Moments of being-in-the-archive

Barbara Cooke, Nonia Hazel Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


This paper adopts a constellation or patchwork writing structure to examine five encounters with archival materials and practices occurring over the span of 15 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 that are commonly experienced by archival researchers, but rarely the primary focus of their enquiries. As such, our investigation is in dialogue with Susan Howe’s investigations of ‘insignificant visual and verbal textualities and textiles’ and constitutes an attempt to answer Maryanne Dever’s call that we ‘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)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 8 Mar 2024

Cite this