Protecting the Archives of Dissident Writers

For writers and readers, literature can be a means of resisting repression and of cultural survival.  For researchers, dissident literature can act as a window on political and social conditions and the treatment of citizens by governments.  Creative writers (along with other artists and intellectuals) live in danger from repressive political regimes because of their iconic status or role as spokespersons within their societies.  Archival records from dissident writers could serve as important evidence of the tensions and values at play within those societies.  However, the precarious position of these archival creators (who are often the targets of threats and imprisonment) endangers, as well, their archival records and underground publications.

The SLA section of the ICA would aim to collaborate with the Human Rights Working Group of the ICA as well as PEN International to elaborate and guidelines for archivists to assist in the protection of literary archives from dissident writers, given the precarious political standing and issues of personal security experienced by these creators.  The SLA would also aim to elaborate a network of suitable repositories to which to refer those archives.

In addition to the traditional archival functions, the process of securing these archives would probably include the following steps or elaborations:

1) Appraisal would include evaluating status of potential dissident archives

2) Acquisition would include securing archives in danger and ensuring safe transfer of archives to a secure repository (permanent or temporary)

3) Processing would ensure that these archives are subject to appropriate access restrictions and that visibility of the archives is balanced with personal security issues.


Other Factors:

Archival evidence from dissident writers may be scarce because of the writer’s imprisonment and/or confiscation of their belongings, leading archivists to consider oral histories or grey literature, and fonds or documents from third parties.  Guidelines to archivists would likely include specific advice on these considerations.
As with other immigrants, the migration of dissidents may involve political and post-national questions that challenge traditional ideas of cultural property (and the idea of an originating nation) in favour of protection.
The network of archival repositories may include literary repositories or other repositories with an interest in social justice issues or the ethno-cultural groups within the author’s original society.

First Steps:

SLA will begin discussions with HRWG and PEN International to consider the viability of such a project and the potential for using already existing networks or subcommittees within these other groups/organizations.

Submitted by: Catherine Hobbs, Literary Archivist (Canada)

26 January 2012.