Archiving Bodies: Digital Archives, Feminist and Queer Praxis

“We can no longer be complicit in the production of the privileged archive.”

Powerful words from Jamie A. Lee, speaking at the Archiving Bodies: Digital Archives, Feminist and Queer Praxis seminar organised by Full Stack Feminism in DH (FSFDH) in collaboration with the Digital Repository of Ireland. The seminar was hosted by Maynooth University on 20 May 2022.

Jamie Lee, Adela Licona, Orla Egan, Sharon Webb and Natalie Harrower at pre-seminar gathering

The FSFDH team were delighted to welcome Jamie A Lee and Adela C Licona to Ireland for this important seminar. Sharon Webb, UK PI with FSFDH, set the scene and introduced the FSFDH project.

Jeneen Naji, Irish PI with FSFDH, and Izzy Fox, post-doctoral researcher with FSFDH co-facilitated the seminar.

The seminar was organised as part of my role as Community Co-ordinator with the Full Feminism in DH research project. For me it provided an opportunity to bring together various strands of my work with both FSFDH and the Cork LGBT Archive.

I first encountered Jamie Lee’s work in 2015 when I was searching for inspiration and guidance for my own work in establishing the Cork LGBT Archive. Reaching across the Atlantic Jamie had generously shared their work with me. Anyone who has ever heard me talking about the work of the Cork LGBT Archive will, most likely, have heard me quote Jamie A. Lee’s work on Queering the Archive:

“I deploy the term queer as a practice and a politics. I use ‘to queer’ as a verb working on and within the archives as an act of intervention, an upsetting of the normative archival structures that continue to uphold and reproduce the hegemonic power dynamics at work to exclude.” Jamie Ann Lee (2015)

Jamie a. Lee has further developed this work into their book Producing the Archival Body published in 2022 by Routledge.

Speaking at the FSFDH seminar in Maynooth Jamie talked about the importance of storytelling and of weaving bodies together – human and non-human bodies, bodies of knowledge, archival bodies. Jamie uses queer theory in their work to challenge the status quo and to insist on reimagining multiplicities and relationship contexts – to queer, to subvert the normative and to disrupt the traditional ideas of what an archive is and can do. They urge us to think of archives as living, breathing entities that can be both enduring and endearing.

Adela C Licona brought us a powerful discussion of Art as Coalitions Gesture – a framework for working in, and building, community to create in coalition for informed action. She also introduced the concept of Moving Matters – knowing and knowing together matters that should move us to act – moving matters. It can also mean to share information to build social movements. She discussed these in relation to the Tender R/Age project which focuses on confronting state violence.

Adela asks what can art do in the age of state violence and border brutality and the regime of distortion? It can gather community, it can inform, it can teach, it can distribute resources, it can express collective outrage, it can document, it can function as a call to action, it can connect people to one another and to resources and ideas, it can be experienced as moving matter, as movement building matter. Art can do so much more than make the outrageous interesting or the brutality beautiful.

Following these powerful and passionate presentations from Jamie and Adela, we were delighted to welcome Lorraine Grimes for another passionate presentation about the Irish project Archiving Reproductive Health: Archiving the 8th. This project aims to collect, catalogue and provide long-term digital preservation and access to the many at-risk materials generated by grassroots women’s reproductive health movements during the campaign to repeal the 8th Amendment (anti-abortion) and other reproductive rights campaigns. As part of the project they are developing models of best practice for archiving social media. Lorraine outlined some of the challenges for researchers working on projects like this and the strategies employed to address these.

The themes of archival activism and the power of disrupting traditional archives and archival practice threaded throughout all the presentations at the Archiving Bodies seminar and clearly resonated with the participants. Lorraine McLoughlin had recently began her job as City Archivist in Dublin and commented that this was exactly the kind of event she had been looking for. Similar comments were made by other participants.

The event was recorded and can be viewed on the Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities media channel.

Full Stack Feminism in Digital Humanities is a two-year research project funded by UKRI-AHRC and the Irish Research Council under the ‘UK-Ireland Collaboration in the Digital Humanities Research Grants Call’  (grant numbers AH/W001667/1 and IRC/W001667/1).