“The perverse absent-presence”: Disability and the perception of archival representation
Co-sponsored by the Center for Technology, Society & Policy; the Algorithmic Fairness and Opacity Working Group; and UC Berkeley Disability Studies.
For disabled people, how we see ourselves in history matters. Disabled minds and bodies have historically entered into archival records through the criminalization of disabled — and other marginalized — identities, resulting in the creation of legal, medical, and institutional records making up the majority of records documenting disability. And this, in turn effects the ways in which disability is understood; as disability is often simplified to a medical deficit, a ‘problem’ to be fixed, records such as these have the potential to reinforce stereotypes, perpetuate harmful rhetorics, and limit the perception of disability as purely a medical ‘problem’ of the body or mind.
Lying at the intersection of archival studies, disability studies and qualitative research, this presentation addresses the ways in which disabled people use archives, witness themselves in history, and understand their collective identity. Given that disabled people are often documented through violent processes — such as asylums, arrest records, and medical interventions — this research investigates disabled people’s complicated relationships with historical representation. Through interviews with disabled scholars, artists, activists and community members, this research highlights (1) how we witness the violences of the past through archives, (2) how we often expect to be erased in history, yet, (3) even though much documentation about disabled people is made by people in power, we can complicate the limited perspectives of this documentation and understand it as part of a history of oppression. By centering disabled people’s voices, this presentation considers not only how archival misrepresentation impacts the ways in which non-disabled people may perceive disability, but also how we understand ourselves — as individuals, as a collective, and as part of a political history — in order to demonstrate the complexity of our relationships to archives.
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Gracen Brilmyer is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where they are also pursuing a certificate in gender studies. Their research lies at the intersection of disability studies, archival studies, and the history of science, where they address coloniality, affect, and disability, primarily within natural history. Their work has been published in Archival Science and Archivaria, and various other journals. They have also published a poster, “Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives,” with Michelle Caswell in the Library Quarterly. They have a background working with biological collections and hold a Master of Information Management and Systems from University of California, Berkeley.