Report on International Archives Week: Milli Sessions 2021, June 12, Sessions 1 and 2- Sharanya Ghosh

Milli Consortium celebrated the International Archives Week (IAW) between June 7 to 13, 2021, involving panel discussions, showcases, and workshops. The weeklong event presented over 25 sessions, involving more than 50 speakers of national and international repute. The June 12 panel, titled ‘Learn’, invited pedagogues, independent researchers, students, and professionals/ individuals to deliberate on issues pertaining to the pedagogical implications of archives, working on projects as part of the teaching-learning process, and contributing to a crowdsourced COVID Care archive. The first panel is of specific interest to all DH enthusiasts from India as it featured some of the most prominent names in the academic milieu, with one of DHARTI’s founding members Dr. Dibyadyuti Roy acting as both the day and session (1) moderator. The panel was as eclectic as it was engaging for the participants.

The first speakers Rishi Sighal and Amarnath Praful are from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad. Mr. Singhal took his audience on a journey through his own experience as a student in the US, as he narrated his initial lack of knowledge about archives until he came across the Inkjet technology, which claimed to ‘preserve’ photographs for decades. He explained how student dissertations are used as a pedagogical tool in the Photography Design Programme to involve students in exploring unknown photography collections, their history, etc., and present them in class. Mr. Praful highlighted the need for these students to examine the connection between the nation’s colonial past through vernacular photography as they digitize the institute’s vast collection of photographs, negatives, etc. Dr. Parichay Patra, faculty of IIT-Jodhpur, is a film studies scholar who offered thought-provoking insights into the problematic relationship that cinema has had with the nation-state, and how it has increased with the advent of the digital. His experience of preparing and teaching a full course on archives and archiving has provided him perspectives on the needs of heterogeneous classrooms, the mutability of archives, politics of access and navigation, etc. The third speaker in the panel, Dr. Natasha Thoudam, another faculty from IIT-J, shared her first-hand experience of developing a literature course focused on India’s Northeast. The in-class interactions made her question the insider-outsider dynamics as it plays out in a classroom that is situated in ‘mainland India’, the politics of segregation and stereotyping of the Northeast. However, she also expressed her deep conviction in the digital space having the power to negotiate these problem spaces.

“Humanising the Archive: A few pedagogical explorations across places, people, and practices” was the topic of independent researcher and practitioner Ishita Shah. She spoke in detail about students’ introduction to notions of heritage through visits to historical sites like Hampi. Similarly, the Kishkinda Trust project has played a significant role in collaborative knowledge sharing, encouraging livelihoods based on traditional knowledge. Special mention was made about the currently ongoing COVID Care Archive project which was taken up in detail in the final panel of the day. IIT Delhi’s Dr. Arjun Ghosh remained close to his passion and expertise- performative arts. His erudite speech focused on the cultural transition from the oral to manuscript to print to digital, and how performative arts has the power to redefine the silences left by utterances or the ephemerality of documentary objects. He stressed the possibilities that digital archives might offer in perpetuating the transient while warning against the possibilities of spreading half-truths born out of fissures of the documentary. The panel’s last speaker, game study stalwart Dr. Souvik Mukherjee of the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, took on the question of the disruptive nature of Postcolonial DH and how histories are made from the gaps left by History’s grand narratives. He shared his experiences of working on a project centering the Scottish Cemetery in Kolkata, during which he became more aware of the undocumented nature of oral histories. The role of digital technologies in resisting the reinscription of colonialism and neo-colonialism was also pointed out by the eminent scholar. The session concluded with the question on what to look for in an archive- the main text or its paratexts and why.

Panel two, titled ‘Learning through Archives’, showcased some exquisite archival projects by students, with Tanishka Kachru, faculty at the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad as the moderator. On one hand, projects like Subhradeep Chatterjee’s Ephemeriad and Pavithra Ramanujan’s Three Knots & a lot of Turmeric bring out the essence of archives- giving a new lease of life to objects (artifacts and photographs respectively) otherwise deemed short-lived or momentary. On the other hand, projects like The Delek Foundation, presented by Titas Bose, and Siva Sai Jeevanantham’s In the Same River reveal personal or collective narratives of social injustice, inequality, oppression, and persecution. Titas highlighted the purpose of the Delek Archives being the promotion of collaborative learning and creating a community feeling through its educational initiatives. Siva’s work is pathbreaking as it tries to speak for the voices of all the Kashmiri families, exploited by the authorities and national media. Muskaan, Ananya, and Khushi, students at FLAME University, have created the Indian Community Cookbook Project, an open-access, multilingual, region-specific collection of handwritten and printed cookbooks, as their homage to the rich and often forgotten culinary sagas from different states and communities of India. Archiving oral history is Bangalore-based artist Eeshita Kapadiya’s take on retelling micro-histories from rural regions of India (in this instance Bidar, Karnataka). Archiving the history of an academic institution such as the Presidency University (formerly Presidency College) that is over two centuries old, was at the core of the Presidency Plaques Project, undertaken by Sohini Sengupta and Sourav Chattopadhyay, undergraduate students from the same institution. The duo described their project as “an effort at digital storytelling, mapping and archiving of the monuments within the university”. For details about the project visit the website or an article written by them for DHARTI’s media platform.

Bio-note:

Currently a doctoral student in Digital Humanities at IIT-Jodhpur, Sharanya Ghosh’s research falls at the intersection of literary studies, digital pedagogy, and reading studies. She is particularly interested in understanding the possibilities of multilingual pedagogy at tertiary level education in India. Prior to this, she worked as an assistant professor and head, in the department of English, at the Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management, Kolkata.

Blog of Digital Humanities Alliance for Research and Teaching Innovations(DHARTI), an initiative towards organising and facilitating digital practices in India