Heritage, Community, Archives: Methods, Case Studies, Collaboration

Date / time: 10 March, 12:00 am


(Please note we have extended the deadline to accommodate requests from colleagues).

Conference dates – 12 to 13 June 2023 

Keynote speakers: Dr Hannah Ishmael (University College London and Archivist, Black Cultural Archives)

Keynote panel and screening: Cinema and Social Justice (Dr Martin Hall, Dr Lauren Stephenson, Dr Steve Rawle, and Yorkshire Film Archive)

An ‘archival turn’ is underway, in which archives, archival methods, and archival practice are being interrogated, with dominant approaches and traditions being challenged and revised. The nature and the materiality of archives are being brought to the fore to question the ways in which archives are preserved, curated, and used. This turn coincides with the use of heritage-making, the ‘civic agenda’, and ‘community partnership’ as cornerstones of the regeneration of cities and of the cultural strategies of universities and other institutions in the UK and elsewhere. At the same time, the production of history, what stories are told, and who has been left out have rightly been challenged. And archives and archival research are increasingly integral to multiple disciplines, raising the potential for radical, interdisciplinary collaborations. This conference poses the following questions:

  • What is the role of archives, archives creation, and archival collaboration in the process of heritage, history, and community
  • Whose archives have been preserved? What and whose archives are missing?
  • How can archivists and researchers in humanities and archival studies engage in a dialogue and constructive work to make liberatory, emancipatory, and community/people-driven archives and histories?
  • How can archives and archival research be used for activist and social justice work and for radical heritage-making?

At a time when wider history, culture, and society is being challenged via issues of race, gender, sexuality, class, and power, archives and archival praxis are similarly being reframed to question the role of archives in the stories we tell about people, communities, events, and the past and just whose story is the one being told and who has the ‘right’ to tell it. In archival studies, critical archival approaches have increasingly been adopted over the past decade, and in the humanities, researchers are also adopting a range of critical methods, such as in the work of the PICCH and the DeCoSEAS projects.

Archives and the dominance of their contents and creators are being reimagined through creative approaches and reuse; silences and gaps in the archive are being emphasised, discussed, and filled; archival cataloguing and contextualisation are being revisited; and community archives and counter archives are being created in an attempt to document and preserve a more inclusive heritage and memory. Alongside, archives must be used in urgent activist work now as part of liberatory memory work in the present (Caswell 2021; Flinn and Alexander 2015).

Taking some of the above aims as a starting point, this conference aims to place these challenges and arguments in conversation with ideas of heritage and the cultural strategies of cities and universities. Arguably, heritage making can erase, overlook, and continue the oppression of identities and communities. How can critical archival approaches, and collaboration between archivists, researchers, and communities intervene to prevent this? In Sheffield, the host city for this conference, there have been innovative and creative projects to re-visit and re-contextualise existing archival collections, or to create new community archives.

This conference aims to understand the full spectrum of approaches being taken by researchers and archivists, and encompassing all forms of archives, whether paper, audio-visual, audio, or visual-based; whether physical or digital; whether institutional, community, or private. It also is an opportunity for critical reflection on the work of archivists, academics, historians, and filmmakers and their approaches to archives and archival practice.

Proposals are encouraged from researchers, archivists, artists and creative practitioners, museum-workers, or other cultural / heritage-based institutions.

Suggested topics could include, but are by no means limited to, the following:

  • Archives, heritage, and community
  • Archives and identity
  • Archival activism / activist archiving
  • Archival methods and practice
  • Archival cataloguing / uncatalogued archives
  • Archivist / researcher collaboration
  • Creative re-use / creative practice / co-creation
  • Mediating archives / filmmaking and the archive
  • Materiality
  • Access / accessibility
  • Donation and acquisition processes
  • Curation and exhibiting archives
  • Gaps, silences, absences
  • Archives, storytelling and oral history
  • Archives and ephemera
  • Critical theory and archives
  • Decolonisation / decentering / power
  • Digitisation / digital archives
  • Community archiving / private archives
  • Archives and media archaeology
  • Archival ethics and futures

Abstracts of between 250 and 300 words, along with a short biography of 100 words, should be sent via email to j.fenwick@shu.ac.uk by 28 February 2023.

The conference will be held in person at Sheffield Hallam University. Recommended accommodation and travel directions can be found here.

Delegate fee:
Waged: £50
Unwaged / student: no fee

There will be plans following the conference to publish presented papers. More details will follow after the conference.

Image: Wiki CommonsCreative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license