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Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace

Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives

Linda M. Morra and Jessica Schagerl, editors

Life Writing Series

Hardcover 348 pp.

ISBN13: 978-1-55458-632-5

Release Date: September 2012

Online discount: 25%

$85.00  $63.75


eBook availability

Women’s letters and memoirs were until recently considered to have little historical significance. Many of these materials have disappeared or remain unarchived, often dismissed as ephemera and relegated to basements, attics, closets, and, increasingly, cyberspace rather than public institutions. This collection showcases the range of critical debates that animate thinking about women’s archives in Canada.

The essays in Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace consider a series of central questions: What are the challenges that affect archival work about women in Canada today? What are some of the ethical dilemmas that arise over the course of archival research? How do researchers read and make sense of the materials available to them? How does one approach the shifting, unstable forms of new technologies? What principles inform the decisions not only to research the lives of women but to create archival deposits? The contributors focus on how a supple research process might allow for greater engagement with unique archival forms and critical absences in narratives of past and present.

From questions of acquisition, deposition, and preservation to challenges related to the interpretation of material, the contributors track at various stages how fonds are created (or sidestepped) in response to national and other imperatives and to feminist commitments; how archival material is organized, restricted, accessed, and interpreted; how alternative and immediate archives might be conceived and approached; and how exchanges might be read when there are peculiar lacunae—missing or fragmented documents, or gaps in communication—that then require imaginative leaps on the part of the researcher.

Linda M. Morra is a full professor in the English Department at Bishop’s University and the forthcoming Craig Dobbin Chair of Canadian Studies at UCD (2016-2017). She and Deanna Reder co-edited Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations (WLU Press, 2010). Her most recent book, Unarrested Archives: Case Studies in Twentieth-Century Women’s Authorship (2014), was a finalist for the Gabrielle Roy Award. Canada.

Jessica Schagerl’s research focuses on Canadian studies, drawing heavily on archival material; she is also invested in questions of professional concern, including mentoring and the futures of arts and humanities. She is the alumni and development officer for the Faculty of Arts and Humanities at the University of Western Ontario.


“Archives work is pretty lonely and up until this book there was little concrete guidance and reassurance about the possibilities and limits of archival research. Simply put this book became dynamite in my hands. Familiar voices from archives conferences and L.M. Montgomery studies like Devereau, Lefebvre, Tiessen, and Panofsky, opened up new aspects from the very first page of articles.... The panorama of texts presents Canadian women’s archival research as a minefield of possibilities, but the intersection of film, politics, women, and archives in Hannah McGregor’s text ‘An Archive of Complicity: Ethically (Re)Reading the Documentaries of Nelifer Pazira’ jettisons archival research into new spheres to address Canada from new even more complex perspectives.”

— Mary McDonald-Rissanen, University of Tampere, Finland, Cantext

Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace is a fine example of the systematic ways in which Canadian scholars (to a greater degree, perhaps, than their Australian counterparts) have successfully opened out and responded to some of the larger and more compelling questions concerning what it means to work in, and with, archived personal papers, whether as archivists or researchers. As Morra and Schagerl observe, their collection ‘addresses the real and sometimes peculiar challenges that affect archival work today’, and they freely admit that some of that work now involves ‘deciding what constitutes and archive’ (p. 1). The subtitle, Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives, indicates that the volume is especially directed towards those engaged in ongoing debates concerning the archiving of material produced by women, but those professing little or no knowledge of these debates or Canadian literature more generally still have much to gain from these detailed and sometimes provocative essays. If, as Catherine Hobbs suggests in her contribution ... ‘archival theory has done a terrible job of accommodating the particular needs of individual peoples’ archives’ (p. 181), this volume arguably goes some way towards addressing this lacuna. Comprising 20 essays, as well as a lengthy introduction and afterword, it is a substantial work.... While the last section contains perhaps the most explicit reflection on questions of ethics, contributors across the volume consistently return to this aspect of archival work, thus making it a valuable resource for anyone seeking to extend their understanding of the many ethical dimensions invovled in managing personal papers, whether in their acquisition, processing, accessing or scholarly use.... [A] major contribution to ongoing debates in the area of personal papers.... Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace is a valuable addition to current scholarship and debate and, as such, deserves to be read and appreciated well beyond the Canadian border.”

— Maryanne Dever, University of Newcastle, Archives and Manuscripts

“This anthology, with its strong editors’ introduction and Janice Fiamengo’s illustrative afterword, is a welcome addition to the archival researcher’s bookshelf. Taken together, its insightful essays amply demonstrate the various complexities involved in responsibly interpreting the lives, experiences and motivations of women in Canada’s intellectual, political and cultural life.”

— Barbara M. Freeman, Herizons

“Although the essays are written within a Canadian context, the issues brought forward are universal. This book will be helpful to archivists; teachers/practitioners in archival or library science and their students; and researchers, particularly those who work in the area of cultural memory.... Recommended.”

— L.J. Sherlock, Victoria University Library, Choice

“One of the many strengths of this volume is the inclusion of the perspectives of those who have been archived.... As well, I find the inclusion of an archivist’s perspective valuable.... [These perspectives] serve as a reminder of the impact of the actual work of archival appraisal and processing on a body of records.... In her thoughtful afterword, Janice Fiamengo regrets the lack of training she received in archival research as a graduate student in English. Morra and Schargerl’s collection of essays should easily act as the beginnings of such an education. Though it does not offer a how-to, it does present the reader with numerous thoughtful and engaging points of view on the nature and value of the archive, on the challenges of archival research and its risks and benefits, and on the ethical imperatives associated with all different types of archive work. The book provides an excellent starting point for an investigation of Hobb’s fundamental question: ‘What does it mean to ‘do right’ by someone’s achives?’”

— Jennifer Douglas, University of Victoria and University of British Columbia, Labour/Le Travail

Basements and Attics theorizes archives as non-neutral sites, and articulates archival work as open to critical interpretations and methodologies.... Each section explores alternative research by highlighting the resourcefulness of publishers’ archives, private collections, or digital repositories. The contributions included in ‘Reorientations’ and ‘Responsibilities,’ for instance, constitute excellent ‘how-to’ guides for researchers interested not only in how archives problematize (dis)location, representation, and cultural translation, but also in ethical (re)readings of an author’s literary career.... Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace...serves as an essential guide in defining what constitutes an archive—as an ideologically and culturally constructed site—and in addressing pertinent challenges encountered both in the creation and study of Canadian women’s archives, and also those presented by the advent of new technologies.”

— Cristina Ivanovici, Canadian Literature

“Each of the volume’s authors explores some of the unacknowledged, yet crucial, ethical, material, and cultural boundaries that pertain to the archiving of, and access to, the works of Canadian women.... The book’s contributors also address issues extending beyond gender, such as the challenges of archiving digital works and those of a more ephemeral nature, modes of resistant reading and in every way challenge the static view of how we might come to understand both archives and the process of archiving.”

— Kane Faucher, Western News

Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace

Table of Contents

Related interest

Biography and autobiography

Life writing

Women's studies

By the same editor

Troubling Tricksters: Revisioning Critical Conversations, Deanna Reder and Linda M. Morra, editors

Learn, Teach, Challenge: Approaching Indigenous Literatures, Deanna Reder and Linda M. Morra, editors

Related links

Linda M. Morra's website