On the morning of Saturday April 6th, a number of our members gathered for a special session at the 2013 (dis)junctions Graduate Student Conference, an interdisciplinary conference hosted annually here at UCR and put on entirely by the graduate students from the English department. Initially titled the “BAM and Book History Working Group Special Panel” we re-titled it in the introductory discussion as “An Intimate Chat about Archives” – owing both to the fact that, as a first panel of the day, the audience was sparsely populated, and that the short five-minute talks given by the panelists all revisited material produced for a seminar on archival theory taught by English Professor Robb Hernandez the previous quarter. It was a productive chat, however, and felt like a nice development of our fledgling working group meetings.

I’ve included below the opening remarks for the panel, which were intended to put our work in conversation with the theme of the conference, which was ‘encounters’:

Our goal for this “lightening round” is to explore several perspectives on book history and the places and spaces of books in the archive. We will encounter material forms of knowledge with and within texts. Our papers will touch on a variety of time periods, topics and materials.

We would like to consider the place of encounter as a theoretical concept in book history studies. Encounters happen between readers and texts, of course, often in an immediately material sense – the book may be accidentally encountered, serendipitously. The text, however, in the traditional codex book, must be encountered deliberately. Similarly, encounters in the archive might be between researchers and documents, scholars and librarians, or between the space and the resurrected dead of the archival material.

For this purpose, while we will each be presenting work that is a part of a larger project, I would like to ask both our audience and my fellow panelists today to focus not only on individual arguments but on the variety of book historical methodologies, theories and sources being employed, as our goal is to have an expansive conversation about new directions for book, archive and manuscript studies.

Anne Sullivan presented a paper positioning Wilkie Collins’ Victorian mystery novel The Woman in White as operating like an archive, containing the documents of individual testimonies that must be examined for evidence. Her talk also delved interestingly into the reproduction of visual document structures – or the lack thereof – in the novel’s remediation from serial to first edition codex, to its most recent reprinting by Penguin. Jessica Roberson presented on the reformation of urban graveyards in the nineteenth century, and the establishment of the modern cemetery within an archival discourse. Her talk also explored briefly the interactions of bodies and books contained within literal and figurative graves. Ann Garascia discussed the representation of ‘strong men’ within a critical theorization of freak performance, examining the strong man figure as documented in the online archives of the Circus Oz and in photography holdings of the San Francisco Public Library. Brittany Chataignier considered the archive of Hamlet, consisting of the material, the performed, and the speculative. Her paper productively wrestled with Diana Taylor’s theories of repertoire and the needs of Early Modern studies.

All four panelists and our engaged, informative audience members explored during a lengthy Q and A questions of encounter and confrontation with archives and archival methods, and the hierarchies of archival knowledge. We all emerged, I hope, with new ideas to chew on and to bring up in later meetings, especially as we continue to return to UCR’s own Special Collections to talk and work.