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Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace

Explorations in Canadian Women’s Archives

Edited by Linda M. Morra & Jessica Schagerl
Subjects Biography & Autobiography, Archival Studies, Life Writing, Social Science, Women’s Studies
Series Life Writing Hide Details
Hardcover : 9781554586325, 348 pages, September 2012
Paperback : 9781771123280, 348 pages, June 2018
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781554584307, 348 pages, January 2013
Ebook (PDF) : 9781554586509, 348 pages, January 2013

Table of contents

Table of Contents for Basements and Attics, Closets and Cyberspace: Explorations in Women's Archives, edited by Linda M. Morra and Jessica Schagerl
Introduction: No Archive is Neutral | Linda M. Morra and Jessica Schagerl
I. Reorientations
Of Mini-Ships and Archives | Daphne Marlatt
Finding Indian Maidens on eBay: Tales of the Alternative Archive (and More Tales of White Commodity Culture) | Cecily Devereux
“Faster Than a Speeding Thought”: Lemon Hound's Archive Unleashed | Karis Shearer and Jessica Schagerl
“I remember…I was wearing leather pants”: Archiving the Repertoire of Feminist Cabaret in Canada | T.L. Cowan
“In the hope of making a connection”: (Re)Reading Archival Bodies, Responses, and Love in Marian Engel's Bear and Alice Munro's “Meneseteung” | Catherine Bates
An Archive of Complicity: Ethically (Re)Reading the Documentaries of Nelofer Pazira | Hannah McGregor
Psyche and Her Helpers, under Cloud Cover | Penn Kemp
II. Restrictions
Archival Matters | Sally Clark
Keeping the Archive Door Open: Writing about Florence Carlyle | Susan Butlin
The Oral, the Archive, and Ethics: Canadian Women Writers Telling It | Andrea Beverley
Halted by the Archive: The Impact of Excessive Archival Restrictions on Scholars | Ruth Panofsky and Michael Moir
Personal Ethics: Being an Archivist of Writers | Catherine Hobbs
Invisibility Exhibit: The Limits of Library and Archives Canada's “Multicultural Mandate” | Karina Vernon
III. Responsibilities
Rat in the Box: Thoughts on Archiving My Stuff | Susan McMaster
Letters to the Woman's Page Editor: Francis Marion Beynon's “The Country Homemakers” and a Public Culture for Women | Katja Thieme
Archival Adventures with L.M. Montgomery; or, “As Long as the Leaves Hold Together” | Vanessa Brown and Benjamin Lefebvre
The Quality of the Carpet: A Consideration of Anecdotes in Researching Women's Lives | Linda M. Morra
“I want my story told”: The Sheila Watson Archive, the Reader, and the Search for Voice | Paul Tiessen
“You can do with all this rambling whatever you want”: Scrutinizing Ethics in the Alzheimer's Archives | Kathleen Venema
Locking Up Letters | Julia Creet
Afterword | Janice Fiamengo


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.


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, Fall 2013, 2013 November 1

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, 219, Winter 2013, 2014 July 1

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, 73, 2014 June 1

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, 2013 October 1

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, 2013 June 1