Reassembling Documents of Life in the Archive

Maria Tamboukou


We usually perceive archives as the end of the active life of a document, a place where a document is deposited to be protected and preserved for the creation of future memories and histories. And yet archives are beginnings as much as they are ends: they give their documents a new life and particularly with the advent of digitisation, new and diverse forms of life; but they can also deprive their documents of a future life, by hiding them through mysterious cataloguing structures, complex classification practices or merely spatial arrangements. Apart from curators and archivists who create and organise archives, often hiding documents in them, researchers also create archival assemblages when they bring together documents from diverse archives and sources around the world. But researchers, like archivists, often hide the archival strategies or sources of their research, through their immersion in the power relations of knowledge production. In this paper I look at the creation of an archival assemblage from my research with documents of life written by French seamstresses, active in the feminist circles of the romantic socialist movements of the nineteenth century. What I argue is that as researchers we need to become more sensitive to the life of the documents of life we work with; simply put: we cannot engage with documents of life while ignoring the life of documents within the archive and beyond.


This article was submitted to EJLW on January 16th 2016, and published on April 9th 2017


Archives, assemblages, feminist labour history

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European Journal of Life Writing - ISSN 1876-8156 - is an open access initiative supported by the VU University Library.