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.