Introduction and Narrative
The following narrative traces my personal and scholarly biography, illustrating my positionality in the archive from a disciplinary and affective stance, while also outlining the exigency of the rhetorical situation that led to the archive’s conceptualization and execution, specifically the underrepresentation of Azorean-American women in archival records. The purpose of this narrative, tracing the people and events that shaped the concept for the archive, is to apply Graban et al.’s understanding of “archival provenance as a function of kairos, where archival technologies emerge from contextualized events” (234). It acknowledges that in creating this archive, I assume certain positions as a writer of history, a writer who “is never a disinterested, objective observer of fact but always a selector of objects and interpreter of tales,” which “requires recognizing the location of the teller, the impetus of her investigation, and her vested interest in the tale’” (Campbell qtd. in Sharer 53). By offering an accounting of these contextualized events, impetuses, and interests as they give rise to the archive, this narrative is also rooted in feminist rhetorical practices of acknowledging scholars’ positionality as being inextricably linked to scholarly outcomes, recognizing that “how a researcher chooses a subject is a subject unto itself,” and one worth considering (Kirsch and Rohan 1). The narrative answers Jennifer Sano-Franchini’s call for scholars to ask ourselves: “How do our intellectual genealogies inform and affect the work that we do?” (53). The chapter concludes with an analytical discussion of the implications of these experiences for rhetorical approaches to archival work. The issues raised include the feminist rhetorical practice of drawing on emotional attachments as a valid aspect of scholarly research, the necessity of allowing for unexpected archival discoveries while being attuned to moments of synchronicity that can open fruitful avenues of research, and the importance of collaboration in developing new archives. The relationship between the rhetorical situation and the post-custodial turn in archival studies that leads to the creation of new records is also examined with special attention to influence on memory and identity formation from such records.
This project is both a personal and scholarly product. By choosing Azorean-American women as the focus of the archive, the cultural community in which I was raised and connected to through my maternal line, it is a project that fulfills an intimate need to understand myself, my origins, and the values and traditions that influence how I approach the world. Perhaps also, it is a way to connect to the women I have known and lost, like my mother, grandmother, and aunts, and be able to share them with my own children. However, the project has also been conceived as a born-digital dissertation to be completed as part of my journey toward a PhD in English from Old Dominion University. With this scholarly aim, I am interested in building a digital cultural archive and exploring the theoretical and practical implications of its construction for archive users and researchers in digital rhetoric and humanities. Arriving at this intersection of personal and scholarly activity has not been by way of a direct line, and this concept narrative is working to capture how so many disparate threads came to be fused.
However, one of the challenges in explaining the origins of this particular archive is rooted in the fact that this is a generated archive as opposed to a received archive. Simply put, in a traditional received archive, the archivist will acquire a collection of artifacts, through donation or institutional acquisition, and will proceed to assess, describe, organize, and preserve the archive. In a generated archive, however, the archivist actively determines what artifacts should be collected and works to bring the collections into being, into a cohesive archive that would otherwise not exist without the archivist’s direct intervention and activity. The archivist generates archival material herself instead of (or in addition to) only receiving materials from others. In a received archive, the beginnings of the archive, at least from the perspective of the archivist, can be understood as the moment when the artifacts were first acquired. However, the starting point is much less easily defined when the archivist chooses to generate the archive. In this case, it does not start with an acquisition of materials; it begins as an idea for an archive. And how do you determine where an idea begins or identify from where it comes?
Since the project impetus in many ways was to develop a subject for my dissertation, it does make sense to think about my doctoral studies and how that connects to the archive’s beginning. When I started the PhD program at ODU, I was not interested in archival research. At the time, I was heavily invested in researching the underground press movement in the South during the Civil Rights Era. I fell into this research by way of an interest in mid-twentieth century American literature, specifically the literary contributions of the countercultural movement of the late 1960s. I wanted to see how this turbulent time of American history was reflected in contemporary literature and began looking at mainstream publications in poetry and novels. Then I attended a lecture by Dr. Siobhan Brownsen at Winthrop University of the role of Victorian periodicals and ephemeral printed texts in capturing the shifting swells of public opinions and interests. She argued that the greater accessibility to printing presses created a more egalitarian and instantaneous outlet for disseminating information, especially information to counter dominant voices. After this lecture, I had a spark of a thought that perhaps I needed to look elsewhere for the kind of artistic reactions and contributions I was seeking. Like the Victorians, the access to affordable and rapid print technologies, such as mimeograph and Xerox, allowed a viable path to reach audiences as a way to both reinforce and reflect the subaltern community’s ideals: the underground press.
After some basic searches, I was able to find examples of some of the larger publications online, namely Berkeley Barb out of Berkeley, California and Village Voice out of New York City. I also stumbled across a Wikipedia entry for the Underground Press Syndicate (UPS), a news-sharing services much like the AP that allowed underground press publications to freely share content and graphics, that listed all UPS affiliated publications and their locations. I was living in Charlotte at the time, so I was excited to see a listing for Inquisition from that city. Most of the other titles had a link to their own dedicated page, but there was no link for this publication. Some additional deep Google searches yielded a library catalog listing for the publication in the special collections at the UNC-Charlotte library. I made arrangements with the collection manager to visit the library and research the title further. It turned out to be a truly life-altering experience; it was a catalyst for my very own archive fever.
Everything was exciting: the special collections room tucked away in the upper-most levels of the library, its climate controlled room, the visual and olfactory atmosphere created by the encompassing shelves of delicate and rare historical books, the staff carefully checking to ensure no ink pens were brought into the space, sitting in the anticipation of discovery as I watched the librarian wheel his cart toward me with a large box on top. When he lifted the lid, I was surprised to find an entire collection of underground press periodicals in addition to the title I was seeking. It occurred to me that Inquisition was just one of many regional publications from this time, and it planted a seed in my mind that would come to fruition later during my coursework at ODU. However, I was focused at the time on the title that brought me to the collection, and I eagerly wrote down as many details and names of the writers and editors as I could from the four or five issues contained in the collection. Like a detective, I searched online for matches to the names and made a series of awkward phone calls until I contacted the right people in an attempt to learn more about how the essays and poems can into existence. I was not really prepared for the journey of discovery I ultimately uncovered, but I was so excited by the discovery that I continued to follow the path that unfolded before me.
One contact quickly led to another and another. The men I was meeting were surprised, bemused, proud, and even dismissive of my efforts to learn about their publication. I recorded interviews individually and at a kind of “reunion” that my inquiries inspired as they reconnected with one another. One editor even carried down a complete set of the publication from his attic in an old plastic bag and told me I could keep them to do with as I pleased. As it turned out, the publication caused quite a stir on the city and even led to some interference from the local police, sparking a First Amendment case filed by an ACLU lawyer that ended up having a precedent setting decision pitting free speech rights against zoning laws. This led me to the public library and deep into the microfilms of the Charlotte Observer, searching page by page without an index, for any and all articles and letters to the editor about Inquisition. The meeting with the ACLU lawyer and poring over legal documents from the trial were places far away from my initial interest in the literary contributions, but the story was so compelling that I felt it needed to be told. I remember thinking that before I can really talk about the contents within the publication, I needed to first document the extraordinary history of how the publications came into existence in the first place. It was an inextricable part of understanding the environment out of and into which the poems and essays were born. In a whirlwind of information, I wrote a paper, presented it at a conference, and had it published. I then worked with the library to facilitate the donation of the complete set of Inquisition issues that had been given to me, along with a copy of the article I wrote, in an effort to ensure the proper preservation of the texts and increase their accessibility for others. Thankfully, I had the presence of mind to make complete pdf scans of the set for future study before submitting them to the library. It was great sense of relief and accomplishment when they were officially added to that box, knowing it would dwell there its climate-controlled rooms safe from ink and attics.
