Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace
Explorations in Canadian Women's Archives
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Series: Life Writing
Title Page, Copyright, Stuff
Introduction: No Archive Is Neutral
Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace is, first and foremost, about researching the archives created by, about, and for Canadian women. This book asks questions about the theories, methodologies, and assumptions at work when we, as researchers, gather information about Canadian women’s lives, whether this research takes place in an institution such as
Of Mini-Ships and Archives
To think about women’s archives is to think about how recently (say, in the last century and a half) women’s lives in the Western world have moved from the private and domestic sphere to the public cultural-political one, becoming “collectable.” This transit from private to public is embedded in the origin (or at least as far back as written records will reveal) of the word...
Finding Indian Maidens on eBay: Tales of the Alternative Archive (and More Tales of White Commodity Culture)
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the image of the “Indian maiden” was a well-established and familiar motif in popular cultural representations in North America. Used in advertising and in easily accessible and affordable art (such as prints, lithographs, photographs, postcards, calendars, and three-dimensional objects), the primary purpose of the image...
“Faster Than a Speeding Thought”: Lemon Hound’s Archive Unleashed
Except for some marginalia in several books and on photocopied articles, there is no paper record of this essay’s production. Karis and Jessica’s collaboration was a digital one. It was not even conducted chiefly over email. We discussed the ideas for the paper over the telephone on occasion, usually when one of us needed some encouragement (or when the anxiety...
“I remember . . . I was wearing leather pants”: Archiving the Repertoire of Feminist Cabaret in Canada
I have told this story before. When I was twenty-six, I organized a spoken word cabaret called Choice Words for the Rock for Choice Festival in Vancouver.1 The show was at the Cultch (the Vancouver East Cultural Centre). It was 2001. The San Francisco-based all-girl spoken-word circus, Sister Spit, was coming to Vancouver for the show. I was nervous. The rehearsals...
“In the hope of making a connection”: Rereading Archival Bodies, Responses, and Love in Marian Engel’s Bear and Alice Munro’s “Meneseteung”
Two personal encounters with archives influence my emotional and intellectual relationship to them. The first occurred in August 2001, while working at the University of Leeds Library: I was given the task of moving the well-established but rarely consulted Liddle Collection to accommodate the Feminist Archive North, which had grown too big for its previous...
An Archive of Complicity: Ethically (Re)Reading the Documentaries of Nelofer Pazira
In the Afterword to Working in Women’s Archives, Marlene Kadar outlines six goals for the recovery of women’s archival material. The final goal, which informs the previous five (and indeed the entire anthology) is “[t]he ongoing project of rescuing women’s lives and cultures from the ‘anonymity of history’. . . so that they are understood as part of our history...
Psyche and Her Helpers, under Cloud Cover
The urge to sort is at least as old as the myth of Psyche. To regain her beloved god-husband, Eros, Psyche had to placate her mother-in-law, Venus, by overcoming several challenges. In The Golden Ass, Apuleius tells us how Psyche must “separate all the grains in a large basket of mixed kinds before nightfall. An ant takes pity on Psyche, and, with its ant companions...
I am a Canadian playwright. My first play, Lost Souls and Missing Persons,
was produced by Theatre Passe Muraille under the direction of Clarke
Rogers in 1984. I wrote several plays after that, including Moo, The Trial of
Judith K., Life Without Instruction, and Jehanne of the Witches, to name a few.
In the early 1990s, some of my writer friends were “selling” their archives to universities for “large sums of money.”1 They were urging me to do the...
Keeping the Archive Door Open: Writing about Florence Carlyle
Doing archival research on Canadian women’s history presents particular research and methodological challenges. Because of the especially fragmentary nature of the archive on pre-1920s women in Canada, it is necessary for researchers to see beyond classifications and canon, and to be open to the unexpected. In her article “‘A Dusting Off ’: An Anecdotal...
The Oral, the Archive, and Ethics: Canadian Women Writers Telling It
In 1988, while Daphne Marlatt was occupying the Ruth Wynn Woodward Chair of Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University, she organized a conference called Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures. The promotional pamphlet for the event promised that it would feature Native, Asian Canadian, and lesbian writers “whose voices are too infrequently heard,”...
