‘Ambivalent archives’ attends to the various affective and critical engagements with the archive which are resurgent in recent scholarship and archival practices. The name of our network reflects the many dispersed ways in which these engagements occur, whilst foregrounding our own consciously ambivalent critical position; given that archives can exclude and obscure as much as they retain, we believe that an interdisciplinary space to explore critical attitudes of uncertainty and speculation towards the archive has become necessary. Concerns at the centre of this network range from reflections on the mode of ‘critical fabulation’ proposed by Saidiya Hartman, to the archival possibilities generated by grassroots online collectives such as The Museum of Ephemera and Archive Stories.
The network originally emerged from a four-session reading group held in Lent 2023, which brought together undergraduates, postgraduates, staff members, local archivists, librarians, and visiting academics. Together, we explored four related topics in critical archival thought: the constitution of archives, the (im)possibility of the Black transatlantic archive, queer archival feelings, and ‘embodiment’ in the archive. Questions raised and discussed, via the work of Stuart Hall, Michael Rolph-Trouillot, Michelle Caswell, Saidiya Hartman, Katherine McKitrick, José Esteban Muñoz, Ann Cvetkovich, Tina Campt and Julietta Singh, included: who gets archived? How do we sensitively and adequately archive histories and/or intimate experiences of violence, loss, and displacement – or, can we? What is the relationship between critical archive studies and practices of archiving? How do we approach archives and archiving from within an institution like Cambridge, which not only hosts numerous historically significant archives, but is currently grappling with its own legacies of violence?
Our network will build upon these critical reflections, expanding our focus to consider textual and literary archives, postcolonial archives, intimate archiving and community archiving. Both theory and praxis are central to our approach, and so our fortnightly sessions will alternate between reading groups and speaker events with academics, activists, and writers. To further ground this work in practices of the archive, each term will culminate in a creative workshop, co-led between Ambivalent Archives and a visiting artist. As part of these workshops, we will be encouraging participants – whether they have joined us for one meeting or multiple – to engage in their own personal archival practice. This might take different and converging forms, whether photographing, sound recording, collaging, or having a commonplace book, and can seek to document any theme or topic. Together, we hope that these planned workshops, in dialogue with our reading sessions and speaker events, will facilitate a space to reflect on our own archival practices and critical imaginaries, and to collectively dwell on their challenges, possibilities, and futures.
You can find a running wider bibliography of readings, including links to our past readings organised by session, on this document.
Supported by CRASSH
- Lauryn Anderson (PhD student, English, Jesus College)
- Claudia J. M. Cornelissen (PhD student, English, St John’s College)
- Daniela Meneses Sala (PhD student, Centre of Latin American Studies, St Catharine’s College)
- Ruari Paterson-Achenbach (PhD Student, Music, King’s College)
- Lucy Rogers (PhD student, English, Hughes Hall)
About the convenors
Lauryn Anderson is a PhD candidate in English, where she is writing a thesis on Anglophone literature variously known as ‘archival writing’ or ‘documentary writing’. This concerns literary work in the 20th and 21st centuries which engages with the concept of the archive, critically or sometimes physically, by repurposing documentary material within the written text. Lauryn has wider research and teaching interests in theories of documentary, documents and other kinds of ‘invisible literature’; collage, mixed-form and intertextuality; reading practices; photographic theory; postcolonial theory; and genre theory. At Cambridge, she also co-convenes the Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Literature Research Seminar and hosts the termly Contemporary Writers’ Readings series in the English Faculty. Her doctoral work is funded by a University Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholarship. Follow Lauryn on Twitter
Claudia J M Cornelissen is a PhD candidate and Gates Scholar at the University of Cambridge’s Faculty of English. Her research consists of a genealogical enquiry into feminist revisionism, the literary mode in which authors rewrite, subvert, or otherwise engage with canonical texts in order to highlight female voice and subjectivity. Her thesis looks at the emergence and evolution of feminist revisionist literature and considers questions of canonicity, politics, and the conditions of literary production. Claudia first became interested in archival studies while studying for her MSc in Gender at the LSE, where she worked on authors such as Saidiya Hartman, Avery Gordon, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot. Her wider research interests include feminist theory, contemporary literature, the role of narrative in social movements, postcolonial literature and theory, and cultural memory studies. Her work is funded by the Gates Cambridge Foundation.
