Call for Papers: Silence in the Archives

This conference is taking place on 7th November 2015 at Wolfson College, funded by the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing and The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities.

Scholars increasingly look to women’s own life writing in the nineteenth century as a way of reconstructing both their lived experiences and their inner lives. While diaries, journals, letters, and memoirs offer a window into the past, paradoxically it is often the absences in the archives, which provide the most insight into women’s lives in the period. Torn out pages and scratched out sentences are simultaneously frustrating and intriguing for scholars, offering hints and clues to the unspeakable and the unacceptable.

Women’s life writing from the nineteenth century is thus intrinsically tied up with censorship: both by the self and others. Some beliefs, thoughts and ideas may have been too inflammatory to commit to paper in the first place – representative of inadmissible ambitions or transgressive desires. Some women later destroyed their papers, belatedly conforming to constraints of gender, class and propriety. Others were edited by family members, erasing evidence contrary to a public persona or prevalent norms.

This conference will bring together researchers from across a range of disciplines in the humanities to explore the extent and the significance of omissions in women’s life writing and question what silences in the archives can tell us about what it meant to be a woman in the nineteenth century.

The conveners welcome 20-minute papers on topics including, but not limited to:

  • Motives, practices and implications of censored life writing
  • Self-censorship or destruction by women of their own papers
  • Gender and sexuality encoded in private writing
  • Adaptations of private correspondence, collaborative documents, and political writing
  • Acts of posthumous suppression or revision by families or literary executors
  • Resurfacing or rediscovery of previously lost or unknown life writing
  • Interpretation of archival silence in the age of the digital archive
  • Research strategies for approaching, reading and interpreting gaps in life writing

300-word proposals, along with a short biography, should be sent to Lyndsey Jenkins and Alexis Wolf at silenceinthearchives2015@gmail.com by 5th June 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Call for Papers: Silence in the Archives

  1. Will any online papers from this conference be published, please? I live in Australia now and this one-day conference looks particularly interesting.
    Many thanks

    Jill Burton, PhD
    Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, Adjunct

    E-mail: email removed for privacy reasons
    School of Education (Magill)
    University of South Australia

  2. Hi Jill, we are actually hoping to put together a special journal article and if that comes off we will let you know! We are also hoping to podcast parts of the event. We will keep you posted! Thank you for your interest, Lyndsey

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