When the dust settled, I was left feeling like I had told just one of the stories that was out there waiting to be recovered and brought into the scholarly conversation. I recalled the other titles from the box in the special collections and wondered about their histories and circumstances. This interest was also fueled by the commonly surprised reaction from the public and other scholars who had difficulty reconciling the presence of a vocal countercultural movement with their impressions of the South during this time as something of a monoculture of conservatism. I felt, and still do, that the work of these publications was significant to having a more complete understanding of the South and the underground press movement. It marked a significant shift in my interests from the literature of counterculture to the modes and methods of the cultural activity of publication itself. For me, asking the questions of how these publications came into being, and exploring the forces against which they were a reaction and the social impact that the texts carried with them, became more important than asking what they wrote with greater implications for our collective understanding. They were, in essence, rhetorical questions as opposed to literary ones.
Soon after, I started at ODU and was determined to continue this work of identifying titles, locating key figures, and preserving their histories to bring awareness to the presence of dissenting voices in the South, which are often subsumed in the narrative of Southern violence and oppression. In an independent study, I was able to follow the same steps to record the history of Bragg Briefs, an underground publication written by drafted and enlisted soldiers stationed at Fort Bragg in Greensboro, North Carolina. I made another pilgrimage to another library, this time at Guilford College, and pored over their copies of the title. I tracked down editors and writers and conducted interviews. I wrote an article. However, as the work continued, it was becoming increasingly clear that the conversation to which I was hoping to contribute would be extremely limited by issues of access. How could a robust conversation about the southern underground press movement take place if scholars could only access the primary documents by travelling to small libraries across the south? While time spent combing through the archives could be exhilarating and lead to serendipitous discoveries, how could that research method compete with the immediacy of a digital search online or through university library database subscriptions? These thoughts were inspired in large part by the digital archive managed by Georgia State University dedicated to the underground press publication Great Speckled Bird (explored more fully here) out of Atlanta, Georgia that I had found when researching southern publications listed by the UPS. The ability to search by keyword, author, or date across all digitized issues struck me as fundamental functions to support dynamic scholarship. Here marked yet another shift in attention, this time from being interested in the rhetorical histories and social implications of underground press publications to being interested in creating a digital archive of the publications to facilitate the scholarly conversations about them as opposed to contribute to them personally.
This vision came more fully into perspective in the spring of 2012 when I was taking a New Media seminar with Dr. Rochelle Rodrigo. As part of the course, we were exploring New Media key concepts and applying them to a project of our own design. I decided to start building a digital archive for the scans that I had made of Inquisition that ultimately succeeded in bringing the publication into a digital, open-access space that I intended to be the foundation for my dissertation by adding additional publications and enhancing the functionality by completing OCR work to make the scans searchable. Shortly after creating the site, it began to gain some attention. Users commented with their own memories and experiences, the Jacksonville University library collection added the project to its underground press collections resources, and I began to realize that archival projects do not only preserve; they have the potential to impact the present. I began to see the transformative social power of archives, and this realization would become increasingly more important as I developed my scholarly interests. I wanted to learn more not just about how archives work, but what work they can do.
Although this work was rewarding and exciting at times, it was also difficult. Reading back through the weekly blog postings describing the challenges and projects, several key concepts emerged. Building a digital archive calls into question issues of access to content, copyright questions surrounding the digitization of primary documents, the constraints of funding digital projects, the problem of long-term maintenance of digital objects, and the challenge of rhetoricians making the transition from skilled technology use to skilled technology production. I chose to explore these tensions further through a second independent study under Dr. Pamela VanHaitsma over the course of the 2014-15 academic year leading into my preparation for comprehensive exams and the development of a dissertation prospectus. My object of study had now completely shifted from the literary contributions of the counterculture movement to digital archives in an unexpected and rather organic way.
There was only one problem. The idea for my archive had become irrelevant. In the intervening years between my New Media project and the independent study, a massive effort to digitize the underground press by Reveal Digital had begun in earnest, which I discovered in September 2014. It was like the air had suddenly been sucked out of the room and my face flushed and heated as I began to conceptualize the ramifications. Digitizing the southern underground press publications and essentially duplicating the work being done by Reveal Digital did not seem to me to be a worthwhile endeavor, although I was pleased that such a professional and comprehensive effort was being made. I continued to think through and study the obstacles I had outlined in terms of building digital archives, but my focus became somewhat untethered from an actual archival subject. The work became much more about the general theoretical and practical concerns for archives, and I began to envision a project that worked in some ways like a how-to guide for making archives, the challenges and work-arounds that one would likely encounter when taking on such a project. Dr. Rodrigo was on board with these early ideas and we even discussed how the dissertation might come together around chapters devoted to archival technology, the politics of access, the relevant copyright law, strategies for archival maintenance, and the necessity of and potential sources for funding.
Dr. Rodrigo ultimately left the university before I completed coursework, and these tentative plans would shift again before solidifying into the dissertation in its current form. This is in large part due to the influence of my dissertation chair Dr. Daniel Richards, who brought me into thinking about the archive as a rhetorical object. Through this lens, I began to revisit some previous questions about the work archives can do as well as ask new questions yet again. How are archives rhetorical? How is archival production a rhetorical act? How does the archival design influence users’ meaning-making activities? How can archives mediate rhetorical exigencies? At this point, I had completed the doctoral coursework and was heading into preparations for my comprehensive exams. I was still concerned about what I would have as the subject for the dissertation archive. I knew I wanted to engage in critical making, and I was fond of saying that humanities scholars need to become good research tool makers and not just research tool users. I also knew that I wanted to understand the archival interface as the point at which users encounter the artifacts; I wanted to know how the different decisions about how the interface looked and functioned affected users’ meaning-making. I remember saying that I wanted to be able to say that making decision X about the interface would lead to user conclusion Y. I essentially tabled the issue of the archive subject until exams were over, focusing more on the theories related to rhetorical archives, digital interfaces, autoethnographic methods for critical making, and user experience testing. I also had a vague notion that I could still work with some of the smaller underground papers as my subject, but I also remember thinking that because the focus was on making and the influence of making on user experience, it perhaps did not matter whether the content of the archive I built for the dissertation existed elsewhere. It was not a perfect solution since I wanted the dissertation to have relevance outside its function as an institutional document and to be a project I could continue as an academic that to me meant investing in something that could be scaled up, which the underground press archive would not fulfil. However, the notion was enough to quell the subject anxiety long enough to move through the comprehensive exams when I could revisit the idea as I prepared my prospectus.
Now, it is important for me at this point to share some personal experiences that would come to have a powerful influence over my scholarship. My comprehensive exams took place in October 2015 over the one-year anniversary of my mother’s death on October 14, 2014. She had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer just a year before her passing, when my daughter was only twelve days old. The two years leading up to those exams were a blur of having a newborn, working, finishing coursework, coping with a terminal illness, and ultimately the grief of losing a parent. In retrospect, I think it helped me get through the pain by having a young child at home and doctoral work to focus on as a way to exclude the more painful thoughts, but these forces of life and death have a way of pulling one’s focus in new directions and the pains of each will ultimately shift one’s identity.
After the exams were over, the pace of my life slowed. That particular doctoral hurdle had been cleared and I moved into a phase of study that was not driven by coursework deadlines. My daughter was changing from a baby to a toddler and needing less from me. I was even starting to come out of the shock of loss and the terrible year of painful “firsts” that happens after a death was over. It allowed me the time and space to process what I had gone through, and I naturally began reflecting on my past with my mother and a future without her. I especially felt a sadness for my children who now must grow up without their grandmother as a loving and influential force. I especially began thinking about the loss of my mother’s presence in my daughter’s life since my own grandmother had been such an integral part of my childhood and building my sense of self, primarily as a woman of Azorean descent.
My master’s thesis was a collection of short stories based around my experiences with her as a child and through to her final years lost on the grip of Alzheimer’s. I reflected on how much she had taught me about keeping a home, cooking traditional meals, telling me stories about our family, and passing on her skills in sewing and crocheting. I think more than I even mourned the loss of my mother for my life, I mourned her absence from my daughter’s and the part of her identity that comes through her maternal line. These are issues I still grapple with today, and in many ways formed the basis for the affective research I am doing now.
With these questions of archival power from my exams and these emerging concerns with familial identity swirling simultaneously in my mind, I recall a revelatory moment one afternoon while looking at my grandmother’s hope chest sits at the foot of my bed, the tiered, rounded edges and geometric inlaid mahogany veneer belying its Art Deco origins.
