For this meeting, we will read two texts that go into to the affective qualities of historical and archival practices. This will bring up a variety of questions on how affects can be preserved, conjured or kept alive, whether there is such a thing as an ’affective zeitgeist’, our emotional investments in dealing with histories, the institutionalization of emotion, and also the many artistic practices concerned with historical material.
Ann Cvetkovich puts forth the idea that the archive can be an affective space where public cultures can emerge. Cvetkovich is Professor of English and of Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas in Austin and has widely published on feminism, sexuality and trauma. She published her book An Archive of Feelings in 2003. The chapter we are reading, In the Archives of Lesbian Feelings: Documentary and Popular Culture, suggests that affect is what makes an archive significant. She discusses a.o. the work of artists Cheryl Dunye and Zoe Leonard, who produced fictional archives of emotional memory.
The second text we are reading is titled Sensibility and History: How to Reconstitute the Emotional Life of the Past, by French historian Lucien Febvre (1878–1956), who is known for establishing the Annales School of historians, focusing on social themes in history writing. The essay we are reading is from 1941 and touches on many fundamental aspects of affect we have discussed over the past year. The essay begins as follows: “Sensibility and history – a new subject: I know of no book that deals with it. I do not even know whether the many problems which it involves have anywhere been set forth. And yet, please forgive a poor historian for uttering the artist’s cry, and yet what a fine subject it is!”