Archiving Alternative Futures

Just a little over a year ago now, the LGBT rights website vanished from the White House homepage. In retrospect, the webpage’s sudden—if unsurprising—disappearance has turned out to be a harbinger, as stories of progressive political initiatives have been openly derided and dismissed by the administration or buried under the excess of stories about the administration’s ineptitude and autocratic tendencies. These circumstances have prompted me to consider the role and potential of archiving as a feminist practice.

In thinking about archives, I am not exclusively (or even primarily) referring to established repositories of the past that are affiliated with and supported by institutions such as universities. Such archives are, I think, in less immediate danger of disappearing. I’m more interested in the practices of community-based, grassroots archives as initiatives that contribute the survival of “alternative and absent voices or transformative knowledge” (Arondekar et al. 222), and that grow from the material and emotional needs of the communities whose histories they preserve. (For example, the Lesbian Herstory Archives, QZAP, Spinnboden, the Transgender Archive, United Black Lesbian Elder Project, to list a few. See the Arizona Queer Archives for more.)

What can scholar-activists and teachers learn from such initiatives about the importance of recording, honoring, and passing on stories of art, writing, activism, and resistance? Ann Cvetkovich writes, “As academics, we are always already archivists, making editorial decisions about inclusion, representation, value, and pitch” (225). Archiving as feminist practice, both physical and digital, has the potential to overwhelm and transform the future with evidence of the lived experience of communities that sustain and mobilize resistance to the logic of disappearance that enables autocratic, oppressive regimes of power.

—Bradley Boovy, Oregon State University

Arondekar, Anjali, et al. “Queering Archives: A Roundtable Discussion.” Radical History Review 122 (May 2015): 211-31.