Family legend says that my grandfather bought it for her when they got married right before World War II. The Sears & Roebuck label, although yellowed and wrinkled, is still firmly affixed inside the lid. For most of her life, she used the chest to hold bed linens, but sometime before she died, she began to fill it with objects she had collected over her lifetime, carefully affixing a handwritten note to each item with a description and story about its origins. Perhaps because I had always admired it and expressed an interest in family history, she chose to leave the chest and its contents to me. Inheriting and owning the chest was and continues to be a powerful force in my life. While nothing saved in the chest would be considered monetarily valuable, it is, as far as I am concerned, filled with treasures of incalculable worth. They invoke powerful emotional responses when I handle them, and they exude a sense of historic significance. They seem to whisper the essence of my family in their very being and collectively have become an important element in how I construct a sense of my identity as the descendant of Azorean immigrants.
One item from the chest particularly exemplifies this link between object and identity: an embroidered purse.
My grandmother’s note may not have the date of the object exactly right, but the purse is still likely the oldest object I own, and it is the one artifact I believe was carried over the Atlantic Ocean during the immigration act of my first ancestor, my great-great grandmother, to come to this country. The fine needlework viscerally reminds me of my own grandmother’s sewing skills and the lessons she passed on to me, rooting my own innate talent with textiles in a sense of familial tradition and affirming my place in this lineage. More than simply an object of aesthetic pleasure, this tangible link to my Azorean heritage also serves to remediate a personal sense of cultural identity loss. This loss is the result of my mother’s diminished emphasis on, or overt rejection of, cultural identity markers of the “American” culture she was born into (think abandoning the Portuguese language and asking for peanut butter and jelly on Wonderbread for lunch instead of salted cod and potato stew). Common among third generation Americans like me, this desire to reclaim cultural identity, termed “retroculturation,” is often precipitated by feelings of disconnection to their ancestors’ cultural and linguistic traditions caused by intervening generations’ assimilatory erasures. However, while these reflections certainly capture certain personally significant realizations, they also inspire my considerations of certain scholarly questions, such as: What imbues objects with perceptible significance and purpose beyond their functions? How does a purse become something so much more than woman’s container for personal items? Through what mechanisms do simple objects influence something as consequential as identity?
I questioned the validity of this topic for my dissertation and worried that replacing the original archive subject of the underground press with such a personal focus would not be “scholarly” enough to satisfy the doctoral requirements. At that point, I had already passed the comprehensive exams and had been working with my dissertation chair, Dr. Richards, to develop a very different project. I remember very clearly the day that I presented the idea to him through a Skype meeting; I was nervous about sharing the idea and presenting it to him. I had no idea if he would approve of the proposed shift and how he would react to the idea of using my own cultural community as an archival subject. I also had to contend with the knowledge that no other student in the program had completed a born-digital dissertation since the university had only recently voted to allow such submissions; it would potentially be making a difficult process somewhat more difficult as often is the case when navigating uncharted waters. Despite these concerns, there was a moment where I had to decide to be brave and confident in my decision to pursue the project, and I proceeded to share the details of what I had been thinking about. Ultimately, getting Dr. Richards’ support and approval to work with Azorean-American women was an experience of validation and excitement that made the process of changing subjects between comprehensive exams and the prospectus worthwhile.
Around Her Table is my way of honoring my origins, validating the significance of the community, preserving the culture for subsequent generations, and contributing to rhetorical archive scholarship. It is in many ways a natural or organic conclusion to my life and my scholarly interests thus far as described in this narrative, pulling together the threads of my scholarly interest in the rhetorical power of the archive, archival interface, and critical-making along with my deeply personal need to gather the ghosts of my cultural memories and hold them together within the binds of the archive. Despite this narrative’s accounting of my unique approach to the archive’s conceptualization, it is possible to identify thematic elements that exist here that have implications for others coming into this kind of work. Extrapolating from the narrative, the discussions below work to convey some of the universalities involved in archival work that may be useful considerations for those interested in such.
Affective and Familial Scholarship as Feminist Rhetorical Practices
As a third-generation Azorean-American woman myself, this project is admittedly personal, and I initially had reservations about the scholarly appropriateness of this undertaking. I grappled with whether a subject with such strong emotional connections was a valid object of study or if my personal ties in some way disqualified me from undertaking such an examination. However, this project is an example of the kind of affective scholarship recognized by scholars such as Kirsch and Rohan engaged in feminist rhetorical practices related to historiographic work that operate from the understanding that “serious, committed, excellent historical research comes from choosing a subject to which we are personally drawn, whether through family artifacts, a chance encounter, a local news story, or some other fascination that sets us on a trail of discovery, curiosity, and intrigue” (8). They argue that rather than personal subjects being invalidated by our attachments, we can understand how “researching family archives and local stories can and does lead to sustained scholarly work and contribute to new knowledge, both in and outside of academe” (3). Kirsch and Rohan conclude with the assertion that we should elevate our own positionality within our research interests and see “the intersection of the personal, cultural, and scholarly aspects of our lives as an important new site for original scholarship” (3). This project also lives in the same space as work by Wendy B. Sharer, Ronald R. Stockton, Kathleen Wider, and Barry Rohan who each contribute a chapter to the section titled “Part 2: When Personal Experience, Family History, and Research Subjects Intersect” in the anthology Beyond the Archives: Research as a Lived Process (“Part 2” 47-82). Each writer recounts an experience in which archives were used to explore personal family history, projects taking inspiration from the “affective domain” (Sharer 55). This project’s origins seem to have the most in common with Sharer’s chapter recounting her experiences researching the life of her own grandmother and confronting her own feelings of loss surrounding her grandmother’s death and absence from her life. She writes, “It is often a realization of mortality— a coming to awareness of the limits of life— that motivates scholarly research” (47). For me, this resonates as my own losses, my mother and grandmother, are so intimately connected to the reasons why I came to this project. The realization that the cultural information from my maternal line is only tenuously connected to my life and my children’s lives is an awareness that is certainly part of what motivates this work. Seeing that other scholars also experience a personal connection to and motivation from familial ties validates my project and assuages many of the anxieties related to the project’s worth.
However, these scholars also point out that an emotional attachment alone cannot sustain the work. Yet, when this inspiration is combined with “our methodological skills, our scientific training, the theories and models that help us shape our research and analyze our findings,” the work can attain the academic rigor needed to be valuable to the field (Stockton 64). Taking my lead from these arguments, I am using my own heritage and cultural experiences as the inspiration for this archival work, which is deeply personal and meaningful to my own family. However, by bringing a critical eye to the work, the reflections made here in the analytical autoethnographic sections that triangulate my experiences against relevant scholarship, I aspire to contribute to the field by mapping the experiences of rhetorical approaches to archival work. I have learned that my research can be both personally fulfilling and socially relevant. The implication here is that others before me have looked inward and to their own families as a catalyst for research questions, and I am continuing to explore the affective domain. Other researchers should also feel empowered that their own lived experiences are valid and there is a kind of scholarly permission to examine them critically as objects of study.
In reflecting on the evolution of this project, I feel it is important to recognize that undertaking a new archival venture requires an initial act of bravery. I recall how nervous I was to share my idea for an Azorean-American archive with my chair; there was real trepidation for how the idea would be received and how I would be perceived for suggesting it. I relate strongly to Sharer’s reflections of how she “spent a great deal of mental energy debating the validity” of her ideas and thinking “that the details of the origins of my project are best suited for a ‘nonscholarly’ arena” because they were “too ‘smarmy’ (read: affective and serendipitous) to make that journey respectable to or instructive for other researchers” (54). It took some courage to assert these ideas as valid and worthwhile, and I imagine there are other scholars contemplating ideas for archives that may also be stalled in a place of fear of reception and doubts about the validity of such a personal project; however, the potential value of the projects to our collective understanding needs to outweigh the fear. Foucault discusses the challenge of testing and presenting a new analysis of discursive formations, one in which the ideas and conclusions are not yet fully discovered, and explains that in undertaking such an enterprise, there is an inherent danger that “instead of going over with bold strokes lines that have already been sketched,” the scholar will be “forced to advance beyond familiar territory, far from the certainties to which one is accustomed, towards an as yet uncharted land and unforeseeable conclusion” (39). Taking a new path, presenting an affective scholarly approach to research, will perhaps push the scholar into unfamiliar territory, as Foucault states, where there are no sketched strokes upon which to build, and there is necessarily some reticence about moving in a direction where the conclusions are unknown. Yet, operating outside of our known certainties and untethering from territory in which we our accustomed can also yield new knowledge, new sketched strokes, and with that knowledge we should be encouraged to chart it. There is perhaps some reassurance in knowing that others experience the same self-doubt at the beginning as well, especially with affective familial research, but that the hurdle can be cleared and a personally fulfilling and academically valuable endeavor found on the other side.
