2024 NEH Content Warning

Content Warning: Engaging Trauma and Controversy in Research Collections is an NEH Institute for Higher Education Faculty, bringing together faculty and advanced graduate students in the humanities whose research addresses traumatic and/or controversial memories and histories and relies on archival or museum collections to interpret them. We will host 25 participants and an interdisciplinary faculty team for a 3-week residential program at Indiana University Bloomington, providing participants the opportunity to utilize campus and local community collections.

Institute Co-Directors Maria Hamilton Abegunde and Suzanne Godby Ingalsbe will be joined by eleven additional faculty members bringing a broad array of content area expertise, disciplinary training, and personal experience to bear on their work with the experiences of groups and individuals historically excluded and targeted for violence, as well as coping with tragedies such as accidents or environmental catastrophe. In conversation with them, institute participants will learn ways to honor and respect differences that have often been suppressed and misrepresented in collections. Most importantly, they will learn and develop practices to engage and sustain contact with traumatic and controversial collections without becoming overwhelmed or debilitated, so that they may share what they have learned with each other, their students, and the communities that they serve.

These questions guide the institute:
• How do we engage traumatic and controversial materials? How do we assist researchers and collections workers to care for themselves through extended contact with painful histories?
• Who are the institutional and community gatekeepers of information, artifacts, and stories that construct or assemble an archive? What contexts shape their practices? And, how do these practices ensure what we remember and forget?
• How are internal (institutional) and external (public) narratives constructed?
• What is the archivist or curator’s responsibility vis-à-vis the narratives that are created and transmission of those narratives?
• What differences exist between formal and informal documentation practices? How can these practices be in conflict or dialogue with each other? How can they work together to assist researchers in creating spaces and places for encounter and understanding?

This three-week residential program includes faculty panels and discussions, small group dialogues, and visits to collections. It includes time for participants to work in research collections and on their final institute projects. Three weeks will provide ample opportunity for participants to engage with faculty and each other and to conduct significant research in the partner repositories.

Indiana University Bloomington is home to numerous world-renowned research collections. For this institute we are partnering with the Archives of Traditional Music (ATM), Black Film Center/Archives (BFC/A), IU Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology (IUMAA), Kinsey Institute, Lilly Library, Herman B Wells Library, and Wylie House Museum. Bloomington has several additional resource and museum sites, including the Monroe County Public Library (MCPL) and Monroe County History Center (MCHC). About 90 minutes away, Indianapolis offers us options such as the Conner Prairie living history museum.

To establish a shared foundation of knowledge, participants will be provided a set of core readings to read prior to the institute that introduce frameworks of theory and practice for collections-based institutions. These will be discussed in the first group meeting. We will also solicit from each participant a recommended text for a shared bibliography to guide research practice and serve as teaching resources. Prior to arrival, participants will also describe primary source collections (anywhere) with which they have worked or are interested in working and identify the institute’s partner repositories in which they are most interested in conducting research. Repository staff members will provide lists of potentially relevant collections for each participant.

Community Agreements
Within the first two days, participants will create a set of institute community agreements choosing how they want to speak, be spoken to, be listened to, and be interacted with to guide how they will interact with each other, the collections, guests, co-directors, and community members.

Civic Reflection Dialogue
“Civic Reflection Dialogue [CRD] is a conversation model that uses a shared source (such as a poem, image, or film excerpt) to help groups of people think and talk more deeply about their shared world and differing values and commitments” (Civic Reflection Center). Our shared sources will be the collections we visit. Co-director Abegunde, a trained CRD trainer and facilitator, will model this practice to encourage participants to pay attention to how they select materials and how they develop research questions to explore those materials, and to understand how both are shaped by their positionality, disciplines, and historical/social/cultural/political contexts.

Contemplative Practices
Contemplative practices such as journaling, deep dialogue, active listening, and quiet are proven to help people monitor and self-regulate their responses to difficult situations. These practices also encourage participants to engage with collections, artifacts, and other resource materials slowly and with attention to what they are encountering and how they are being impacted. Such practices invite researchers to become comfortable naming and articulating what is happening. This practice, once understood and embodied, can assist when teaching and working with others who are newly encountering traumatic collections.

Core Readings
Faculty represent a range of research interests: slavery and lynching; LGBTQ+ and gender studies; colonialism; social movements; environmental justice; African American, African, and Native American histories; and religion. They represent research and archival practices including narrative study, qualitative analysis, and arts-based methodologies. Participants will read excerpts from faculty’s longer works and discuss them with the faculty panels. When possible, texts will be made available digitally.

In addition, the following core works will be assigned: Teaching to Transgress (bell hooks), Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments (Saidiya Hartman), Silencing the Past: Power and Production of History (Trouillot), “Pedagogies of the Sacred” (M. Jacqui Alexander), “Interview with Yad Vashem” (LaCapra), Immaterial Archive: An African Diaspora Poetics of Loss (Jenny Sharpe), “From Speechlessness to Narrative: The Cases of Holocaust Historians and of the Psychiatrically Hospitalized Survivors” (Laub), and Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (Jacques Derrida, trans. Eric Prenowitz). Reading these works prior to arrival will allow participants to familiarize themselves with the various ways scholars have and are contemplating what an archive is (Derrida), how archives are used to produce history (Trouillot), how cultural practices determine what and who an archive is (Alexander), and the different ways that the arts can become archives (Sharpe). hooks’ work will help participants ground themselves in what it means to be a reflective scholar, especially when encountering work that is controversial and traumatic. Derrida, Hartman, and Trouillot’s works speak directly to the dynamics of power inherent in the constructing and assembling of archives, the subsequent creation of narratives that rely on them, and how those narratives are rewritten to create a “history” from evidence that may or may not include the lived experiences of oppressed and silenced groups (e.g., people of color, women, and children). These will help us build a shared foundation on which to base our discussions.

These works also lay the foundation for participants to be in discussion with the institute’s scholars. For example, Alexander’s text foreshadows Otero’s Archives of Conjure: Stories of the Dead in AfroLatinx Cultures; both challenge our understanding of the dead and the past and cultural practices that create archives. Sharpe’s text helps us to be in dialogue with faculty artists Crowe Storm and L. Renée, discussing use of archives to create artistic works that help them and audiences remember and grieve.