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Critical Archives: New practices, new interpretations and new lives for archival materials

A conference to be held at Deakin University’s Burwood Campus, Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th November, 2017. 

Anyone is welcome to attend but please note that presentations are by invitation. 

Conference theme

  • Recent scholarship has marked a turn away from treating archives as repositories of factual knowledge to a focus on sites of archival practices and knowledge production. In the words of Ann Laura Stoler, archives provide access not only to records of rule, they are places where ‘the force of writing’ ‘the ‘feel of documents’, ‘lettered governance’ and ‘written traces of colonial lives’ all come together.  Archives in this sense, come to be understood as places where social categories are produced, where ways of relating to governed subjects are monitored. Archives are instantiations of ‘active force with violent effects’ (Stoler). As Antoinette Burton contends, all archives are ‘figured’; they all have ‘dynamic relationships, not just to the past and the present, but to the fate of regimes, the physical environment, the serendipity of bureaucrats, and the care and neglect of archivists as well’. (Burton)

Critical interest in archives also draws attention to the transformative effects of digitisation, to contradictory forces that allow archived materials to be accessed outside of the material (in both architectural and paper-based) forms that house ‘originals’, through online databases and virtual museums, while also making the management of collections precariously vulnerable to shifting regimes of governmental support. In the digital era there is special concern for the fragility of ‘originals’ and for the looming crisis of technological obsolescence.

While archival research has traditionally been the purview of historians, since the 1980s the postcolonial politics of community engagement and repatriation have triggered a variety of new kinds of research engagements between institutions, community stakeholders and scholars, often resulting in new forms of archival production.

Indigenous communities especially —historically subject to sustained archival attention — call for decentring and decolonising practices to transform institutions.

Informed by histories of the production of colonial knowledge, and responding to new and interdisciplinary directions in archival theory and research (led by Ann Laura Stoler, Jeannette Bastian, Terry Cook, Antoinette Burton and others) this conference will bring together researchers, practitioners, industry partners and communities to discuss the critical elements of working with and through archives in the present. We also hope to include artists who are responding to the archive creatively, such as Indigenous performance makers and artists.


This two day conference will interrogate the history of knowledge production, the practice of archiving and the process of working with, along, or against the grain of the archive. It will be structured around the following ideas:

1.     History of the idea of archives and their role in colonisation and the production of colonial knowledge

2.     Different approaches to dealing with the power asymmetry within the archives: working along and against the archival grain

3.     Democratising and decolonising the archive

4.     Politics and processes of digitisation

We also welcome papers that engage with the following themes:

-        Politics and power of colonial archives

-        Histories, biographies and geographies of archives

-        Materiality of archives

-        Inscriptive practices

-        Mediations within the archive

-        Non-western archives

-        Counter archives

-        Indigenous archives

-        Archives in the landscape/environment

-        Digital archives and the process of digitisation


Keynote Speakers include: 


Professor Jeannette Bastian, Simmons School of Library and Information Science, Boston


Professor Tony Ballantyne, University of Otago, NZ


Professor Lynette Russell, Monash Indigenous Studies Centre, Monash


Stephen Kinnane, Nulungu Research Institute, WA


Dr Chris Owen, University of Western Australia


Dr Rachel Buchanan, Curator, Germaine Greer archive, University of Melbourne



Rsvp regarding your interest and availability ASAP


Friday 29th September 2017                      Abstracts (300 words) and short bios (100-200 words) to be submitted




Abstracts, bios, and any queries can be directed to:


Tiffany Shellam        

                                                            +61 3 9244 3943

Joanna Cruickshank                                                       

+61 3 5227 2510