The discussion reminds me of the essay “Autobiography of an Archivist” by Nan Johnson in which she recounts her experience of recognizing her own research materials, collected over years of inquiry, as an archive itself. She had started collecting sources to work with the primary research focus on 19th century academic rhetoric; however, once that work concluded, she realized that “appropriately recognized and framed as new evidence, [the materials collected] were pointing toward another narrative waiting to be written” (293). The unused books, pamphlets, and articles had accumulated as peripheral to her research focus, and although she acknowledges that “what and how material gets collected… was not always immediately clear,” they ultimately became the source for answering new questions about parlor rhetoric and gendered space that she currently explores (292). Johnson was able to consult the archive of her own making to follow new research interests, implying that as scholars we engage in these acts of collecting—filling shelves, boxes and files with materials of varying utility—that should be understood as archival acts brimming with unintentional potential. For me, although the project Johnson describes is not personal, it speaks to the idea that we are making collections anyway, that collecting is an intellectual habit. We can draw on these collections, framing them, to make new knowledge. Johnson’s collection was not personal in the same sense as my work in bringing my own family objects into an archival setting, but it is personal in that it exists by way of her own interests and actions. For rhetorical archivists, this further validates the act of looking inward to one’s own interests and valued collections for archival subjects worth sharing beyond our own shelves.
One final note about drawing on our own interests for developing new archival projects is that, in addition to presenting engaging and important scholarship, there is a broader benefit to the larger field as a result of expanding the archival record. Sharer argues, “An added benefit of raising the scholarly standing of the affective domain in research might be the expansion of the archival resources for the field” (55). She bases this claim in the fact that “what gets preserved in archival repositories is often that which is already deemed significant,” which means that “the materials hidden under the beds and in the attics of friends and family might not, thus, seem appropriate for these collections” (55). As a result, those records that we see as familiar, ordinary, or otherwise too personal to have value, are left out of the archive and out of scholarly view. The idea of expanding the archival record as a benefit to the wider field, beyond just the interest and attachment of the researcher, reminds me of my initial interest in the Southern Underground Press movement described in this narrative. I can still recall the frustration I felt by not having digital access to the primary source records I needed to engage critically with my research interests. Not only did the absence of accessible records create an intellectually and physical obstacle to my own research, but it hindered a vibrant scholarly conversation among other interested scholars. How could a deep field of scholarship emerge when the only scholars who could participate would be ones willing and able to travel to libraries in person? Limited access means limited scholarship, but engaging in digital archive production creates access pathways that can facilitate further scholarly interest and knowledge production. By following the lead of our own interests, scholars can invite others into the conversation. We can assert that the kinds of records that “produced and contained within the lived experiences of our friends and family” are not insignificant, but rather “valid, and potentially enormously influential, sources for historical and archival scholarship” (Sharer 55). Following the lead in our scholarship of our own positions in communities, families, and cultures should not be automatically dismissed as a self-serving or indulgent project, but it should be recognized as having the benefit of opening the larger field to otherwise excluded voices and, in archival production, laying the foundation for further expansion of rhetorical history and practices.
Discovery and Synchronicity
Scholars will sometimes talk about the importance of the surprise when conducting archival research. There are countless stories of researchers heading into the archives to locate a record only to end up finding something unexpected at the bottom of a box or folded and tucked away in a folder that inevitably changes the direction of their work. Nan Johnson writes about the importance of surprise in her own archival research into nineteenth-century rhetoric, explaining, “I found, as most archival scholars do, that there is a great deal of serendipity in archival research. Sometimes I found what I thought I was looking for, sometimes I did not; sometimes I found something else instead and that led me to material I never expected. As time went on, I would come to have a high regard for the discovery of the unexpected; so often evidence I had not anticipated would lead me to knowledge I had not envisioned” (291). My current favorite story involves one of my former professors, Dr. John Bird, who went to the Mark Twain archives to do research for a cookbook, and happened across a folder in with the kitchen and food related items labelled “Oleomargarine.” It ended up not being a record about a butter substitute, but a previously unpublished children’s story by Twain.) Maybe because I am familiar with the importance of these kinds of archival discoveries, I see this kind of unexpected surprise lingering beneath this narrative. I was not expecting to find a new area of research when I attended Dr. Brownsen’s lecture on Victorian periodicals, but it sparked a fruitful line of inquiry into the era I was studying. When I started interviewing writers of the underground press newspaper from Charlotte, I was not thinking about the need for access to primary documents; however, it became an increasingly more significant call to answer and brought me to thinking about digitization and open access archives. This was initially a desire to create access to support scholarship about the underground press movement, not about studying the archival process and impact, but the work itself emerged as a fascinating experience that begged attention. The Reveal Digital project that subsumed the project I had been envisioning could have derailed my journey, but the spark of an idea for an entirely different kind of archive was ignited by the rediscovery of something that had been under my nose for years, which I had probably only become more aware of given the atmosphere of grief and loss that was swirling around me.
In all of these moments, there is an element of the unexpected discovery in a moment of synchronicity. In writing about synchronicity, Jung argued that it is a feeling we get sometimes that two or more experiences are connected even when there is no scientific explanation for their relation. Some might explain these moments I have described as coincidental, but Jung argues that synchronicity is an opportunity from which one can draw unusual insights otherwise unseen (“Carl Jung—Synchronicity”). It is also a common theme that emerges in archival scholarship. Like Nan Johnson’s assertion that the unanticipated discoveries led to developing significant knowledge, the idea presented by this narrative is that scholars should be attentive to these opportunities, be willing to follow connections and leads in unknown directions. Robert Connors writes that when it comes to archival research, it does help “to have serendipity on one’s side,” to have those lucky and unexpected moments of discovery, and although he acknowledges that these moments are “not something one can arrange purposefully,” he does assert that he is “convinced one can be open to the possibility” (qtd. in Kirsch 20). It is in this openness that I think scholars can find the most benefits. Scholars should be encouraged to consider how synchronous moments offer new perspectives and should not dismiss the confluence of our experiences as unrelated. If I had been stubbornly tied to my initial designs, I would be writing a dissertation about the poetry and short stories found in the underground press papers of the 1960s and not creating an archive of the Azorean-American community in my hometown. It does not seem possible that the journey from one to the other could be an organic process, but being open to the influence of the expected, being willing to follow the lead of what I found and not clinging to the need to be the leader, brought me to a place that is simultaneously deeply fulfilling and scholarly rich.
The concept of collaboration is integral to the discussion of archives, and it is explored more fully in the Institutional Influence chapter. However, it is interesting to note that even in the earliest stages of conceptualization, this archive was not born of my mind alone. In a sense, the idea came from my interactions and experiences with others: my grandmother, Dr. Brownsen, Dr. VanHaitsma, Dr. Richards, and all the scholars whose work I had read. It is not surprising perhaps given the social constructivist nature required for “the formation of concepts,” as Vygotsky argues, writing that it occurs in two processes, “first, between people (interpsychological), and then inside the child (intrapsychological)…All the higher functions originate as actual relations between human individuals” (57). This interplay between the influence from others and the subsequent internalization of the ideas that I develop independently is ultimately responsible for the project’s concept and continued growth. While Vygotsky makes this argument about the necessity of social interaction for the development of concepts in general, it is also noted as specifically important in archival studies. James Purdy argues that collaboration, especially across disciplines, “facilitate[s] the co-construction of meaning by offering possibilities for connecting with many other people…research becomes interactive and communal rather than isolated” (38). For scholars looking to begin archival work, it seems likely that the idea was not generated without the influence of and engagement with others, nor is it likely that the archive’s development will be possible without collaboration. These collaborative opportunities should be sought, as conversations across diverse academic and nonacademic settings, while perhaps also documenting the experiences and reflecting on them to trace the rhizomatic growth of the work or capture future potential areas for development. Writing concept narratives such as this may also be useful for rhetorical archivists as a way to acknowledge and be transparent about the multiple streams feeding into the project.
