[This is a Call for Papers for Archival Science's Special Issue on Deserts as Archives. Scroll down to find instructions for submission.]
Deserts in our collective imagination mean annihilation, romanticism, emptiness, and death. Because it defies the ordinary notions of place, the desert may evoke an erroneous state of “nothingness.” Even Libyan novelist Ibrahim al-Koni has highlighted this fact in declaring that the “desert is not a place” because it defies the ordinary definition of emplacement. The archive itself has been likened to a desert, where “archivists are lone arrangers alone in these store rooms, basements, and archival storage facilities” (Jessika Drmasich, 2022, email exchange). Engaging with ideas of deserts’ “placelessness,” nothingness and fullness, this special issue draws on cutting-edge archival theory to examine the archival dimensions of deserts across the world, with a special focus on the Sahara.
Archives evoke documents, vaults, organized boxes, closed doors, guarded access, and both navigation and construction of various forms of authority (Derrida 1995, Steedman 2001, Mbembe 2002, Stoler 2008). The authority vested in the archive is such that the very possibility of historical statements is contingent on their existence (Foucault 1969). Archives also came to be associated with loss, incompleteness, and silence as well as power relations between the dominant and the dominated, most often connoting secrecy and uncomfortable truths. However, the advent of the digital age improved storage and collection, democratizing, albeit theoretically, the possibility of access to data across the globe (Szekely 2017; Mizruchi 2020). Transitional justice systems and the increasing awareness of the need to create spaces for groups that suffered from exclusion and silencing have refocused archives on trauma (Harris 2014, 2020), healing, and recognition, giving rise to other-archives (El Guabli 2018).
The theoretical vibrance of archive studies and practice have, however, remained mainly urban or tethered to ordinary notions of built environment. Deserts have figured on the periphery of archival theory, and their potential for a better understanding of archives has remained outside the scope of archivist theorizations. Although human life in deserts may be harsher compared to other spaces, the desertic space is home to infinite layers of existence that undergird its archivist potential. From the Libyco-Berber script engravings in the al-ṣaḥrā’ al-kubrā (the Great Sahara) and the discovery of the 5000-year-old pottery in the Chinese desert to the shifting migrant trails in Sonora and the Sahara, desert archives are stable and malleable, ephemeral and ethereal, hidden and visible; ranging from unmarked graves to High-Tec surveillance materials. Nothing stays entirely hidden or visible in the desert because sooner or later it will be covered or uncovered by the moving sand. The stability of rocks and ruins is contrasted by the aerial movement of nuclear particles and the erasable traces of migratory paths on the sand. Thus, unlike any other archive, desert archive is both expandable and self-erasing, visible and invisible. It encompasses (ir)retrievable experiences of past and present enforced labor, residues of nuclear experiments, scars of state brutality, blueprints of border fencing, and stories of grandiose plans for the desert. Desert archives are therefore both local and translocal, connecting different regimes of knowledge and conceptualizations of notions of provenance, storage, and access.
Papers in this special issue will endeavor to theorize and conceptualize deserts’ archival potential, beyond accepted notions of archives and archiving practices from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Areas of focus and possible topics may include:
- Desert archive through indigenous epistemologies and temporalities
- Desert as an archive of non-human existence and/or critical approaches to anthropocentric notions of archive
- Desert archive as an afterlife of (neo)colonial and state violence
- Desert archive and space as a locus for historical contestation and historiographical rewriting
- Desert as an archive for routes of human mobility
- Desert as a fictional archive of cultural and historical memory
- Desert as home to different layers of temporality
- Desert as an archive which contests mainstream ideas about deserts as natural borders or romanticized depictions thereof as “bridges”
- Desert as an archive of racial making
- Desert as an archive of linguistic plurality Desert as an archive of oral literature/verbal arts
- Methodologies to retrieve desert archival records
- Discussions of the limitations and the possibilities involved in the access, use and re-creation of desert archives
- Current/novel engagements of desert archives by scholars but also activists, artists, writers, and public discourse
As an interdisciplinary special issue, Deserts as Archives seeks to stimulate critical reflection on the desertic spaces as archives, proposing new definitions based on the ephemerality of the archive, the material as well as the non-human elements that make up the archive of the desert and the desert as archive. Papers that propose new concepts and analytical frameworks, and which build on interdisciplinary methods and multimodal sources to account for the desert as archive are particularly welcome.
Brahim El Guabli, Williams College, USA (email@example.com)
Itzea Goikolea-Amiano, IMF-CSIC, Spain
Abstract Submission deadline: April 30, 2022.
Notification of acceptance or rejection of Abstracts: May 15, 2022.
Article Submission deadline: October 15, 2022.
Review time: October to April 2023.
Abstracts (500-1,000 words) and a short bio (200 words) should be emailed to the guest editors Brahim El Guabli (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Itzea Goikolea-Amiano (email@example.com) by April 30, 2022. The editors will notify authors whether their abstract is accepted or rejected by May 15, 2022. Authors whose abstracts are accepted will have to submit their manuscript for peer review by October 15, 2022. Acceptance of an abstract does not imply ultimate acceptance of the completed paper for publication. Articles for inclusion in the special issue will go through a rigorous peer review process. Submissions should be made online via the Archival Science editorial manager system. Please select article type “SI: Deserts as Archive” upon submission of the manuscript. Authors are encouraged to follow the journal suggestion for papers not to exceed 7,000-8,000 words and are expected to conform to the journal’s publication guidelines.