Retroactivism in Place-Based Archives

Place-based archives make the political and rhetorical argument that any materials in their collections are worth preserving, and queer place-based archives further such claims by assembling their collections from materials that have been overlooked, discarded, or discounted by official archives. In her second chapter, “Classifying Collections: Subversive Schemas as Topoi in Place-Based Archives,” Bessette demonstrated how two queer place-based archives—the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA) and the June L. Mazer Archives (JLMA)&emdash;make use of classification as topos in order to create themselves as retroactivist archives.

  • • Place-based archives created by American lesbian collectives draw non-academic visitors seeking to learn more about queer pasts for personal reasons.
  • • These archives collect personal, official, and popular materials, fostering emotional learning about and personal identification with queer pasts.
  • • Visitors are allowed and encouraged to engage with materials in haptic, self-directed ways, moving and rearranging materials in order to draw new connections among their stories.
  • • The rhetorical strategy of classification-as-topos blurs hard boundaries among archival categories of medium and content, making synecdoche and repetition tangible.

VIDEO: Sample introductory video Lesbian Herstory Archives: A Brief Herstory from Megan Rossman on Vimeo. Download Transcript