Post-Custodial Turn and the Rhetorical Situation
Perhaps the most significant consideration to discuss at this point is the fact that this archive was not created from records I received, but rather was an idea for an archive that would require records to be generated. This shift from receiving to generating represents, what is called in archival studies the post-custodial turn, is discussed more fully in Reconceptualizing the Archive: The Post-Custodial Turn in Archival Studies, but I want to explore more specifically the connection between making new archives and the perceived exigencies of the archivist at play in this project. By choosing to engage is making this archive, II am engaging in the shift in archival studies toward a discipline that, in addition to acts of organization and preservation, also sees the work of identifying archival gaps and taking measures to locate or create records to fill them as a primary goal. I am responding to Howard Zinn’s criticism of the archival discipline that has traditionally spent “far more resources” being “devoted to the collection and preservation of what already exists as records, than to recording fresh data” (22). However, this fresh data is crucially important to the social justice activism in the field that sees an urgent need for more equitable archival representations of marginalized groups within society. It is in these perceptions of archivists, who, in reading the archival records with all their attendant gaps and biases, feel compelled to respond in purposeful action by the creation of new archival compositions, that we see so clearly the intersection of archives and rhetoric through the lens of the rhetorical situation. As discussed in the linked chapter above, when we understand the rhetorical situation as the initiation of a motivating purpose, we can see the inherent rhetoricity of archival creation. In the case of the conceptualization for this project itself, the rhetorical situation presented as the relative absence of Azorean-American women in the archives and the need for their greater representation. Additionally, I have been working from the notion that an archive could aid members of the community, myself and my children included, by mediating a loss of cultural memory or awareness. In connecting the archival production to such an exigency, I have come to see the work of intentionally creating an archive, where one did not exist, in order to accomplish these goals as a significantly rhetorical act.
Although the idea that the archive is a rhetorical site is well-documented in scholarship, it is not the idea I had originally envisioned as the central theories around which the dissertation would be structured. As I discussed in the narrative, I had envisioned my dissertation to be a New Media project that was about making a digital object, almost a practical guide for navigating the various challenges of copyright, funding, access, maintenance, and managing technology. However, in reflecting on the intellectual genealogy of this project, I began to see how rhetorical theories began circulating in my thinking even in these early stages. As I mentioned, I took an independent study under Dr. VanHaitsma as part of my coursework in which I examined the relevant scholarship related to archives in terms of the above challenges. However, in Post Eleven: Considering the Faculty in Process, I annotated and reflected on the article “Advancing Digital Repository Services for Faculty Primary Research Assets: An Exploratory Study” by Stephen Kutay. It is one of the earliest moments in which I began to think about the ways that archival production was similar to the production of rhetorical discourse, specifically through the lens of the rhetorical situation, which I had been previously working with in a Theories of Network course taught by Dr. Rodrigro and Dr. Julia Romberger. Essentially, Kutay argues that in order for digitization projects to have long-term viability, they must respond to actual community needs rather than be initiated by archivists without considerations for those needs. Kutay makes the case for archivists to become engaged in the community and determine faculty interests in primary source materials as well as what functionality would be useful for their purposes. It shifts the role of the archivist from serving the needs of the collections to serving the needs of people. It has archivists asking questions about what the community needs rather than what collections may be most convenient to digitize. This focus on use and user is certainly an important tenet of the post-custodial turn, but it also spoke to me in terms of rhetorical theories.
Almost immediately, Kutay’s argument had me thinking about the theories around the rhetorical situation that suggest that discourse comes into production from the rhetor observing an exigency that requires mediation. I began thinking about a graphic I had made for the networks course, shown below, and how the archive, as I was beginning to understand it, seemed to fit into the theory so well. The archivist, as rhetor, perceives an exigence created by a rhetorical situation. In my case, the loss of cultural identity in generations removed from the immigration act by time and/or space and the lack of archival representation created an urgent need for a response, an attempt to resolve the exigency. The archivist turns to the tools at hand to create the archive to achieve that resolution, constrained by material and social contexts, much like the rhetor turns to the tools of textual production. The archival discourse is then received by the users, a kind of audience, who is then capable of mediating the original situation. For me, that mediation would come from users experiencing the archive and growing in their understanding of the Azorean-American community, while also correcting their erasure from the archival record.
The realization that archival production mirrored this theory of discursive production was a very opening up of this project beyond my original intentions of a more narrowly conceived New Media project. It placed me at the intersection of rhetoric and archives, which I would come to realize is a richly connected and mutually reinforcing disciplinary meeting. The project is still in some ways has a practical purpose, to better map the design decisions for rhetor-archivists working to mediate exigencies by producing archival discourse, but it is positioned in a different theoretical space than previously conceived. For me, I know see that the archive I am building is inherently rhetorical. I see that rhetoricity coming from it being a deliberately created archive, where the act of creation represents a kairotic moment in response to an exigency, and also because it is, from the very beginning, a project designed with the specific and intentional purpose of helping people preserve culture and develop a stronger sense of cultural identity. It presents a kind of argument that attempts to persuade users to accept a particular perspective on Azorean-American cultural identity and belonging. It places the project, from its conception, in the vein of rhetorical work that seeks to rectify an injustice or recover something otherwise lost; historiographic work in which created archives combat erasure and work to bring greater visibility to communities otherwise rendered invisible. The choice to address these issues through the creation of an archive represent another consideration for rhetoricians, which is to take a broader view of the available means of discourse that can be effectively employed to achieve the desired outcomes, specifically the archive.
Azorean-American Scholarship and Archives
This dissertation is largely focused on building an archive with attention to the rhetorical influences and implications of archival processes. However, as introduced in this narrative, the subject of the archive is also significant as it is motivated in large part by the absence of Azorean-American women from the archival record and the desire to capture and preserve cultural artifacts that may support users’ cultural identification. This dissertation will, as a result, also bring visibility to a marginalized group in addition to its efforts to map the rhetoricity of archival processes. These outcomes are aligned with the post-custodial turn in archival studies and historiographic work in rhetoric, but it is also important in that it begins to answer the calls for further study of this community that is posed by current scholars in Azorean-American studies. As such, it is useful to present an overview of this field and an introduction to the community, as well as the realities of the current archival record that has created the exigency driving this work.
Lying some 850 miles off the coast of Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean, the nine volcanic islands that collectively form the Autonomous Region of the Azores sit at the summit of an active triple junction, the geological intersection of the North American, Eurasian, and African tectonic plates. This geographic convergence reflects the islands’ own human history. Although first colonized by the Portuguese in the 15th century and still part of the Portuguese Republic, the islands’ position in the mid-Atlantic has resulted in a genetic microcosm of seafaring cultures within the Azorean people. Also settling there and contributing to the islands’ diversity were the Sephardic Jews and Moors of North African descent fleeing the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century and Sub-Saharan Africans brought to the islands by the Portuguese who played a leading role in the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries (Pacheco et al. 145).
However, as the population increased, many Azoreans in the 19th century sought economic opportunities abroad—especially in New England. During the height of the whaling industry centered in New Bedford, Massachusetts, many ships tracked whales past the Azores and found the island chain to be a hospitable port. With the islanders’ expertise in fishing, the interactions quickly led to participation in the industry and eventual resettlement (Williams 4). Between 1870 and 1920, the vast majority of the 222,721 immigrants from the Azores entering the United States found new homes in the Massachusetts or Rhode Island (Feldman-Bianco and MacDonald). Owing to the ethnic multiplicity represented there, the Azorean cultural traditions are unlike the European mainland and, coupled with their re-representation in communities here, make an interesting framework for linguistic, cultural, and historical scholarship.
