Reconstructing the Archive







Foreword: On Available Resources


What a privilege to experience the often moving and provoking—both affectively and intellectually—work of these four scholars. I really appreciate work that pushes at the borders of what we know, and what we count as worthy of knowing, within composition studies. Each of these texts challenges us to reconsider the work of the archive: of working with and through archives, of knowing and re-knowing what we know, of reimagining what is capable of being known, and of knowing ourselves—better and differently—through archival research. Collectively, the most profound set of provocations offered by these texts lies in the ways they model innovative methods for embracing the intimacy of archival work so that such intimacy may generate new approaches to those archives—and to our understanding of what it means, as humans, to have history, and to be part of history in its becoming.

Jody Shipka’s “On Estate Sales, Archives, and the Matter of Making Things” sets the stage nicely, making a claim for expanding our sense of the archive. As usual, her aesthetically challenging use of video requires and rewards patient attention. At stake for Shipka, particularly in her video presentation, is an increasingly complex appreciation of the intellectual and emotional density of what has traditionally been dismissed as ephemera, such as family scrapbooks. Shipka poignantly shows us the value of paying attention to such archives. Her work here asks us to consider the implications for scholars and pedagogues in composition studies of undertaking careful and innovative archival work in unexpected places.

Erin R. Anderson’s “‘What Hadn’t Happened’: A Multimedia Memoir” is a challenging piece that nicely picks up on and plays out one of the undercurrents pulsing throughout Shipka’s valuation of the unusual and ephemeral—the persistence of mystery and the unfolding of it in and through archival work. It also emphasizes the importance of work on families, highlighting (what many of these composers seem to suggest is) the underrecognized complexity of familial life in archival work specifically and the field of writing studies more broadly. Families are clearly loci of many literacies, but do we appreciate them as such, as fully as we should or could?

Along these lines, Alexandra Hidalgo’s “Family Archives and the Rhetoric of Loss” is a lovely video mixing of theories of archival work with family home movie footage. Simultaneously moving and intellectually satisfying, it gives us a view of wonderfully personal connections set amongst an explication of a family mystery, a theoretical probing of archival work, and an attention to the affordances of digitally-born scholarship. The images and comments in this video have stayed with me in productive ways.

And finally, Trisha Campbell’s “I am Josephine Miles: A Digital Reprocessing” is perhaps amongst the most sophisticated video analyses, both critically and affectively, of a scholar-writer’s engagement with an intellectual predecessor that I’ve yet encountered. The embodiment of Miles’s life and work—beautifully rendered in the narration and in the never-less-than-captivating images and videoscapes, with the composer slowly revealing herself through Miles’ portrait—offers the most provocative challenge yet for how we are inter-imbricated with the (historic) subjects and objects of our study. We become what we study, as what we study becomes us.

Overall, this is a beautiful set of pieces. They are their archives embodied, powerfully transformed through a combined personal, theoretical, and critical engagement. They also show us the power of working multimodally, particularly as such multimodality affords possibilities for multivalent connection, for being responsive to shifting insights, emotions, reactions, and trajectories for exploration. Moreover, beyond re-theorizing archival work, their power and integrity prompt us to consider the implications for such work in composition studies more broadly: How might we work with our students and with colleagues to expand both the realm of the knowable in our work, and the opportunities to share that work with others? What does it mean to compose, to assemble, to remix, and to reconsider not just the available means of persuasion, but also the available resources for meaning-making in the 21st century? In provoking these and other related questions, these works constitute a significant—and often singular—contribution to the field.

Return to Top