Book Reviews

Jamie A. Lee. Producing the Archival Body. Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 2021. 182p. Hardcover, $160 (ISBN: 978-0367182199).

Book cover for Producing the Archival Body

Jamie A. Lee’s Producing the Archival Body weaves together many timely conversations held both in the academy and among the broader public. The book is organized into two parts, “Body Parts” and “Assembled Bodies in Action.” Each section uses multiple frameworks from somatechnics to queer theory, feminist theory, and archival studies alongside Lee’s personal experiences building the Arizona Queer Archive (AQA). This deep and insightful text will be useful for those with an understanding of archival theory and for those who work within archives as practitioners or scholars and others who seek to challenge standard pedagogical approaches to how archives are constructed.

Lee’s introduction asks a range of questions: What does it mean to have a body? What does it mean to be a body? What constitutes a body? Lee applies the language of the body, whether referencing a specific human body or a “body of work,” to many things ranging from structure, to container to host, to collection. Throughout the book, Lee urges the reader to think through the ways that archives and bodies are taken for granted.

Bodies encapsulate a multiplicity of meanings, often with simultaneously contradictory values, and are understood differently in different cultures around the world. Not everyone in a society is granted the same permission to have a body or to be a body where autonomy and agency are concerned. For the purpose of her book, Lee centers the body through a “…myriad of definitions, from the human and corporeal to the collected and aggravated corpus of records, memories, histories, or what I consider the archival body” (10). Lee makes her bodily location known through the anecdotes of experiences she shares with her readers. By practicing positionality in this way, Lee enriches the reader’s understanding of the ways that archival bodies are produced. The juxtaposition of “archival” and “bodies’’ calls attention to the roots of its production, as the origin of the word “archive” denotes an authority over a history. “Body” in this sense denotes the production and maintenance of history itself (57).

Lee’s methodology emerges from her work with the AQA as a repository of queer experiences in Arizona. The AQA does not simply catalog and store archival material. Through Lee’s oral history interviews and “storytelling,” the AQA presents opportunities for those not represented in mainstream archives to be embodied in a way that moves beyond normative archival standards. She presents eloquent cases of why questioning these standards is important and how heterochrononormative standards in the archival process has rendered certain bodies to the periphery (80).

A major contribution that this work brings to the archival field is the concept that Lee calls contextual relationality through which she remedies an important lack in the field, that being “touch.” The aesthetic stereotypes of an archive as institutional repositories with towers of bankers boxes and Hollinger boxes filled with documents and records seems to deny any aspect of touch; while handling materials, one must wear a white glove to sift through them. Lee’s book on bodies comes to us during the Covid-19 pandemic, when many are sore for touch and where digital boundaries seem to deny this. This isolation abounds as we are restricted to virtual interfaces to protect our communities. A book covering any aspect of bodies would be remiss without covering touch; through Lee’s anecdotes about the storytelling methodology and interviews she engages in, she reminds us that touch is still integral to our body’s integrity, whether it’s giving a hug after an interview or the emotive connections built on touching someone’s heart after truly recognizing and acknowledging them (102). The contextual relationality that Lee sets forth as a method in creating the AQA’s finding aid is a refreshing take that embodies touch as a cornerstone for this finding medium, where its effectiveness is evident “through a method of storytelling and through relating stories that offer an interactive exchange … it makes an archival document accessible through imagined and engaged relations” (59). In Producing the Archival Body, she queers the archive in this way by introducing methods, forms of relation, and a deconstruction of time that call into question the privileging of certain archival practices over others.

Lee concludes her book with hashtags such as #SayTheirNames, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter, #BlackTransMovement, #MMIW, #MMIWG, #MMIWG2S, and #NoMoreStolenSisters (162). These hashtags follow discussions ranging from police brutality against Black people in the United States and missing and murdered Indigenous women. Coincidentally, at the time of writing this review, the United States is following the case of Gabby Petito, a white woman who disappeared in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming following a dispute with her boyfriend. “Producing the Archival Body” arrives at a time where larger critical conversations are being held around the coverage of different bodies and challenge the roles archivists play not just as managers of history but as creators of history and the bodies it holds. Living in the Covid-19 pandemic and following these conversations and hashtags do not diminish the loss of Petito; rather, they bring up the uneven media coverage of missing people, namely the lack of coverage of missing black, brown, and indigenous women. Producing the Archival Body will touch any archivist’s heart, as it is a well-crafted love letter to the field on how we can all do better in questioning our daily practices and reconstruct archives toward a liberatory framework. Lee holds true to her claim at the beginning of the introduction where she promises that “at the end of this book, you and I will both be different” (1).—Jade Levandofsky, University of California, Los Angeles

Copyright Jade Levandofsky

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