Traditionally, Azorean-American scholarship is highly regionalized, following the migration patterns of the early 20th century; however, recent work is more comparative in nature. While Kimberly DaCosta Holton and Andrea Klimt’s 2009 anthology Community, Culture and the Makings of Identity: Portuguese-Americans Along the Eastern-Seaboard has a regional scope, many of its essays examine the interplay of various Lusophonic groups from mainland Portugal, Madeira, Cape Verde, Brazil and other former Portuguese colonies in addition to Azorean communities. On the other hand, Jerry R. Williams’ text In Pursuit of Their Dreams: A History of Azorean Immigration to the United States is exclusively focused on Azoreans but is not limited to one region; the text looks at Azorean communities in New England, California, and Hawaii to extrapolate insights about the causes of significant differences in economic, social, political, and cultural developments since their emergence in the 19th century. Both texts are published by the Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, a critical hub of Portuguese-American scholarship, which is “a multidisciplinary international studies and outreach unit dedicated to the study of the language, literatures and cultures of the Portuguese-speaking world” (“Center”). The Center also notably houses the Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese-American Archives and manages Tagus Press, a leading publisher of Portuguese scholarship including the book series Portuguese in the Americas and the World and Adamastor: Literatures, Cultures and Societies of the Portuguese-speaking World (“Ferreira-Mendes,” “Tagus”).
However, despite the work being done in conjunction with Dartmouth, Azoreans remain “a relatively understudied immigrant group” who remain an “invisible minority” (Klimt xiv, Brettell 557). The oversight is concerning given that the Azores is often referred to as a “deterritorialized” nation with “about a million North Americans [who] were born in or descend from the Azores—four times the current population of these islands” (Minder). One reason for this gap may be the lack of overall participation in higher education by Azorean-Americans. Some scholars examining the relationship between Azoreans and education note that “lower rates of social mobility and educational success among Portuguese-Americans” are typically attributed to the cultural values assigned to family cohesion, physical labor, and taking pride in home maintenance over more individualistic goals like “intellectual work” but are likely also rooted in the material conditions into which they settled (Klimt and Holton 16). Borges and de Sá argue that Azoreans in New England were essentially “the last group to arrive,” and “were kept at the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy in order to sustain the economic viability of a declining industrial sector” (267-8). Driving the American appetite for Azorean immigrants has always been “a demand for unskilled laborers” with men working as “‘longshoreman and deckhands, coal and brick workers, hand operators in oyster and screw companies, and pork packers in meat houses’” and women employed “in lace factories, laundries, and cotton mills” (Williams 52). These physically demanding and low-wage occupations, coupled with the fact that the Portuguese were already entering the United States with “the lowest educational levels of any group arriving between 1899 and 1910” and “low expectations and negative stereotypes held by teachers,” contributed to the difficulties Portuguese-Americans faced in attaining higher social status and its attendant branches such as academia (Borges and de Sá 265, Klimt xxv). In fact, unlike other European groups, like the Italians arriving in the same early 20th century wave, the Portuguese were not able to become “part of the middle class by the last quarter of the century by attaining educational parity” and “have remained primarily working class” to this day (Borges and de Sá 265). As more Azorean-Americans, especially those in the third and fourth generation, participate more fully in higher education, it is likely that more work will be conducted going forward.
These further studies are generally considered important in that “analyses of the Portuguese case help fill a significant gap in our understanding of the immigrant experience in North America” (Klimt xiv-xv). In particular, scholars call for studies focused on issues of gender and identity. Klimt sites “the dynamics of gender, work, and family in immigrant contexts” as part of the “intriguing questions about the Portuguese experience in North America that still await exploration” and that “anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and social geographers investigating connections between racial, ethnic and national identities [will] find this corner of the Portuguese diaspora a particularly fertile research site” (xv). Brettell also argues that “the complexity and diversity of the Portuguese immigrant population offers rich insight on the fluidity of racial and ethnic categories, as well as on what Isajiw has called the double boundaries of identities: ‘those from within and those from without, self-identifying and being identified by others’” (565). Ann Bookman’s work on Portuguese unionization emphasizes the importance of analyzing the community’s structured “gender-related roles and strong ethnic identification” as integral factors needed to understand members’ behavior (381). Lastly, Klimt and Holton argue that gender is one of the areas “that warrant further attention if we are to move past the analytically-limiting image of Portuguese-Americans as a generally homogenous group” (15).
Although Caroline B. Bretell has done significant work with Portuguese women in the texts Men Who Migrate, Women Who Wait: Population and History in a Portuguese Parish and We Have Already Cried Many Tears: The Stories of Three Portuguese Migrant Women, this represents a small sector of related scholarship. The diminished representation of women in scholarship may be attributed to “asymmetrical gender roles and patriarchal family structures” that privilege men’s contributions over women’s (Klimt and Holton 16). The overall lack of education noted previously is more problematic for women who “tend to work in manufacturing or domestic service, left school at the elementary level, and have limited skills in English and few realistic options for further education,” which may further marginalize this group (Klimt xxiii). Klimt also points out that the “immigrant selection system gives preference to men with established professions and disadvantages women who often enter the country as dependents without education or professional training,” so the lack of representation in scholarship is a reflection of the disproportionate civic acceptance for women (Klimt xix). Focusing on women’s experiences though is critical as women are more likely to have more negative experiences associated with diasporic migration. Edite Noivo argues that “inequalities within the family along the lines of gender and generation exacerbate the strains incurred by transnational migration, working-class status, and the minority group membership” (Klimt xxiii). However, it may be possible to counteract this marginalization by bringing greater visibility to immigrant women in an archive exclusively focused on their experiences.
In addition to gender, scholars call for further investigations into immigrant identity formation. One aspect of this line of inquiry where there is a need for study is the problem of ethnic identity for subsequent generations removed from the immigration act, the desire for retroculturation—the reclamation of lost cultural connections to and identification with one’s ethnic heritage. Unlike rural settings in California where Azoreans built communities in relative isolation from other groups, those settling in New England had to navigate in densely populated urban settings where “acculturation has been most pronounced” due to the economic necessity to interact with people outside the migrant community (Williams 6). The juxtaposition of immigrant to established citizen created tension for the children of the first-generation Azorean-Americans “who must navigate between the expectations of their parents and the possibilities represented by the wider American society” (Klimt xxiii). Certainly part of this tension included the perception that “the visible signs of that heritage—i.e., language, occupation and social practices—made them targets for discrimination,” which would increase the urgency to assimilate and “give up their native language, anglicize their family name, and divorce themselves of everything that identified them as Portuguese” (Williams 169, 166). As a result of this, in addition to the high rate of marriage among second-generation offspring to spouses outside the Portuguese community, the children of third-generation Portuguese “do not learn much of their Portuguese heritage, do not learn the language, and are not active participants in the social activities of the group. In short, an almost complete breakdown occurs in the transmission of the traditional Portuguese culture to future generations” (Williams 174). However, there is “an ethnic revitalization and growing sense of pride in one’s ethnic heritage in the United States” (Williams 6). The cultural erasure and reclamation desire represent one of the foundational problems to which this dissertation aims to speak. Adding to these general scholarly calls for gender and identity examinations, there is an implication here that greater resources need to be developed to collect, preserve, and understand the cultural markers associated with the community to better support the third and fourth-generation Azorean-Americans desire to belong to it, yet while archives may serve as one such resource, there is a gap in documenting and preserving the Azorean-American experience.
