silences & voices

I’m still working through some of these ideas, but here are some preliminary thoughts:

In terms of text analysis possibilities, there seem to be plenty beyond presentation and representation.  We can read archives in different ways and open up new avenues for creating meaning.  Learning about stop words was helpful for some of my graphs from last week that now look like this: .  I think that looking at the frequency of words can help to connect to major themes.  (What could be the role of psychology here?)  In terms of when you might want to look at the stopwords instead of the “go” words, I think it’s hard to say.  I’m wondering about the significance of articles in translation.  I’m also curious about how the word “the” might be used as a specifier as opposed to a negligible stopword that can be excluded.

Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past discusses how and when silences enter the process of historical production: “the moment of fact creation (the making of sources); the moment of fact assembly (the making of archives); the moment of fact retrieval (the making of narratives); and the moment of retrospective significance (the making of history in the final instance)” (26).  Of course Trouillot makes the assumption that there are “facts” that represent definite and universal truths.   One book that came to mind was Freedom Papers, which explores and traces five generations of a family across oceans in their journey for freedom and equality.  This book opens up many of the possibilities of archival research where there is assumed silence.  On a personal level, I am a big supporter of the power of contemporary fiction to represent past silences (as in Toni Morrison’s work, for example).

In Ann Cvetkovich’s “In the Archives of Lesbian Feelings: Documentary and Popular Culture,” discusses some forms of lesbian popular culture and connection to archives.  She argues for the importance of preserving and producing “not just knowledge but feeling” of lesbian life (110).  By allowing for a reconfiguring of the archive as a concept, the role of memory  in sexuality and lesbian life can be reconceptualized and not as neglected as in the past.  Cvetkovich argues for the surfacing of a painful past in order to continue consciousness of our history.  Also, in archiving ephemera, it seems as if preservation of the private sphere in gay and lesbian studies seems akin to second wave feminism.  Without preserving these materials, there are a certain amount of silences that would be written into archives because of the predominantly widespread and “American” notion that sexuality is to be private because it is sinful and desire should be repressed.  However, resisting documentation, as Cvetkovich points out also allows for resistance against institutions and hegemonic power.  To think that an archive can capture the entirety of feelings or lives of a particular group of people, or that it can stand for some notion of authoritative truth about people can cause harm.  It is really interesting that Cvetkovich documents the documentation process by exploring the significance of documentary film.  On the receiving end, the idea that an audience can play a role in interpretation of archives also strikes me as particularly important for those groups who have been marginalized.

I think a lot of these readings raise questions of access: who can access certain archives?  When can they access them?  Why is access restricted at times?  Who is in control of knowledge here, and what would be the possibilities if that knowledge is released to the public?  It seems that archives are created by those who advocate for their creation.  What does that mean for our responsibility as scholars?  I think that creating archives where there seem to be silences is a first step.  But, in doing that, are we somehow creating more silences?


*Trouillot brings up “the material weight of mention, that is, the sheer empirical value of the string within which any single fact is enmeshed” (54).  This is connected to what we have been talking about in terms of some of the possibilities of text analysis.  What is “the material weight of mention”?


About jeanettethall

graduate student in American Studies View all posts by jeanettethall

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