Graduate Course Description

350:645 - Archives of American Literature

Course No: 350:645
Index # 15003
Distribution Requirement: A4, B, D
Time: Tuesday - 10:20 a.m. 
Location: MU 207

Archives of American Literature

Meredith McGill

Electronic media have changed radically how knowledge is classified, stored, and retrieved, and have helped detach the idea of the archive from its traditional identification with the place in which records are stored. This course will examine theories of the archive with an eye to how changing ideas about classification, storage, documents, and evidence might be brought to bear on Americanist literary studies. What kinds of challenges have the phonograph, radio, film, performance, and electronic media posed to manuscript- and print-based ideas of the archive? What are the implications of curated on-line collections and digital databases such as EEBO, ECCO, and Evans (Early American Imprints) for the study of literature? How has the very notion of the non-archivable – the ephemeral, the unrecordable, the wastefully repetitive, shaped our conception of the archive?

Theoretical texts will include works by Friedrich Nietzsche, Jorge Luis Borges, Michel Foucault, Michel De Certeau, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Derrida, Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Lorraine Daston, Diana Taylor, Antoinette Burton, and Ann Stoler. We will also read recent criticism, including work by Saidiya Hartman, Kelly Wisecup, and Alexis Pauline Gumbs, that creatively reimagines what one might do with the traces of subjects and creative practices that have been omitted from or subordinated within knowledge-systems.

As part of our study of new media archives, the class will spend some time engaging with the general theoretical aims of the Black Bibliography Project and exploring BBP data models for describing books, serials, dust jackets, and non-print media. I hope to coordinate this unit with a class being taught concurrently by Jacqueline Goldsby at Yale, including a trip to the Schomburg Library.

Students will complete a few short exercises, including site visits, a sustained engagement with a digital archive, exploration of Black Bibliography Project data, and a longer paper that takes up an archive (broadly defined) that shifts the way we think about a topic in literary and cultural studies.

Students are encouraged to use their work in this class not only to read deeply in theories of the archive but also to explore primary sources that might be of use to them in their dissertations.