The Library of Congress, the archival standard bearer, subsumes a small grouping of links on “The Portuguese in America” page, which is oddly housed under the “Hispanic Division” of sources (“The Portuguese”). The most prominent addition is the special presentation “Celebrating Portuguese Communities in the U.S.: A Cartographic Perspective” that offers a series of map images and brief encyclopedic articles relating historical exploration and immigration related to industry; however, the link to the “Main Presentation Page” is no longer active (“Celebrating Portuguese”). Another link from the main page is titled “Chronology,” which lists people and events of historical significance with references to numerous historical manuscripts, but the archive does not contain digital representations of the materials. The main page is listed as belonging to the “Transatlantic Digital Library” project, but clicking this link results in an “Error-File Not Found” message with a suggestion to check resources on the “European Reading Room” page. From here, one can search the “Digital/Digitized Publications” collection by region; however, while this archive includes digital collections for 34 European countries, it does not include Portugal (“European Division”). In some ways, the error message is an apt metaphor of the archival representation of Azoreans as a whole. In Bristol County Rhode Island, the site for this proposed study, one-fifth (20.2%) of the population was Portuguese by 1930 (Williams 54). However, the Bristol Historical & Preservation Society, founded around the same time in 1936, focuses exclusively on colonial and Revolutionary history and Anglo-European families. Their online resources and analog manuscript collection, although containing civic and familial records spanning the 18th-20th century historical records beyond the colonial era stretching into the immigration age, includes no reference materials on the Portuguese despite their contributions to the community, rendering invisible the history of 1 in 5 county residents (“Bristol Historical”).
The largest Portuguese-American archive is the previously mentioned Ferreira-Mendes Portuguese American Archives at UMass Dartmouth, which contains three main collections: Portuguese-American newspapers, digital archives, and oral histories. The newspapers and archival records are both available digitally, but the oral histories are available in transcription form only and have not been made available digitally. The digital archives collection includes photographs, recordings, letters, and newspaper clippings; however, of the 284 artifacts, less than two-dozen include women and these are limited to photographs only that mainly feature wedding portraits related to prominent men featured in the archive or as part of folkloric dance groups (“Digital Archives”). Another digital collection is supported by the Regional Oral History Office of The Bancroft Library at University of California Berkeley; however, although accessible, these histories are focused on Azoreans in California only, not New England, and only features eight individual women in the collection of forty histories with an additional five women interviewed with their husbands (“Portuguese in California”). Continuing the pattern found in scholarship, women are even more obscured in the already scant archival records of this community. This dissertation will, in a small way, begin to redress these obscurations.
Identity, Memory, and the Archive
As discussed, the dissertation has also been largely inspired by a sense of retroculturation in which I recognize myself as a crucial link between the cultural identity of my heritage and subsequent generations’ ability to inhabit that identity. It is a hopeful outcome that by enshrining the cultural artifacts in this way, my children and others connected to this community will have a point of contact with the culture in a way that will create a lasting impression and sense of pride and belonging. From this perspective, it is also important to acknowledge the work of scholars who make the connection between the archive and the work of identity formation.
The concept that the archive can support identity reclamation—for both individuals and communities, is generally addressed by scholars in the post-custodial turn and, to a lesser degree by those working from the fields of sociology, psychology, and material culture. To begin, archivists, such as Brian Brothman, argue that the archive “serves to shape individual identity and social conduct” by “cultivating and defining, establishing, maintaining and negotiating social relationships and preserving rights of belonging, community, and ownership” (153). Randall Jimerson also makes the connection between archives and identity, explaining that an archive “contributes to shaping the self-identity of social units, from small interest groups to communities and nations” as it is “enshrining certain events and experiences as part of a common history” (202). Brothman explains that these influences on identity occur as users’ explorations of the archive function as “experiences of return” that initiate “a kind of rediscovery, reaffirmation, or revision of self (or several selves), community, or nation” that draw on the “psychological and social processes of identity formation” (158). Louise Craven outlines several reasons that the archive contributes to identity, including language, environment, memory, history, dialogues, and place (10). She argues that archives, comprised of linguistic artifacts, evoke memories and represent place; they make history accessible and facilitate dialogue, all of which contribute to our co-constructions of identity. In practical applications, archivist Dominique Daniel and researchers Andrew Flinn and Mary Stevens both find evidence of marginalized communities using archives to reinforce cultural identity and belonging. Daniel recounts Elizabeth Kaplan’s study of the American Jewish Historical society whose mission was “to construct the Jewish American identity through the collection and preservation of documentary evidence,” meaning that the “new archives was therefore a mediating tool by which this community could both affirm its distinct identity and its sense of belonging in American society” (93). Flinn and Stevens similarly found that in their work with communities of African descent in England, there is evidence to “strongly support the idea that involvement with the community archives enhances self-esteem and a sense of belonging in minority communities” (18). However, they also note that “the evidence base for both claims remains for the most part extremely slim” (19). This note is significant in that it represents one of my future goals for this project. While I am creating the archive in part to address these issues of identity, it is beyond the scope of the dissertation to also conduct user experience testing to determine what effects, if any, the produced archive may have on users sense of their own cultural identity. Conducting such studies in the future could help contribute further evidence to corroborate Flinn and Stevens’ observation.
Other scholars approach the influence of the archive in terms of its effects on memory processes. For scholars aligned with the post-custodial turn, there is a generally accepted view that “archivists play an active role in shaping societal memory” (MacNeil xi). Jimerson argues that through their role “as collectors, guardians, appraisers, and interpreters of the archival record, archivists actively shape society’s knowledge of the past” (190). It is another way the field acknowledges the influence of archivists as “active agents in constructing social and historical memory” by “deciding what is remembered and what is forgotten, who in society is visible and who remains invisible, who has a voice, and who does not” (Cook 169-70). In this way, archives change a community’s or individual’s sense of the past, of what can be accessed and what can be remembered; they serve as an extended, enhanced, and externalized memory. Margaret Hedstrom also conceptualizes archives as “the creation of external memories,” and she argues that this externalization “has had a profound impact on how the past could be conceived and transmitted” (28). Hedstrom’s phrasing here of “external memories” is evocative of an argument found in the work of Lev Vygotsky who “saw externally mediated memory systems, like those of writing, as a matter of the revolutionary reorganization of memory, a key step in human history” (Prior et al. 4). In situating Hedstrom and Vygotsky against one another in this way, we can see that this “key step in human history” is significantly aided by archival work. However, we can also see in the work of other scholars that there is an intimate connection between identity and memory, adding another angle for understanding the implications for the role of archives in identity formation processes.
In 1689, John Locke published An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in which he inextricably links our sense of personal identity to our conscious memory. He concludes that “as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity” (449). The argument is that our identity relies on our memory, and that we can only incorporate experiences into our sense of self if it exists in our conscious memory. It is an idea more succinctly expressed by Francis Ferraotti as the claim, “We are what we remember we were” (6). However, Locke warns that memory-based identities are problematized by the fact that “this consciousness [is] being interrupted always by forgetfulness” (450). The loss of memories, he posits, interrupts the identity construction process, so that when we forget our pasts, we lose a part of who we are. Yet, the archives extend this consciousness of the past as they a permeable interface with the past, an externalized memory aid that creates a “simultaneity [that] wipes out the alterity of the past and present, here and there” (Huyssen 253). By eliminating the boundary we may experience with the past and with our own forgetfulness, individually and communally, we can see how “archival records can evoke a sense of temporal continuity of self, whether that self is an individual, community, or nation” (Brothman 159). This continuity of self is enabled by the memories presented in the archive, and this theoretical explanation for the connection between memory and identity is at the heart of why archives may be able to give marginalized groups a greater sense of their cultural identity that may have been lost to various interruptions of that memory over time and distance.
It is also important to note that another way the archives influence identity formation is through the inclusion of narrative oral histories as cultural records. Numerous scholars across rhetoric, psychology, and sociology have explored the theory that our memories coalesce into a “‘narrative of self’ in which an individual tells a narrative in order to cohere an identity through time” (Hobbs 216). Carolyn Clark and Marsha Rossiter explain, “Narrative is also how we craft our sense of self, our identity…We story our identities in multiple and sometimes contradictory ways…These multiple narratives that constitute our identity enable us to manage the complexity of who we are” (62). In their introduction to the 2011 anthology Narrative Acts: Rhetoric, Race and Identity, Knowledge, editors Debra Journet, Beth A. Boehm, and Cynthia E. Britt also position narrative as fundamental to identity formation, writing, “The ability to say ‘I’ is a narrative act, not because on an ontologically prior subject, but because the notion of ‘I’ only makes sense for something or someone who is located in space and extended through time: engaged, that is, in the narrative act of being a self” (8). Much like Locke’s contention that identity is contingent on memory, these theories of narrative are rooted in the idea that the stories we tell of our lives constitute a significant mode of remembering. We construct memory in story and preserve it in the retelling of those stories. As such, we must consider the role that narratives have in our understanding of our identities. Narrative organizes our experiences and creates the sense of continuous self, such that being confronted with new information, such as archival materials, can lead to influences on our identities as we attempt to enfold that new information into existing narratives.
