Last Friday I had the pleasure of presenting at the Archival Research Conference, sponsored by the Advanced Research Collaborative at The Graduate Center, CUNY. It was a wonderful opportunity to share my experiences working in the archives at Duke University, which I have discussed here and here. I was on the panel, “Mining Alternative Geographies of Race and Labor,” chaired by Professor Herman Bennett from the History program.
My paper, “Traces of the Coolie: An Archival Encounter” was largely a reflective piece, showcasing some of the important letters and documents I was able to find in the “Ballard’s Valley and Berry Hill Penn Plantation Records, 1766-1873” that contained references to coolies and coolie labor. Presenting alongside supportive colleagues and to such a generous audience gave me the confidence to share my questions and concerns about the materials I came across in this collection and how I plan to incorporate them into my dissertation. Usually introducing work that is still “in progress” would be a daunting experience for me, but I found it energizing to participate in a conversation about how we approach archival research, including how to negotiate the volume of the material we collect and how to grapple with what is missing or absent from the archive.
All in all, the conference was a resounding success and I hope that it will be a sign of more to come in the future at the Graduate Center. I was able to make connections with so many students from different programs, including history, anthropology, theatre, and musicology who I would never have been able to meet otherwise. Commiserating with each other about the challenges of working in and with archives as well as sharing in unexpected discoveries and detours that our own archival encounters led us on, were what made this conference different from any that I have participated in before. It was an enriching experience, especially for someone who is still relatively new to the practice of archival research.
A big thanks to Professor Duncan Faherty and my co-organizer Chris Eng for pulling off this fantastic event. Thanks also to the Advanced Research Collaborative for providing the funding that made this all possible in the first place!