Archives of Revolution: A Conference About How We Make the Past
June 20-22, 2024
The John Carter Brown Library
at Brown University
As we approach a series of 250th anniversaries, the histories of the American Founding have never been more hotly contested. In the United States, historians regard 2026 with some trepidation and a lot of determination to educate a wary public about the importance of evidence to the interpretation of the past. With nationalist movements—who tend to appropriate founding narratives for their own political purposes—on the rise around the world, histories of the international revolutionary era are equally fragile and fraught elsewhere. Indeed, the difficulty of addressing these pasts might lead to avoiding history altogether in a lot of the 250th commemorations.
In this challenging context, the archives of revolution pose both opportunity and imperative for 2026. Creating, exploring, promoting, preserving and most of all critically engaging with the nature and process of archives and archiving helps us to understand the past that we’re making. As archivists, literary scholars, librarians, historians, and more, we all interact with and help shape the past through its material and textual remains. Sharing more about the process of making archives of revolution, of using them, and of their changing nature in the twenty-first century, prompts new conversations about the past.It is also a way, we hope, of engaging scholars, archivists, and the public in a civil conversation about who owns it, has owned it, and who shapes it.
Just as the bicentennial of 1976 set in motion an array of documentary editing projects, we now find ourselves in a new and dramatically different evidential landscape, one shaped by the digital humanities, a more capacious Atlantic context for the American Revolution, and a half century of fresh scholarship. Archives of Revolution—a hybrid gathering of historians, curators, archivists, and educators—will be a forum for a major reconsideration of the foundation of Revolutionary history.
A collaboration between the John Carter Brown Library on the campus at Brown University and the University of Pennsylvania’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies and Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts this conference will be a forum for scholars, archivists, and educators from around the Atlantic to address the state of the archive, its interpretation, its preservation, and its dissemination.
We invite proposals for papers and roundtables, and panel discussions around the following three themes:
- Collecting and privilege: What is an archive and how do archives come to be? How do archival priorities shape Revolutionary histories? How do the unequal resources of institutions around the Atlantic affect our ability to write global Revolutionary histories?
- Interpreting the archive: How has the nature of the archive or our understanding of what constitutes an archive shaped histories of Atlantic Revolutions? How does any archives’ focus relate to effort to write transnational or global Revolutionary histories? What has been the impact of scholars’ “archival turn”?
- Access and discovery: How has the expansion of archives, especially digitally, impacted our understanding of the Atlantic’s age of revolution? What are future directions for expansion—transnationally, multi-lingually, intercontinentally—as archives become more accessible and as archival datasets yield new insights? What strategies can we use to improve access and discovery beyond the Global North? What were the historic barriers for diverse scholars trying to access archives and in what ways is access still unequal?
Submit a Paper or Session
Extended Deadline: August 31, 2023.
The conference is chaired jointly by Emma Hart of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, Sean Quimby of UPenn Libraries, and Karin Wulf of the John Carter Brown Library.
For more about Archives of Revolution: