Reading Day

The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters is pleased to host a reading day on Thursday 23 October, 10:30-12:00 in room 111 Foster Court, in conjunction with our usual Director’s Seminar. We’ll be discussing the following in preparation for the Failure in the Archives conference 30th October:

1. Natalie Zemon Davis, “Silences and Gaps: What can the historian do with them”? Fortid 2: 2011 (
2. “What Gets Saved and What Gets Lost: An Interview with Jill Lepore” (
3. Allan Sekula “The Body and the Archive” (
4. “The Library as a Map: An Interview with Rick and Megan Prelinger”:
In addition, we will be writing and submitting pitches for the Group Plenary.
Please feel free to join us!

Group Plenary

The final plenary session of Failure in the Archives will draw from the un-conference format.  An ‘Un-conference’ is a chance for participants to set the agenda for discussion. It is ‘self organizing‘, rather than the typical ‘conference’ structure which predetermines the content of panels with pre-screened speakers and paper topics. ‘Pitches’ are ideas proposed by participants which are collectively voted on, where anyone can participate. They can be submitted on this page in the lead up to the conference, or if you prefer, on the morning of the conference.

The primary goal of Failure in the Archives is to address silences, gaps, and missteps we risk as researchers and guardians of archival materials. Related to that goal, such a conference seeks to address its own failures, silences, gaps, and missteps. The final plenary, in its un-conference format, will be a chance to do just that – to reflect, project into the future, and cover new ground.

Here’s how it works:

Excerpted from “Museums and the Web”:.

  • a pitch is succinct – it can take no more than 3 minutes to express, ideally less.
  • your pitch should persuade the attendees to want to discuss it further  – open questions are much more inviting than your answers

Things to remember about pitching – un-conference sessions are:

  • topical and current – breaking news and emerging issues are the most engaging
  • informal and conversational – this is not the place to give the paper you forgot to propose
  • distinct from things going on elsewhere on the program – don’t trump your presentation later in the week by pitching the same thing here

At tea breaks lunchtime, we’ll listen to all of the pitches together, and assign discussion spaces based on a ‘show of hands’ indicating interest. But this space is for aggregating pitches you might want to propose in the lead up to the conference.


Please fill out the following form to submit your pitch:



1. Title: Teaching Failure

Proposed By: Brooke Palmieri

Overview: This panel will focus on the practicalities of bringing the topics discussed in ‘Failure in the Archives’ to the classroom. How do we introduce the concept of failure, silence, and even destructive tendencies within libraries and archives to students? How do we address gaps found in the curriculum? What resources and object lessons are best suited to communicating our complex relationship with the archive?


2. Title: Digital Disasters and Missteps

Proposed by: Christine Contrada
Overview: As more and more archives are digitizing key collections the dynamics of archival research are rapidly shifting in dramatic and fundamental ways. As many of us are increasingly being directed to computers and away from handling manuscripts does the mean that the golden age of archival scholarship is a thing of the past? What disasters and missteps are being minimized or exacerbated by this new digital access? How will digitization shape future scholarship and the relationship between scholars and the archives?


Conference Programme

Untitled One (Detroit Book Depository), James Griffioen

Untitled One (Detroit Book Depository), James Griffioen

8:30 – 9:15: Registration & Coffee

9:15 – 9:25: Welcome and Introductions

9:30 – 11:00: Session 1

The Politics of Failure in the Archives: A Roundtable Discussion

Chair: Lisa Jardine (UCL)

  1. Heiba Lamara and Hudda Khaireh, One of My Kind Small Press (
  2. Cathy Collins, Endangered Archives Project, British Library (

11:00 – 11:25: Coffee, Tea, and Discussion of Pitches for Group Plenary

11:30 – 1:00: Session 2

Lightning Round Papers

Panel A: Trapped in the Archives

Chair: Will Tosh (The Globe Theatre)

  1. “The Agency of the Archivist in the Archives” Jenny Bunn (UCL)
  2. “Livery Company Clerks in the Archive” Jennifer Bishop (Cambridge)
  3. “Lost in the Archives: The Cataloguing of Miscellanies in the Ottoman Empire”R. Aslihan Aksoy-Sheridan  (Koç University)
  4. “In Search of Lost Studios: Chinese Bookmarks, Notes and Notebooks 1500-1750” Timothy Clifford (University of Pennsylvania)
  5. “Obliterating ‘Pope’ and the Reader’s Intent” Vaughan Stewart (UNC Chapel Hill)
  6. “In days of old when […]: The Difficulties of early modern marginalia and the history of reading”  Simon Davies (University of Sussex)

Panel B: Friends and Enemies of Archives

Chair: Jessica Green (Wiener Library)

  1. “How Researchers can frustrate the work of archivists”  Elizabeth Danbury (UCL)
  2. “Researcher bias and new-found letters in the archives of Elizabeth I” Mel Evans and Alan Bryson (University of Birmingham)
  3. “Unearthing history – miscellanea of documents recently discovered at the Notarial Archives, Malta” Sarah Watkinson on behalf of Joan Abela (Notarial Archives Malta)
  4. “Forgotten Histories: Neglected Collections in India” Arthur Dudney (Oxford University)
  5. “Fire in the Archives: Recognising the issues of damaged and destroyed collections” Rachel Dunn (University of Durham)
  6. “Not all who Wanter in L’Archivio di Stato di Firenze are Lost” Christine Contrada (University of Richmond)

1:00 – 1: 55 Lunch, and Group Plenary Discussion and Voting

2:00 – 3:30: Session 3 

20 Minute Papers

Panel A: Undermining the Archive

Chair: Nadine Akkerman

  1. “How to Hide Things in Archives” Arnold Hunt, (British Library)
  2. “Learning From Past Practice: Lessons from Problematic Conservation Treatments” Paul Garside and Cordelia Rogerson, (British Library)
  3. “A Provocation to Thought: Disruption as a generative process for historical research on texts and objects” Leonie Hannan (UCL)

Panel B: Failing the Canon

Chair: Emma Jay (National Archives)

  1. “Incapable but not irritable: reaching after facts in libraries and archives” Susan Halpert (Houghton Library, Harvard)
  2. “Inventing Shakespeare” Valerie Johnson and David Thomas (National Archives)
  3. “Early Modern Broadsheets between Archives and Libraries: A Possible Integration?” Flavia Bruni (St. Andrews)

3:30 – 4:10: Afternoon Tea

4:15 – 5:45: Group Plenary

6:00 – 7:30: Keynote Lecture: Natalie Zemon Davis (Gustav Tuck Lecture Theatre, UCL)

7:30 – 9:00: Reception

Conference Location

Conference Registration


Registration has now opened for Failure in the Archives:

For the conference and keynote:

For keynote only, in the event you are not free for the entire day:

Reminder: CFP deadline 31 July

A reminder that the deadline for proposals for Failure in the Archives is 31 July. We have already had a mix of exciting proposals from researchers, archivists, and librarians, but there is room for more!

With an aim to include as many participants as possible, ‘Failure in the Archives’ welcomes proposals for two types of presentations, which will be peer-reviewed.

  1. 200 word abstracts for 10 minute ‘Lightning Round’ panels.
  2. 400 word abstracts for 20 minute presentations, which will be pre-circulated to panel chairs and respondents.

Click here for the full call for papers.


Call for Papers


30 October 2014

Call for Papers

The Centre for Editing Lives and Letters (CELL) is pleased to announce ‘Failure in the Archives’, a conference celebrating the frustrations of archival research, to be held on 30 October 2014. ‘Failure in the Archives’ will provide a forum to examine everything that doesn’t belong in traditional conferences and publications, from dead-end research trips to unanswered questions. The dangers of misstepping in the archive are endless, no matter how robust the finding-aids. ‘Failure in the Archives’ aims to make that danger useful.

How do we respond to the resistance, or worse, the silences and gaps, that we find in the archives? Scholarship tends toward success stories, but this conference seeks presentations from a range of disasters that arise when navigating the depths of the archive: damaged, destroyed, mislabelled, misrepresented materials, forgeries, exaggerated significance, and gaps in the historical record. Overall, the experience of failure in the archive is truly interdisciplinary, skewing the warp and woof of close reading and big data alike, not to mention posing everyday problems for archivists and librarians working on the frontlines to make their collections accessible.

We are pleased to announce that the keynote address on the conference theme will be given by Natalie Zemon Davis.

We welcome proposals on any aspect of early modern archival work, manuscript or print, covering the period 1500-1800. Topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Materials which challenge cataloguing standards
  • Uncatalogued material – how to find it, how to access it, how to use it
  • Inaccurate cataloguing – tensions between past and present.
  • Broken or dispersed collections
  • Damaged, destroyed, or compromised collections
  • The ethics of maintaining archives
  • The ethics of archival research – especially when working with sensitive material
  • Absences and silences in the archive
  • Difficulties conserving and preserving materials
  • Conflicts of information between archival sources
  • Digitisation and its discontents
  • Agents in the archives: collectors, archivists, researchers

Conference Structure

Fearless toward failure, another goal of this conference is to experiment with format and encourage a high level of participation among conference attendees. For example, panel chairs and respondents will be as valuable to our discussions as presenters – so please do get in touch if you would like to volunteer for these positions. Finally, the last session of the conference will be decided collectively by conference attendees. All attendees will have the opportunity to submit ‘pitches’ until the afternoon of the conference. A ‘pitch’ basically follows the format of a Call for Papers: it includes a theme, a brief overview of guiding questions, methods, and problems that arise when considering the theme, proposing possibilities for driving conversation forward. For examples of pitches, see the Radical Librarians Collective ( Pitches will be available on the conference website, and after reading through them during the lunch break on the conference, attendees will vote on the session they’d most like to participate in.

With an aim to include as many participants as possible, ‘Failure in the Archives’ welcomes proposals for two types of presentations, which will be peer-reviewed.

1) 200 word abstracts for 10 minute ‘Lightning Round’ panels.

2) 400 word abstracts for 20 minute presentations, which will be pre-circulated to panel chairs and respondents.

A small fund for travel bursaries will be available for postgraduate students – please indicate in your application if you would like to be considered for this.

All questions, feedback, and proposals are due to no later than 31 July 2014.