An Archive of Unnamed Women

xtine burrough
Sabrina Starnaman

University of Texas at Dallas

“An Archive of Unnamed Women” is a browser-based digital archive juxtaposing nineteenth-century literature about women with photographs of unnamed or unidentified American women found in the collections of the New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and the Library of Congress. This re-presented archive accessed through a digitized library research station generates a dialog about female identity within libraries. In lieu of citation information, visitors who search our photography archive of unnamed women are presented with misinformation as descriptions drawn from a parallel collection of women’s writing about women. Together, the resulting imagined narratives relocate the women on the screen as subjects of literary examination.

Blurring the lines between art and archive, this project furthers discourse about the library as an authority of knowledge curation and a site of creation. When visitors explore the database its perimeters are visible. This reveals the arbitrary nature of information preservation and highlights the constructed nature of digitized materials.

We explore the stakes in preparing an archive while making space for self-generated narrative, all the while asking: What would it mean to move these unnamed women from anonymity, deep within the archive, to the center of the screen?

Through a discussion of our project, participants will explore the political role of archives in emphasizing or hiding marginalized people. Moreover, we investigate archives as mechanisms for critical discussions about identity. Participants will search our archive, suggest additional source materials, and print their own “Unnamed Woman” action-artifact on archival paper.

Enrollment limited to the first 25 registrants. Sign up here.