Conversation with Social Movement Archive authors, Jen Hoyer and Nora Almeida with Cameron Andersen
This is the second installment of our Author Interview Series with Library Students where prospective information professionals meet with authors to discuss the research process and engage in a deep dive on important topics of the field from concept to publication. Here, Jen Hoyer and Nora Almeida, authors of The Social Movement Archive, discuss the difficulties of representing ongoing social movements through archives, the limitations of books, and what they learned about the intersection between social movements and archives.
Conversation with The Social Movement Archive authors, Jen Hoyer and Nora Almeida
This interview was conducted by Cameron Andersen, a dual degree student in Religious Studies at New York University and Library and Information Science at Long Island University.
How did you select the interview subjects for the book?
Jen: Our goal was to represent a broad range of movements and formats of material that are produced by movements. We made a list of movements and then I started thinking “who do we know and what kind of material have they produced to support their organizing work” and then we tried to figure out how we could cover all of these things.
Nora: We talked to people who have been making stuff since the sixties and seventies because we thought that they might have different ideas about attribution and access because they have gone through times in which they’ve seen their material reused or re-contextualized. And some people have also had their stuff archived or institutionally ingested in a way that maybe they had feelings about.
In the introduction, you write about the formal limitations of books. Can you speak about that and about how the design choices of this book might help to overcome that?
Nora: Part of the problem of the book isn’t just about how to best represent the material, it’s more like how to represent a movement that’s ongoing, or how to say this is only a piece of cultural production that will keep being produced and that will change. Movements have to keep moving. A book stops them in time and place. So that’s one of the things that I think the limitations of a book like this does.
Jen: We can’t always control how people perceive the information we put out into the world, and even if we might put out a book, intending it to be part of an ongoing conversation, it might be perceived as a kind of absolute truth that, like Nora said, is the end of a conversation. You mentioned the design and how there’s so much material incorporated in it. And to me that is a way of making clear that, while this is a book, there are so many ways of presenting information and of having ideas be communicated in the world. I don’t know if design accomplishes all of that but it aims to show that there are many ways of knowing and being and expressing one’s own truth.
If you were to present these stories and interviews outside of the confines of a book, what would that ideally look like?
Jen: A potluck. I want to share these stories and have these conversations in places where we are also making things together, sharing things we have made together. It would be so amazing to share these conversations in creative spaces which, for many of them, is their natural habitat.
Nora: I imagined one of the ways in which people get around the whole thing of stopping the conversation would be some kind of event. One of the things that we do a lot at the archive where Jen and I both volunteer is make media for current social movement demonstrations. If you were going to a public event where people could make stuff for use it would be a way of continuing the material production of the movements that are presented in the book. And then the life of the material afterward would be that everyone can have their own mini archive at home.
What would you want activists to know about archives before picking up this book, and vice versa?
Nora: We always had two audiences, both archivists and activists, and it’s really hard to speak to both of those. We see more and more that activist material is being sucked up by institutional archives, and so we really hope that if activists get their hands on this book it will give them very good questions to ask of those institutions. But also I am really interested in archivists reading this book so that they can reconcile some of the assumptions that they make about policies for what gets collected and then how it is held within the archives.
Was there anything particular in your interviews that has stayed with you after publishing?
Jen: The thing that I really took away from all of our interviews was the labor of organizing work – how all of this activism is only successful because of the time and energy spent in creating relationships with the people that you’re organizing with. I look at these radical archives and archives that care for social movement history and I see these archivists who have been there for a long time and who are really holding a lot of relationships in themselves. The best we can do is kind of remember them and talk about them with people and represent them in different ways. Relationships matter a lot.