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Urgent Archives: Communities, Representation, and the Fight Against (Symbolic) Annihilation

March 5 @ 3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Presented by Michelle Caswell.

Michelle Caswell is an Associate Professor of Archival Studies in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles where she is Director of UCLA’s Community Archives Lab. She is the author of Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (University of Wisconsin, 2014).

In the 1970s, feminist communication scholars first proposed the term “symbolic annihilation” to describe the ways in which women are absent, underrepresented, or misrepresented in mainstream media. Taking this concept as a starting point, the first part of this talk will examine the ways in which mainstream archival practice has symbolically annihilated communities of color and LGBTQ communities through absence, underrepresentation, and misrepresentation. In the face of such symbolic annihilation, marginalized communities have formed their own independent community-based archives that empower them to establish, enact, and reflect on their presence in ways that are complex, meaningful, and substantive.

In the second part, this talk will examine the relationship between symbolic and actual annihilation. Symbolic annihilation both precedes and succeeds symbolic annihilation in that communities are rendered nonexistent, invisible, or expendable before they are subject to violence, and then, after violence, such acts are often rendered invisible or expunged from the record, magnifying and mimicking the violence itself. In the wake of such archival silences and misrepresentations, communities often conjure up imaginary records, that is, records that do not actually exist but are collectively imagined to fill affective voids left by existing bureaucratic and legalistic records.

This talk will end with an examination of such impossible archival imaginaries and a proposition for all of us to “imagine otherwise,” that is, to conceive of and build a world in which communities that have historically been and are currently being oppressed are fully empowered to represent their past, construct their present, and envision their futures as forms of liberation.

Co-sponsored by the Choosing the City Research Collaborative Research Team, funded by the UWM Office of Research.

ALSO, March 6 at 9:30 a.m. in the UWM Digital Humanities Lab: Bagel Hour discussion with Michelle Caswell. Join us for an informal discussion over bagels and coffee with Michelle Caswell.


March 5
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM


Golda Meir Library, Conference Center, fourth floor
2311 E. Hartford Ave.
Milwaukee, 53211
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