Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Zentrum für Transdisziplinäre Geschlechterstudien

Re-Imagining the Archive: Sexual Politics and Postcolonial Entanglements

Joint research project funded by a Princeton-HU Strategic Partnership Grant.

The archive and questions of its politics, infrastructures, and technologies are a prominent focus of research within Gender, Sexuality, and Postcolonial Studies. In recent years, universities, museums of natural history as well as ethnological museums, national archives and scientific collections, both in North America and in Western Europe, have undergone increased academic as well as public scrutiny regarding their historical entanglements with colonial history. The focus has been on the specific material collected and preserved, the archives' content and its representation, the production of data (cultural, social, biological, etc.) as well as the very politics of selection, the historical narratives they enable, and the gaps they necessarily entail. Whose and what knowledges are archived and what is absent? What concepts of history, belonging or life itself do different archives generate and pass on?
In this project that comprises extensive teaching and research exchange under the joint roof of the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies (ZtG) at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Princeton University’s Program in Gender and Sexuality Studies (GSS) we want to re-imagine the archive as a research tool and laboratory that encompasses alternative ways of creating academic knowledge. Against the simple binary of absence/presence, we argue that the idea of re-imagining the archive needs to rest on more complex methods than "rescuing" forgotten artefacts and/or adding the stories of minoritized subjects to existing historical narratives. Re-imagining here means reading both with and against the grain, focusing on the messy entanglements and the sexual politics that any form of archiving entails. This includes work with the material objects, classificatory orders, and the socio-material, spatial, and temporal constellations that configure archives. How, in short, can we re-imagine the archive in such a way that the practice of imagination becomes a methodological tool in itself.

PIs: Prof. Wallace D. Best (Princeton University, Religion and African American Studies), Prof. Silvy Chakkalakal (HU, European Ethnology) and Prof. Elahe Haschemi Yekani (HU, English and American Studies)




Digital Conference: Thursday March 18, 2021 (9 am to 4 pm EDT / 14.00 to 21.00 CET) (via Zoom, registration link below)

Re-Mapping Memory: Possibilities of Postcolonial and Anti-Racist (Counter)Archiving


Poster Re-Mapping Memory




















download a flyer with full schedule and details
(Poster Design: Thao Ho)


download the program booklet


In light of the recent anti-racist protests in reaction to continued police violence in the United States and across the globe, the Princeton-HU Strategic Partnership Research Project Re‑Imagining the Archive: Sexual Politics and Postcolonial Entanglements is hosting a one-day digital conference on Thursday, March 18th, 2021, to discuss the current challenges of memorial cultures and politics. The simultaneous critique of racism, sexism, and transphobia in different places across the globe in 2020 marked a specific moment in time that we take as a prompt to further the conversation on anti-racist and postcolonial memorial and archival practices and methodologies. How and where do we encounter the legacies of enslavement and colonialism in our everyday lives, in our research and our institutions’ histories? What strategies can we find to publicly address and counter these histories of violence? This includes the renaming of streets and the removal of statues but also the creation of new sites of commemoration. Keynote speaker Anjali Arondekar and panelists will address the following questions: How can transdisciplinary gender and postcolonial studies, combining historiographic, literary, and anthropological perspectives, not only challenge existing archives, but also re-imagine methodologies of archiving? How do the body, feeling and aspiration act as archives and how can we approach the archive itself as a processual hub of relationships and struggles? In other words, which archival hermeneutics are required to tell marginalized gendered (hi)stories, including fictional and speculative re-imaginations as alternative forms of (counter)archives, and envision possible queer antiracist/antisexist futures?




09.00-10.30 / 14.00-15.30    


Panel 1: Archival Affordances and Political Struggles

Chair: Mari Jarris


Anne Potjans: Transnational Attachments: The Emotional Politics of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement


RL Goldberg: Wrongly Bodied, Too: Clarissa Sligh’s Black/Trans Archive


Tara Suri: Between the Body and the Population: The Soviet Vacuum Aspirator and the Politics of Abortion in Postcolonial India (1952-1971)


10.30-10.45 / 15.30-15.45



10.45-12.15 / 15.45-17.15  

Roundtable Discussion: Possibilities of Postcolonial and Anti-Racist (Counter)Archiving in the Present Moment

Chair: Wallace D. Best


Panelists: Natalie Bayer, Anja Sunhyun Michaelsen, Silvy Chakkalakal and Elahe Haschemi Yekani


12.15 -12.45 / 17.15-17.45  



12.45-13.35 / 17.45-18.35  

Panel 2: The Body as Archive

Chair: Todd Sekuler


Sina Holst: The Body as Time Machine: Trauma Theory, Time and the Body


Jiya Pandya: Living Through History: Reproductive Disability in a Scientific Archive of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy 


13.35-14.00 / 18.35-19.00  



14.00-15.30 / 19.00-20.30      


Anjali Arondekar: Abundance: Sexuality’s Archives


Introduction: Silvy Chakkalakal

Anjali Arondekar (Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, and founding Co-Director, Center for South Asian Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz)

Abundance: Sexuality’s Archives

Histories of sexuality routinely mediate past(s) through archival forms of paucity, disenfranchisement and loss. Sexuality, particularly in the global south, is rescued from the detritus of hegemonic histories of colonialism and nationalism and placed within more reparative narratives of reform and rights. This talk challenges such a focus on loss as the structuring mode of narration for histories of sexuality. Instead, I explore the radical abundance of sexuality through archives in South Asia that are plentiful and quotidian, imaginative and ordinary. Two central questions are at stake here: (1) What if we are to shift our attention from the recuperation of sexuality as loss to understanding it as a site of radical abundance and futurity? (2) What are the archival and/or evidentiary forms that emerge from such a coupling of sexuality and abundance?


This digital seminar will take place via zoom.

Registration closed.
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