Workshop, 19th-21st June 2017, University College London

Often there is more than research inside the books we read. Bookmarks, train tickets, receipts, and menus tucked into pages offer clues about the life of the book itself. Yet the lives of our research material often go unmarked, lost between the gaps in disciplinary boundaries and narrow definitions.

The biographies of books and documents can illuminate their contexts, as printed matter that is sold, passed down or abandoned. What happens when we consider the three moments of production, transmission, and reception together with our own research stories? Documents, like people, have births, lives, and even deaths, so what does it mean to investigate the biographies of texts, objects, and archival records? Beyond the formal roles of cataloguing and archiving, what part do researchers play in shaping the emergent archive?

This is not strictly an intellectual history, nor even a material book history, but something more like a social history of ideas, inspired by work such as Antoinette Burton’s discussions of Archive Stories (Duke University Press, 2005), Arlette Farge’s reflection on the Allure of the Archives (Yale University Press, 2013), Lisa Jardine’s discussion of Temptation in the Archives (UCL Press, 2015), and Ann Laura Stoler’s call to read Along the Archival Grain (Princeton University Press, 2009). Indeed, the stories of our research material evolve significantly over their life cycles, as Arjun Appadurai outlined in The Social Life of Things (Cambridge University Press, 1986). Beyond commodities and value, however, this workshop seeks to consider our affective relationship with research material, juxtaposing critical histories with reflections on practice.

The organisers invite contributors to submit abstracts for papers for the first day of this workshop. We are interested in a broad geographical and chronological scope, and would strongly welcome a diverse range of topics, papers and speakers. Papers should consider question such as:

  • Has the life cycle of a book, document or object helped develop its context for you?
  • Have you found “stuff” tucked in the pages of a book and wondered who read it before you and what they did afterwards?
  • Has the course of your research been shaped by encountering ‘serendipity in the archive’?


Please send in proposals of 250-400 words for papers of 15-20 minutes, Pecha-Kucha presentations, or shorter presentations of a document/research finding. Please also attach a short CV (including details of any previous outreach work, as there is a widening participation component of the workshop). Abstracts should be received by 5pm on Monday 27th February 2017. Please direct any questions to or

*Please note: this CFP is for a one day workshop on 19th June, followed by 2 days of planned outreach work (which is entirely optional for potential participants) on 20th and 21st June. If you’re only interested in the workshop, then no problem, we’d still be delighted to hear from you!*