Moments of being-in-the-archive

Nonia Williams, Barbara Cooke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper adopts a constellation or patchwork writing structure to examine four encounters with archival materials and practices occurring over the span of fifteen years. We observe how these encounters were characterised by strong, spontaneous reactions including emotions such as disgust and shame – in reference either to the archival objects themselves or our relationship to them – and semi-conscious behavioural acts. We argue that paying attention to such responses facilitates new and complementary modes of investigation into key questions of archival research including reflections on ownership, ethics, responsibilities and the role of archival discovery in the creation of new knowledge. These modes are embodied and affective, and insist upon the materiality of the objects with which they are concerned. They attempt to harness the rich potential of the fleeting moments of affect commonly experienced to archival researchers, but which are rarely the primary focus of their enquiries. As such, they are in dialogue with Susan Howe’s investigations of ‘insignificant visual and verbal textualities and textiles’, and constitute an attempt to answer Maryanne Dever’s call for ‘refocus our attention’ on the experiential knowledge offered by the archive and ‘allow for new and different questions and research pathways to emerge’ – new archival methodologies that embrace the full embodied and affective experience of being-in-the-archive.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages23
JournalOpen Library of Humanities (OLH)
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 13 Nov 2023

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