While narratives can support individual identity work, it is also possible to see that collected narratives can support the construction of communal identity as well. This communal nature of narrative is primarily explored in the human sciences, in which “narrative has become a favored concept among many practitioners” who study groups because they recognize that “the stories that individuals create often strike variations upon a repertoire of socially available narratives that, in turn, legitimize the community and guarantee its continued existence” (Hinchman and Hinchman xvii). The claim is that members of a community tend to create narratives from a fixed set of possible stories relative to the shared cultural and social values of the group. In collecting the narratives, that fixed set of possibilities comes into view for scholars while also reinforcing the community identity. In archival work for marginalized immigrant communities, the shared narrative concept is especially important because, as noted by Singh et al. the collection of narratives “helps the process of re-visioning that is essential to gaining control over one’s life and future” (19). They continue to argue that this re-visioning is essential to understanding one’s self and place in society; in this way “the ethnic narrative thus becomes, in Stuart Hall’s phrase, ‘an act of cultural recovery’” (19). The recovery works by disrupting “culturally dominant master stories of identity” that are “challenged only by new ‘counterstories’” (Journet et al. 8). Archiving “counterstories” is an act “of interrogating received stories of race and identity” and “represent[s] a significant project in rhetoric and composition” (Journet et al. 8). These claims are similar to those noted by rhetoricians working in historiographic archival projects, such as Charles Morris, K.J. Rawson, and Horacio Ramirez discussed in the chapter “Rhetorical Claims on the Archival Space: Power, Knowledge, and User-focus,” who argue that representation in archival holdings is a powerful mode of documentation that validates the existence and experience of marginalized communities, intervening against dominant culture’s oppressive normativity. The accumulation of cultural narratives in the externalized memory of archival holdings is a way to add streams of suppressed or lost information to members of a community, which can powerfully aid identity formations.
The archive built here as part of this dissertation does contain narratives, which, as discussed, can contribute to users’ identity constructions as they write the stories of their own selves and see themselves reflected in the stories of others. However, the archive is primarily comprised digital representations of family keepsakes and objects from the domestic sphere. Like narratives, these objects are another aspect of the archive that can support identity construction, which can be seen in the work of scholars in material culture. Archival artifacts are “relics and physical structures [that] offer tangible traces of the past” (Hedstrom 29). Brothman argues that artifacts are a significant source of the archive’s power because, as we lose ourselves in the visceral experience of these objects, they create “thresholds in time” that “conduct us away from the confinement of place and space,” and they transform us because these movements between past and present leave an indelible mark in such a way that we cannot “return to the same place or time: the past and future have already shifted under our eyes” (142). Brothman’s claim is that these human-object interactions are transformative; they shape our identity because they shift how we position ourselves against the past and the future. They alter how we construct that continuous narrative of our past, of who we were and who we come from, and this ultimately renegotiates our sense of who we are in the present and how we proceed into the future. However, this kind of assertion about the power of the everyday objects to shape our identity challenges our notion that objects can be considered as something more than inanimate forms. Yet, in thinking of keepsakes and heirlooms, or objects deemed worthy of preservation in the archive, it is clear that objects can be more than the sum of their functions; they exude “their force as a sensuous presence or as a metaphysical presence,” seemingly containing a kind of “magic by which objects become values, fetishes, idols, and totems” (Brown 5). The interplay between humanity and objects is the subject of material constructivism. Arjun Appadurai explains in The Social Life of Things that “human actors encode things with significance” (5). The assertion is that we embed our values, memories, and identities within the objects we hold dear. It means, as Bruno Latour notes, that “things do not exist without being full of people” (10). The links are inextricable between the material objects in our lives and our understanding of who we are; we fill them with our identities. Bill Brown discusses this connection from the lens of Thing Theory, or the understanding that we can only truly explain material constructions in terms of their relationship to people. He argues that we construct ourselves in and from the objects we have created and saved as “we look through objects to see what they disclose about history, society, nature, or culture—above all, what they disclose about us” (4). We read objects for traces of culture and traces of history, and we use them to reinforce our memories and thus the stories we tell. Therefore, in addition to narrative, “sacred objects,” like heirlooms and keepsakes in archival holdings, “are presented and experienced as an essential component of the identity of the groups and individuals who have received them in their care” (Godelier qtd. in Brothman 178). The archive is able to shape our collective and individual identities, in part, because it is comprised of the objects that people have interpreted as meaningful.
There is some concern among archival scholars that in the context of the digital archive, the power of the objects may be compromised by the intangible presentation on the screen as opposed to the physical experience of standing in front of the analog counterparts. There are questions about whether, when removed from their analog materiality, the objects in digital images will still convey the kind of significance described above. Brothman notes that archival scholars express an anxiety that the “digital dematerialization [of objects]…may well be imperceptibly eroding our ability to experience historical pastness, for example to witness the patina of record agedness” (149). Often it is that patina of history that conveys significance; the object is clearly valuable if it has been preserved and carried through time, sanctioned by the archive and the expenditure of resources to maintain it. Alexis Ramsey also argues for the importance of materiality to our knowledge about artifacts. She contends, “Being able to touch and smell documents are important aspects of archival work because a researcher should be able to take account of the collection for him- or herself and not only through digital renderings (84). It is important, she asserts, because “being physically with archived objects allows for a level of intimacy with the collection,” a level which “is paramount for a researcher to write with any level of authority on the collection” (85). However, David Lowenthal suggests that when the ability to interact with an analog artifact is not possible, we can see the potential for “visual images serve as triggers that evoke memories and challenge or reinforce assumptions about how things really were or really looked” (qtd. in Hedstrom 30). Brown also acknowledges the challenge of dematerialization, but argues that digital representation “does not provide ‘impoverished ‘images’ of things’” and can take on “the weight of an ‘index of reality’” that presents a “materiality-effect” (8). The digital images may produce an effect of materiality for the audience, and this effect—although detrimentally absent of any sensory input aside from vision—is likely to still convey something of the object’s transformative “magic.” It remains that despite the limitations of dematerialized artifacts, the objects in the digital archive are still useful in providing some access as opposed to none whatsoever, which is of particular significance for marginalized groups with such reduced visibility in any archives—analog or digital.
On a final note, we can also see that processes of identity formation are also enabled by the archive for those who create them. Since this dissertation is also about acknowledging my own affective attachments and desire for recapturing some on my own personal connections to my heritage, it is worth noting that the process of developing archives can also be strengthening the identity of the researcher. Kathleen Wider a rhetorician involved in tracing personal family history through archival research, also suggests the power of an archive to mediate a sense of self. She reflects that in uncovering the lives of her ancestors, she was able to find “a sense of comfort to know that one belongs to more than oneself even in one’s own self-identity and beyond the confines of one’s lifespan” (72). Sharer’s work with her grandmother’s writings had a similar effect. She writes, “Looking into the historical milieu that surrounded my grandmother’s post-suffrage activism, in other words, was a way to explore the origins of my own scholarly location” (48). For both scholars, archival work becomes a process of self-identification within a larger community and across a span of time. It provides comfort and a sense of belonging to the archivist engaged in their own histories. Ronald R. Stockton arrives at a similar conclusion while working in his own ancestral archives, reflecting that each newly discovered artifact “linked me with those who had gone before and let me know something about their lives and, in a sense, about my own, who I was, and where I originated” (58). Like Sharer, Stockton found that his scholarship working to reveal histories and cultures from the archives, while contributing to broader community and scholarly knowledge, was also unexpectedly influencing his own sense of self. Developing archives is a powerful way to influence the complex processes of identity formation, and this seems to be true for both users and makers. In conceptualizing this archive, the foundation for these potentials is also being built, providing fruitful avenues for future exploration.
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