Gaillet, Lynée L. (2010). Archival survival: Navigating historical research. In Ramsey, Alexis E., Wendy B. Sharer, Barbara L’Eplattenier, and Lisa S. Mastrangelo (Eds.), Working in the archives: Practical research methods for rhetoric and composition, 28-38. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Gaillet offers practical considerations of archival research in response to, and as a part of a collection edited by, L’Eplattenier’s concerns about the lack of practice-oriented texts for novice and experienced archival researchers. Gaillet addresses means of preparing, accessing, and coming to working with archival materials, as well as how to put these materials within the context of one’s research. Gaillet positions archival work both within the work of histories as a function of rhetoric and composition/writing studies.
Keywords: archives, historiography, histories of rhetoric, methodology
“Recovery and revision historiographical theory in rhet/comp argues that the researcher becomes a part of the project—a participant whose ethos is evident in his or her research” (p. 36).
I suppose one thing I’m thinking of, reading this, is how practical does something need to be to be practical? Gaillet mentions many factors that bind archival work to be project or archive-determined/specific, but offers a great deal of thoughtful considerations for working with archives. Is this text putting forth the phronesis or the techne of working with archives? What is this article doing with doing in archives? I’m wanting something here that I’m not so sure that I can put my finger on precisely. I suppose what I’m wanting is something to anchor the advice offered: to walk through an archival project with her, for this to put together its archival reflections in experiencing and learning from the work, or to construct the methods section that L’Eplattenier’s earlier article calls for. I suppose this is somewhat of a minor thing in the grand scheme, because the text offers a fantastic way to consider many of the considerations of doing archival work. But if the method is contingent upon access to the archive, or if the means of coding and organizing data are always difficult for researchers to consider, or if one’s ethos is indeed evident and participant within the research, seeing that, or in some sense doing that alongside her, situates the advice and could provide entry points into other considerations/issues/hooks in archival work.
I’m also thinking of the work that Jody Shipka has recently started asking what an archive is and who gets to determine what counts as an archive. I realize that these questions are beyond the scope of this particular piece, but they come to mind as I’m reading this, particularly when I’m thinking about her discussion of accessing an archive, the materiality of archives, and how one’s ethos participates and is evident in archival research. And if I hold these questions against Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes’s “Queer Rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive” and Techne: Queer Meditations on Writing the Self“, or Sara Ahmed’s Willful Subjects, the questions become richer for me to think about and perhaps even more vexing. Admed writes about tracing the figure of the willful child as she appears, willfully resisting her being contained in many ways: her work is in creating this archive for the willful child, or allowing her to figure herself in something we might call an archive (if the point is that the part might not want to reproduce the whole, than an archive of willfulness might not be an archive at all). Rhodes and Alexander write in “Queer rhetoric and the Pleasures of the Archive”:
“Once queer subjects begin to speak…” With what do they speak? … in the tongue we find a robust metonym of our struggle, our critique, our possibility. The queer tongue, long denied its utterances, long disciplined by legislation and normalization, long in the making of critique and the construction of queer identities, of queer particularities, of queer taste. The tongue contains our histories, and our possibilities. We have variously been tongue tied and twisted. We have bitten our tongues, but also gestured tongue-in-cheek through camp, spoken in the tongues of innuendo and insinuation, longed for a mother tongue, a tongue untied, and found just as often the tongue bath, the deep-throated kissing that articulates the desires of the body in its annunciation of alternatives to your lives, your limited languages. We are these tongues, so many tongues, speaking, depressed, suppressed, repressed, but still expressed in the plays of power that twist and bite, but also lick and delight. We reserve our right to be mouthy, to spit, to eat fire, to do things that we are not supposed to do with our mouths and tongues.
What might be an archive of tongues or that are (em)bodied, or archives of activity, that are distributed, that move (to follow Morris’s “Archival Queer”). I ask these not as criticisms, but just as things that I’m thinking about. Personally, I’m wanting to look at the late 80’s and early 90’s LGBT activism, to listen to queerness inventing (itself, possibilities, criticisms, futures, lives), how these activists used their tongues and their (em)bodied action to inscribe and be inscribed, to trace a queer rhetorical history in the face of its silencing and the violences against using their bodies.
I need to ask these methodological questions before I come to the steps that Gaillet might put forward. How and what I approach as an archive participates in the histories that come from that research, holds some bodies and voices—Rhodes and Alexander ask “With what do they speak?”—and silences others: this is a question of access, but it is also a question of the work of the archive as much as it is a question of archival work.
I suppose this long aside is just to say that I want a discussion of practice or of doing to attend to the complexities of the work. Such a thing need not be overwhelmingly theoretical, but these things are always operating together: to not address the underlying thought or experience of working in the archive leaves its essential questions. But again, the text is a wonderful foundation, I don’t mean this to be at all a criticism. Thinking alongside the text and having questions about archival work is heavily framing my reading of it.