Q&A for 55.2 “Beyond Recovery” with Lauren Coats, Steffi Dippold, and Aileen Tierney.

July 22, 2020

Volume 55.2 of Early American Literature is a special edition titled “Beyond Recovery.” In order to dive more in-depth into the volume’s theme, guest editors Lauren Coats and Steffi Dippold answered a few questions written by Digital Media Assistant Aileen Tierney to elaborate on the inspiration, theory, and impact of their project regarding archival loss.


Q. What is "Beyond Recovery" about?

A. We are both passionate archival scholars who love working with historic materials. We wanted to use the special issue to think about the possibilities and limitations of doing work in archives, at once places of memory and erasure. Our ambition for “Beyond Recovery” was to feature various methodological approaches to archival loss. What are generative scholarly models for grappling with the biases and violences that are part of all archives’ histories? “How can we think and write with, instead of against, absences” might be a good way to sum up our approach.

Q. What was/were the inspiration(s) for the theme of "Beyond Recovery?"

A. We were motivated by impasses in our own research, when records went silent. In sharing with each other our own individual stories of not finding things, we began talking about many different kinds of absence, and the ways that a single response—often, a desire to fix and fill—cannot always bridge the archival gap. We also didn’t want to allow absences to end our engagement with materials, nor make us complicit with the violences that created them in the first place. That’s why we wanted to think beyond recovery, beyond the traditional binary of recovery of either here or not here, lost or found. Discussing possible responses, we were also inspired by excellent work in and about archives across a range of disciplines and professions – and here Michelle Caswell, Brent Hayes Edwards, Saidiya Hartman, Bergis Jules, Rodrigo Lazo, Ann Laura Stoler, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot come to mind -- and wanted to continue the vibrant conversations.

Q. What did the creative/research process of creating "Beyond Recovery" look like? Were there any difficulties?

A. It was exciting to see how our initial ideas developed thanks to wonderful work and conversation with both the authors who submitted essays and the reviewers who thoughtfully responded to the pieces (work that is too often invisible, another kind of absence: thank you -- you know who you are!). “Beyond Recovery,” therefore, felt like a real collaboration on many levels. Such exchanges shaped the issue in profound ways; from the broad scope of the original CFP emerged a productive focus on NAIS and Black Studies, a direct result of the excellent submissions and their reviews. A generative moment was the MLA panel “Beyond Recovery” we organized in January

2018. To meet in person with several of the authors, discuss problems and questions in the panel and over dinner, and learn from each others’ perspective was truly extraordinary. These conversations also led to some productive tensions, as we found that authors from different disciplines, research areas, and professions have different terminologies, and sometimes mean different things when they say “archive.” Here we would also like to add a shout out to EAL editor Marion Rust, who was both a critical and profoundly supportive interlocutor. Marion truly models generous collaboration.

Q. Are there any pieces in "Beyond Recovery" that you would wish to elaborate on, or highlight as exceptionally demonstrative of the issue's themes?

A. We love the rich interdisciplinary conversations that define this special issue. The nine authors both showcase the relevance and innovative range of thinking beyond recovery in fields as diverse as art history, Native American studies, African American studies, material culture, book history, visual arts, literary studies, and more. They also powerfully address the potential of working across “archives” of various kinds, from traditional text-based repositories to cultural artifacts and even the land itself. What is more, the issue also stresses the importance of collaborating across fields and disciplines as well as across professions and communities.

Q. Additionally, any related images or pieces of artwork that you feel encapsulate "Beyond Recovery" would be appreciated.

A. It might be a stretch, but we were inspired in how we think about absence -- about making absence present -- as embodied in the Jewish Museum in Berlin (see image below; and here’s a link to it on Flickr for image credit info and download options): https://www.flickr.com/photos/trevorpatt/20726352044

Jewish Museum, Berlin

Fig. 1: Voids that purposefully cut through the Jewish Museum in Berlin designed by Daniel Libeskind.

EAL 55.2 can be found online on Project MUSE and other scholarly databases. Physical copies can be obtained individually or by subscription by visiting the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Press website: https://uncpress.org/journals/early-american-literature/