A Critical Archival Pedagogy: The Lesbian Herstory Archives and a Course in Radical Lesbian Thought

By Carden, Kailah R.; Vaught, Sabina E. et al. | Radical Teacher, Summer 2016 | Go to article overview

A Critical Archival Pedagogy: The Lesbian Herstory Archives and a Course in Radical Lesbian Thought


Carden, Kailah R., Vaught, Sabina E., Munoz, Arturo, Pinto, Vanessa, Vaught, Cecilia, Zeigler, Maya, Radical Teacher


"[T]he archive" has a capital "A," is figurative, and leads elsewhere. It may represent neither material site nor a set of documents. Rather, it may serve as a strong metaphor for any corpus of selective forgettings and collections...

--Ann Laura Stoler

I have learned that the goals of an archivist and of a storyteller are not so different. We keep stories alive, we create stories, and (most of all) we create potential.

--Arturo Munoz

Introduction

Archives are variously understood as institutions, repositories, concepts, and even subjects. Here, we describe how we have taken up Lesbian archives as both radical sites of knowledge production and exchange, and as pedagogical subjects. In the spring of 2015, we piloted an undergraduate seminar entitled, "Radical Lesbian Thought," nicknamed "RadLez" by the students. For their final project, the six students in this course developed their own archives in relation to their learning through and at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA). Additionally, Arturo, Cecilia, Maya, and Pinto, or The Rad Lez Kidz as they named themselves, expanded their archival inquiry as a self-directed independent study the following academic year, forging cross-institutional, intergenerational collaborations and shifting the location of pedagogical power.

Through the course, we radically co-produced inquiry and knowledge. Specifically, we undertook dialogic praxes of critical pedagogy to both study thought and to build thought. In other words, the subject matter was also the practice of learning. As Cecilia wrote at the end of the semester,

I have learned an immense amount not just about the histories of Radical Lesbian thought but also of a practice of thinking and knowledge production that we have both studied and endeavored in.... As we're studying the production of Radical Lesbian thought, we are also producing Radical Lesbian thought.... The course has mirrored a Radical Lesbian thought method of knowledge production.

We learned Radical Lesbian Thought through the doing of Radical Lesbian Thought. The dialogic interplay between content and praxis was ongoing so that the subject matter dynamically changed through our practice of it.

This paper is the story of how we collectively forged a critical, Lesbian archival pedagogy through dialogic praxes. In section one we explore three theoretical framings of archives (Gopinath, 2010; Halberstam, 2005; Stoler, 2002) paired with three features of our radical Lesbian pedagogical praxes: dialogue and difference; collaborative knowledge production; and archival methodology. In section two, we illustrate these critical archival praxes through three course activities: writing and reading archival letters; conducting research at the LHA; and creating final archives.

Background

Radical Lesbian Thought: Centering the Archives

The syllabus for the course Radical Lesbian Thought emerged through dialogue between Kailah, a graduate student and TA in Educational Studies, and Sabina, an advisor and professor in Educational Studies. This dialogue was a practice of intergenerational Lesbian knowledge exchange that would be repeated throughout the course development, implementation, and the ensuing intellectual communities and projects. Significantly, the Department of Education at Tufts University supported this course idea through a course development grant awarded to Kailah. The program in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Tufts co-listed the course.

Our initial course description, on the front page of the syllabus, communicated the parameters of our exploration of radical Lesbian thought and situated it as archivally contextualized:

   Course Description: This course will consider radical Lesbian
   knowledge production during the second half of the twentieth
   century in the United States. Radical Lesbian thought encompasses
   dynamic, complex, and at times contradictory bodies of knowledge. … 

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