UBC Faculty Research and Publications

“Treat Them with the Reverence of Archivists” : Records Work, Grief Work, and Relationship Work in the Archives Douglas, Jennifer L.; Alisauskas, Alexandra; Mordell, Devon


In this article, we take up Geoff Wexler and Linda Long’s call to explore the ways in which records and recordkeeping are “bound up” in experiences of loss and grieving. Drawing on theoretical and clinical literature on bereavement, we introduce the concept of grief work and investigate some ways in which grief work can be performed through the creation, use, organization, and preservation of records. We illustrate our study of records work as grief work with examples from the Hamilton Family Fonds at the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, the Sylvia Plath collections at Smith College and Indiana University, and the Lara Gilbert Fonds at the University of Victoria Archives. Finally, we suggest some impacts – especially the ethical impacts – a grief work perspective might have on the ongoing development of archival theory and methodology. This article lays the conceptual groundwork for a larger, ongoing study on recordkeeping, grief work, and the concept of archival care.

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