52.2, Black Archival Practice I

This issue on Black Archival Practice is a collection of reflections, celebrations, and prefigurations of and for the past, present, and future of the Black lives in the Archive(s). The essays in this issue center Black(end) archival knowledges as a way to expand current understandings of how Black archival practices get imagined, contested and negotiated within traditional archival spaces and in spaces intentionally coded as Black.

Beginning with the remarkable cover by Alanna Fields, Black Archival Practice announces its subject as a fugitive departure from tamed, disciplinary modes of archivy. Fields’s work is a new kind of archive that conceals as much as it reveals; and, just as it reveals the persistence of Black life that is often veiled in the archive(s), so, too, do the essays in this special issue.

These essays speak to transformation through witnessing and testimony in the archives, Black women stewarding collections of their own experiences, Audre Lorde’s queer and deviant library science practices, the questioning of what we know and from where we know it in Octavia E. Butler’s archival practices, poet Arna Bontemps’s Black archival labor in the Fisk University W.E.B. DuBois collection, the use of narrative prose to probe the limits of care and affection in undoing archival harm, and an interview with Black Bottom Archives Director Paige “PG” Watkins that thoughtfully engages abolitionist organizing with Black memory work.

While the seven essays in this special issue range in their use of various theoretical and methodological lenses, each author offers an approach to Black archival practice that both integrates and exceeds the practices of traditional archival work and research. Together, these pieces trouble the principles of traditional archives practices and celebrate, dissect, and testify to the power of Black archives, archivists, and archival practices in ways that are both rigorous and generative.

We invite you to engage with the essays in this issue as a means of thinking about the possibilities for seeing and celebrating Black life in spaces that have traditionally been understood as anti-Black or as hostile to Blackness. In these pages, we hope you will find transformative inquiry, creativity, and hope; that you will be as moved and inspired as we have been by the authors, their words, and their muses.

 – Tonia Sutherland and Zakiya Collier


For a limited time, access the introduction “The Promise and Possibility of Black Archival Practice,” by Sutherland and Collier, and “Narratives of Interiority: Archival Practices of Care and Affection (and its Limits)” by Paula C. Austin for free.

Personal subscriptions are $44 USD and include 4 issues. Volume 52 (2022) includes the above issue, plus Post-Soul Afro-Latinidades, and the upcoming issues Black Archival Practice II and Black Religions in the Digital Age.

In volume 53 (2023), keep an eye out for The Shape of Things to Come: Africology and the Rise of Afrofuturist Studies, Unsafe Words: Black Radical Pleasure II (CFP), and more.

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