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Big dreams and impossible archival imaginaries: dance community archiving and the potential of participatory knowledge production in a digital age

Conference contribution
Authors Astrid von Rosen
Published in Prato CIRN Community Informatics Conference 2016
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Cultural Sciences
Language en
Keywords dance archives, archival imaginaries, community archives, participatory approaches
Subject categories Art History, Other Humanities


“Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men” (Goethe). The admonition in the above quotation about dreaming big enough dreams could characterize the executive summary of a vision 2020 document produced by the Dance Heritage Coalition. Based in the USA, the coalition is a large scale and, as far as I can tell, successful and long-lasting fixture within the field of dance archives. It not only dreams about, but literally plans to create a “virtual Digital Humanities Center for dance” and has managed to link together major dance archives as well as develop archival consulting for dance companies with in-house archives. While this is all very impressive, for most small-scale, local, and often rather poorly funded dance archive contexts and communities, the situation is very different: funding will not arrive, archives will not be linked, and the virtual efforts and effects will remain scattered. So, one might ask, who is allowed to dream big dreams? Who may have large scale imaginings, not only of relevant archives being assembled under a digital platform, but more specifically of scholars arriving to explore those archives to write the histories of individuals, groups and communities? Furthermore, what happens when the great vision falls apart and must transform into something different and more possible to realize, if it is to survive at all? Drawing on recent research at the University of Gothenburg and University College London, this paper aims to better theorize the challenges faced by local “free” or non-institutional dance communities when it comes to realizing their archival dreams. The paper begins with an exploration of how local “un-authorized” dance archives have emerged in the city of Gothenburg, and how they are understood and used by the communities as well as by scholars investigating non-institutional dance. I then identify productive frictions between an unimaginative and essentially positivist understanding of archives and sources as plain containers of facts, and the recent recognition that archival absences, dreams and imaginaries have the power to motivate research, propel change and instigate new histories. From archival theory, I have found Anne J. Gilliland and Michelle Caswell’s terms “impossible archival imaginaries” and “imagined records” useful, as they “offer important affective counterbalances and sometimes resistance to legal, bureaucratic, historical and forensic notions of evidence” (Gilliland & Caswell 2016:55). I will conclude the paper by presenting arguments for a methodologically conscious, digitally engaged participatory approach (“digging where we dance – dancing where we dig”) to local “free” dance archiving as a way of further augmenting the potentially powerful role of archival dreams and imaginaries. References Anne J. Gilliland and Michelle Caswell, “Records and their imaginaries: imagining the impossible, making possible the imagined”, Archival Science, Volume 16, Issue 1, March 2016.

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