Canberra
Abstract: Where is feminism’s archive? The approaches to research that defined feminist archival practice in the 1980s and 1990s positioned ‘the archive’ (singular, monolithic) as the place where we routinely sought to ‘recover’ a past that we understood to have been ‘hidden from history’. This tradition of archival research has been radically reshaped by recent trends in the Humanities. Novel debates emerging from ‘archive studies’ — an interdisciplinary field of inquiry primarily located outside the traditional areas of archival science and records management and drawing its energy from new work in literary and cultural studies — treat archives not as unproblematic repositories of source material but as subjects of inquiry in their own right. Sometimes identified as the ‘archival turn’ within the Humanities this work understands archives as ‘figured’, that is, enmeshed in histories and politics that must be interrogated or accounted for before any investigation of individual collections or documents can proceed. Similarly, the ‘material turn’ in Humanities scholarship has sparked renewed interest in how questions of materiality and matter fundamentally reshape not only our inquiries but the objects that lie at the heart of them. These questions were generated initially from within studies in material culture, but now extend well beyond that area to structure wider, interdisciplinary inquiries into new relations between the cultural and the material. In this lecture I respond to these twin provocations by asking: where is feminism’s archive if it is not something we find fully formed and awaiting our interventions? Were we ever in it? Would we know it if we saw it now? I explore how new approaches structured by concerns with materiality can yield different orders of insight into literary lives, literary works and their archival traces and I do so by drawing on experiences working with Greta Garbo’s letters, Merle Thornton’s activist archive, and the papers of writers Eve Langley and Valentine Ackland.