Revisiting Archives

Jordan Zweck, UW-Madison
Mary Kate Hurley, Ohio University


As our initial archives seminar at the IONA Seafaring conference in Denver discovered, and as our colleagues across medieval studies continue to demonstrate, we’ve reached a turning point in thinking about the medieval archive. In this seminar, we seek to continue to re-examine and re-constitute archives of time, environments, affect, lives, and genre - both in terms of literal archives we consult as scholars and the archive as conceived more broadly.

This seminar will bring together scholars from a wide variety of disciplines who are reconceiving how our definitions of the “archive” shape and have been shaped by our changing access to traditional archives and anxieties about future access to digital materials, as well as new ideas about materiality, memory, and race. As we engage once more with the question of what kinds of archives we create and for whom they are created, we also want to engage more fully with the nostalgia of and for the archive, its peculiar appeal that has been for so long open to reinterpretation for racist, homophobic, classist, and ableist aims. How have the digital humanities played into this nostalgia for the archive, and how must we redefine archives in this shifting media landscape? What has been left out of the archive (whether medieval or modern), and how can we acknowledge these absences? At the same time, we seek to explore how medieval peoples created, maintained, and understood archives, whether they did so in institutional repositories, formed conceptual archives (such as spolia), or created literary texts as bearers of cultural memory. At the most basic level: why are we, as medieval scholars, so drawn to “archives” as objects of study, and how do we affect, change, and transform the archives we touch? What kinds of alliances do we make when we use, save, or rethink archives, and how does that subtly reshape our relationship to the past?

Participants in our seminar are invited to engage with any aspect of the archive that animates their work. They might examine how medieval peoples conceived of the archive and/or its limitations, or how medievalists must reconstruct their own archives of the medieval past, and how that work is made more urgent by the ways in which the medieval past can be used to motivate racist conceptions of that past. Participants might also consider the special challenges encountered in consulting archives: by this we mean not just that one must have the proper knowledge and credentials (and sometimes a bit of luck) to gain access to manuscripts, but also the ways in which studying certain topics (music, the senses, daily life, etc) requires the scholar to assemble materials not already gathered, or not even extant.

We invite proposals from scholars working in all disciplines, but are especially eager to include those working on visual and material culture, the senses and the body, musicology, digital humanities, and the medical humanities, as well as more “traditional” documentary archives. Participants in the seminar will pre-circulate materials with each other, then offer 5-7 minute presentations during the conference. Please send 250-word proposals to and by July 1, 2018.