The Irish Queer Archive: Institutionalization, Archival Practice, and Historical Narrative

Friday, January 3, 2014: 8:30 AM
Maryland Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Edward Madden, University of South Carolina Columbia
In 2008, the National Library of Ireland officially accepted the Irish Queer Archive, a shift both literal and symbolic.  Insistent in the media coverage were themes of legitimacy and access.  In this essay, I explore issues of inclusion and accessibility, and demonstrate how the promises of accessibility and inclusion are constrained by specific archival practices.  I will argue that seemingly innocuous practices of prioritization, cataloguing, and site accessibility are historiographic practices, in that they enable (and prohibit) specific histories of queer cultures.  As the IQA has been catalogued and made available for research, priority was given to organizational files, thus creating a version of Irish queer history that is primarily a narrative of political and AIDS organizing, ignoring the richer social and cultural histories that could include sex clubs, zines and ephemera, gay rugby and other forms of community development.  Part of the vast IQA collection but unrecorded in the catalogue, such materials are unavailable for researchers and thus absent from the possible historical narrative the archive is imagined to enable and sustain.  Since the archive is made available only through what portion is catalogued, the incomplete catalogue becomes a mechanism of narrative control by which Irish queer histories are produced as much as they are preserved.  As Verne Harris has argued in his discussion of the “archival sliver,” archival practices and processes may distort and fracture the very historical events they are imagined to reflect.
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