Daniela Meneses Sala is a Peruvian PhD researcher in Latin American Studies at the University of Cambridge. Her research thesis presents several experiments on archiving our everyday feelings for pets in Lima, Peru, focusing on, among others, Speculative, Intimate, Creative and Activist Archives. This serves as a starting point to then explore what her proposed critical framework entails for wider issues related to Multispecies Justice and to the Environmental Humanities in general. Daniela holds an MSc in Gender from the London School of Economics, an MSc in Public Policy from University College London, and a Law Degree from Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru. She has published articles on topics such as anti-gender movements and gender and health policy during the Covid-19 pandemic. She is currently collaborating with Andrea Aramburu and Rachel Randall (University of Bristol) on a creative archival project intervening in a Peruvian photographic archive depicting wet nurses. Daniela also has a career in journalism, and previous to coming to Cambridge she worked both as a print and podcast editor in Peru, where she is originally from. Her doctoral work is funded by a Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholarship. Follow Daniela on Twitter
Ruari Paterson-Achenbach is an interdisciplinary artist and researcher, currently a PhD candidate in Music at the University of Cambridge funded by the AHRC. Their work thinks about sound and performance as vehicles for memory, resistance and the radical potentials of social life. Through an intimate, affective engagement with Outsider Music, their PhD project hopes to uncover an alternative archive of sound, unveiling radical potential for creativity within and through non-normative social life. More broadly, their research interests include queer temporality, critical listening, creative anarchism, black feminist thought and decoloniality. Ruari was also a ‘New Creative’ and has produced works with and for the ICA, BBC and NTS Radio. They have performed in spaces such as Tate Modern, the London Contemporary Music Festival, Cafe OTO and the Heong Gallery. They love to find joy and beauty in the everyday. Follow Ruari on Twitter and Instagram
Lucy Rogers is a PhD candidate in English, whose doctoral research examines the role of women in the early development of ‘Cambridge English’ during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The project tackles questions of professionalisation and disciplinarity, using both archival materials and published texts to re-evaluate the often unusual ways that female scholars engaged with this emerging academic subject. Lucy’s broader research interests include nineteenth-century novels (especially New Woman fiction); life writing; textual scholarship; intellectual history; history of education; and museum studies. She is a co-convener of the upcoming interdisciplinary conference ‘Women and Worlds of Learning in Europe: From the Medieval to the Modern Day’, to be held at the University of Oxford in Spring 2024. Her doctoral work is funded by a Jebb Studentship and a Sarah Squire scholarship. Follow Lucy on Twitter
- Geoff Maguire (Fellow in Spanish, Gonville & Caius College, Director of Studies, Emmanuel College, Director of Postgraduate Studies (MPhil and PhD), Centre of Latin American Studies, University of Cambridge)
- Peter McMurray (Associate Professor of Music, Director of Studies, Queens’ College, University of Cambridge)
Programme 2023 - 2024
Lent term 2024
Reading session Writers: Lola Olufemi and Yara Rodriguez Fowler Reading session Meera Shakti Osborne (Artist)
Sensing the archive
25 Jan 2024 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Writers Lola Olufemi and Yara Rodriguez Fowler in conversation
8 Feb 2024 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Telepathic and ghostly archives
22 Feb 2024 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
POSTPONED: Community archiving with Meera Shakti Osborne
15 Mar 2024 14:00 - 17:00, Room S1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Writers: Lola Olufemi and Yara Rodriguez Fowler
Meera Shakti Osborne (Artist)
Easter term 2024
Clare Hemmings (LSE)
Ambivalent ET-24 Prof Clare Hemmings
2 May 2024 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Clare Hemmings (LSE)
Michaelmas term 2023
Sara Salem (LSE), Mai Taha (LSE) Reading session
Why ‘Ambivalent’ Archives? Introduction to the network and reading session
19 Oct 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
POSTPONED: Archive stories
3 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Online & Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
What are textual archives? Literary engagements with the archive
16 Nov 2023 17:00 - 19:00, Room SG1, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge
Sara Salem (LSE), Mai Taha (LSE)
15 March 2024
Meera Shakti Osborne is an art practitioner and youth worker from London. Meera’s work focuses on collective healing through creative self-expression. Their practice engages with accessibility and confidence building in both formal education settings and casual encounters. In recent years Meera has focused on questions around history making, the ethics of collaboration and processes that allow for flexing, glitches and love.
Affective interventions in archival materials: recuperating photographs of wet-nurses in the Courret Archive
Workshop 30 November 2023
The first part of the workshop will be dedicated to reflecting on arts-based visual methodologies, such as zine-making, and the potential of creating alternative archives. It will also introduce participants to photographs of wet nurses and babies taken in Lima, Peru, in the late nineteenth century, which we are exploring as part of our project. These photographs are housed at the Courret photographic archive in Peru’s National Library. The second part of the workshop will provide participants with the materials they need to make one page each of a collaborative zine by intervening creatively in reproductions of the photographs of wet nurses and babies.