Halted by the Archive: The Impact of Excessive Archival Restrictions on Scholars
In 1999, I was awarded a Professional Writer’s Grant by the Canada Council for the Arts to support a study of the novelist Adele Wiseman.1 The project I proposed would rely extensively on the Wiseman fonds held at York University. By 1999, I already had used Wiseman’s papers in conjunction with two book projects,...
Personal Ethics: Being an Archivist of Writers
What does it mean to “do right” by someone’s archives? This is the question I ask myself before all others when I work with the archives of Canadian writers. The question has two components: “What does it mean to ‘do right’ by this person while treating his/her archives?” and “What does it mean to ‘do right’ by this writer’s literary oeuvre in dealing with these archives?”...
Invisibility Exhibit: The Limits of Library and Archives Canada’s “Multicultural Mandate”
Currently, Library and Archives Canada finds itself in an awkward position with regard to its “multicultural mandate.” Articulated in its 2003 working paper, “Architects of Change: How the National Library of Canada Is Responding to the New Cultural Landscape,” this mandate declares that “[m]ulticulturalism lies at the very heart of Library and Archives Canada...
Rat in the Box: Thoughts on Archiving My Stuff
“Mouse turds or rat turds? A few mouse turds are nothing, they can be
brushed off . . .”
I look with amazement at my neighbour and friend, Anne Goddard, formerly the literary archivist at the (then) National Archives of Canada, and a person I’d always thought of as precise, meticulous, organized, and very, very clean. She would paw through mouse turds?...
Letters to the Woman’s Page Editor: Reading Francis Marion Beynon’s “The Country Homemakers” and a Public Culture for Women
Research on women’s suffrage constitutes an increasingly diverse academic field, producing studies not only on the history and politics of different national suffrage movements but also on suffrage theatre (e.g., Stowell), literature (Green; Petty), marketing (Finnegan; Morrisson), sexuality (Kent), and fashion (Behling). Although some attention has been paid to...
Archival Adventures with L. M. Montgomery; or, “As Long as the Leaves Hold Together”
In her introduction to the collection of essays Working in Women’s Archives (2001), Helen M. Buss considers how each contributor to the volume has been working at “the tentative beginnings of what we now see as the fortuitous coming together of feminist theory, the breaking of traditional limitations set by the idea of a literary ‘canon’ of great writers and the increased...
The Quality of the Carpet: A Consideration of Anecdotes in Researching Women’s Lives
I have an anecdote to share with you.
Some time ago, I gave a public lecture in Vancouver about modernist painter Emily Carr. Although Carr is renowned as a productive artist, having painted an impressive number of sketches and paintings, I had focused my research on her career as a public writer.1 I was approached directly after the talk by an elderly man who told me that he had had some...
“I want my story told”: The Sheila Watson Archive, the Reader, and the Search for Voice
During the late 1980s and into the 1990s, Sheila Watson (1909–98) helped her husband Wilfred (1911–98) process his material, which went into his archive. Then, without help from him, she turned to the task of establishing her own. She wanted hers to find a home separate from his or, for that matter, from that of her dear friend, Marshall McLuhan (1911–80). She...
“You can do with all this rambling whatever you want”: Scrutinizing Ethics in the Alzheimer’s Archives
My mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in late July 2005. Alzheimer’s disease, as many families know well,1 is a progressive, degenerative disease of the brain characterized by two distinct aberrations: in the first, brain cells shrink or disappear and are replaced by dense, irregularly shaped spots, or plaques; in the second, thread-like tangles appear in...
Locking Up Letters
My approach to the discussion of the dynamic of discovery and response that marks the encounter with Canadian women’s archives considers the violence inherent in the process of archivization itself. Holding an archive of my mother’s papers that I know to be of historical value, with what issues must I grapple while I consider their deposition? Her letters, in particular...
I have often regretted that my graduate work in English, while thorough in many respects, did not involve training in the theory and methods of archival research. Passionate about the interpretation of stories, I did not, as a doctoral student, imagine that I would one day sit helplessly in front of a large box of all-but-illegible letters in the Flora MacDonald Denison...