Archiving Women was a one-day conference "bringing together scholars and archivists to examine feminist practices in the archive."
If I were a little more organized, I could share my notes, but unfortunately they're gone. Instead I'm going to bring up three different threads that for me characterized the event. They are preservation vs. privacy, the de-emphasis of the practitioner, and notable vs. common lives.
Let me say first that I found many of my fellow presenters' talks to be quite fascinating, and I was honored to be asked to participate. What follows is often critical, but I hope it will be understood to be without snark.
The tension between preservation vs. privacy (a topic that was addressed beautifully at the GLBT ALMS conference last spring), was about how researchers view archival holdings vs. how their subjects do. I kind of got the feeling that some of the historians felt that if they were denied anything about a subject's life, or the how her materials came to be in the archive, that they wouldn't be able to tell the person's story and that subsequently it would be like the person had never lived. Speaking for myself, and perhaps for the archivists in the room, while I do understand the scholar's horror at a research subject wanting her letters burned, I am also more sensitive to that donor's needs than I think the scholar is. I'd rather they trust me with some of their stuff than none of it.
Unfortunately, I seemed to be the only front lines handling materials on a daily basis archivist on any of the panels, and I'm not even an archivist. I curate an archive (or archives, as one or two of the presenters explained in some detail), but I'm really an accidental special collections librarian and amateur cataloger. I felt at a disadvantage being the only non-PhD on the bill. I suspect I ended up looking like a bit clumsy in comparison, but I also feel like that's partially a result of being set up (unintentionally) to fail. I'm not saying that the conveners deliberately dissed practioners, but I did feel like an afterthought. Although it was billed as a "conference bringing together scholars and archivists," I think most, if not all, of the outreach was to academic communities. I don't recall the announcement going out over any library lists that I'm on (and I'm on easily a dozen), other than Radical Reference NYC (forwarded by a librarian who heard about because he's in a grad program). Not that the room could have had any more people in it, and not that some librarians and LIS students didn't find their way there somehow. As my friend Kate Eichhorn suggested during the Q&A, it would have been nice to hear, not just from a few more archivists, but from some from institutions, such as the Lesbian Herstory Archives, that were housed outside of academia.
The third tension, that of notable vs. "common" lives, was evident on my panel, the first of the day. One presenter, Alice Kessler-Harris is currently researching Lillian Hellman, whereas Farah Jasmine Griffin presented on Addie Brown, an African-American domestic servant who lived in Hartford, CT in the 19th century. As someone who is bent on bringing the voices of teenagers, radicals, and crafty mamas, among others to the library, I of course am very interested in how the "ordinary" lives get documented--unless we as librarians and archivists go out of our way to find and preserve them. Far fewer servant girls' letters survive in trunks in attics than do those of their masters, don't you think?
PS My presentation.