ICHORA 2020, DAY 5: Jessica Lapp, “Exploring Records Creation in Digital Archives of Feminist Activism”

Note: This presentation was part of a three-person panel entitled “What the Archives Can(t) Give Us: Thinking Through Archival Disturbances.”

With “Provenancial Fabulation: Exploring Records Creation in Digital Archives of Feminist Activism,” Jessica Lapp discusses records creation and archival collection creation within the context of the feminist movement in Toronto. Lapp explains the concept of “provenancial fabulation,” a term that Lapp developed during doctoral studies, which involves thinking through how archives of feminist materials envision and enact records origins and order through arrangement and description. Lapp acknowledges inspiration from Saidiya Hartman’s “critical fabulation” and Donna Haraway’s “speculative fabulation” theories. [1]

Lapp 1 (1)

According to Lapp, the theory of provenancial fabulation has four propositions: (1) it plays with conflicting contexts and relates them to one another; (2) it reorients order and organization of the past; (3) it expands the boundaries of historical records; and, (4) it acts “infrastructurally” to disseminate concepts, narratives and relationalities. Using these propositions, Lapp explores materials in two digital feminist archives—Alternative Toronto: A Digital Community Archive and Rise Up! Feminist Digital Archive

The first proposition is explained through a conversation Lapp had with Dr. Lilian Radovac of Alternative Toronto. Lapp explains that Radovac finds difficulty in working with collections that she herself has active memories of and that her memories often conflict with the official narrative. This forms part of the work of Alternative Toronto in building a more multifaceted collective memory by including contradictory accounts, which help to shape a deeper understanding of the feminist movement. 

Lapp illustrates how provenance ‘reorients order of the past’ through the views presented by creators and commenters on the internet. Alternative Toronto and Rise Up! accomplish this work by sharing archival holdings via social media and other projects in order to expand the historical movement into contemporary struggles. Making these connections between the past and present is important in avoiding erasure of communities, according to Lapp. 

Thirdly, curators of Alternative Toronto and Rise Up! arrange their collections, thereby expanding ‘the boundaries of historical records.’ Lapp explains that the act of digitizing these holdings allows the records to forge a new trajectory through their presence and groupings online. The records’ aggregates through searches and groupings expands the original connections. 

Lapp describes the fourth proposition of “provenancial fabulation” using a conversation with activist Tara Cleveland of Rise Up! Cleveland works to attribute creators to collectively generated records that, Lapp claims, provides a more community-based method, though sometimes identifying people or organizations involved in a social movement can prove impossible. Rise Up! affirms this position in their copyright statement, in which they state that access to original materials from social movements is a “public good.” [2]

Calling for a deeper understanding of records creation, Lapp argues that this process should take into consideration both systems of feminist knowledge creation and archival stewardship. Lapp explains that provenancial fabulation allows for fluidity in creation and use of records, as well as in the arrangement and rearrangement of collections. 

[1] Saidiya Hartman, “Venus in Two Acts,” Small Axe 12:2 (2008): 1-14; Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

[2] The full statement, effective April 25, 2018, may be found at Rise Up! A Digital Archive of Feminist Activism.

Natalie Worsham, MLIS, MA

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