Cardboard, databases, numbers, words

The very start of Future Echoes reminded me that how an archive is organised, strongly influences and delimits how I can approach it. Initially, NSU’s archive material itself reflects (and once produced) how NSU organised its work. When such material is admitted into a public archive, the archive institution imposes organising principles on it that might have little to do with the nature of material itself. 

The complexity of the interrelations of these layers appear already when the digital database of the Danish National Archives, Daisy, responds to my search “Nordisk sommeruniversitet” with two separate archive creators

Initially I am thrilled, as the first refers to a «Kvindehistorisk samling» (Collection of female history) and a NSU study circle from 1972-73 about the role of the family in a capitalist society (as many academic environments in Scandinavia in this period, NSU had several explicitly Marxist fractions). The material in question was donated to Kvindehistorisk samling by an individual NSU participant independently of the rest of the NSU archive, hence the two entries. A further complication is that the material is located in Viborg in Jylland, some 300 km northwest of Copenhagen. 

The second entry, labelled «Nordisk Sommeruniversitet», reveals 13 archive series loosely distinguished by type of material and year(s) of origin. The type categories are a blurry mix of NSU’s own (board, study circles, sessions) and archival metalanguage such as»Emnespecifikke sager» (say, subject-specific issues). Each of the 13 series contain packages. 

I later realise that «package» refers to the brown cardboard boxes in which material is archived. Packages can be ordered by email and will subsequently be made available for physical browsing in a reading room at an archive of the reader’s choice. To confirm the order of a package can take up to 2 weeks. 

My idea for Future Echoes springs from that as a participant of NSU, I know that study circles of NSU have been, and still are, important to the development of academic and artistic feminist thought. I live neither in Copenhagen nor Viborg. I was planning to work in the reading room of the Danish National Archives in Copenhagen for some days on my way home to Oslo from arranging a writing workshop in Berlin. Apart from the package in Viborg, which other packages may contain material relevant to Future Echoes?

I turn to the Sessions series in the database, hoping for a chronological overview of NSU’s summer and winter gatherings. The database is organised per year. However not all years, and thus not all sessions, are visible. Upon arrival in Copenhagen I discover how the physical archiving constrains the digital in a fascinating and intuitively unnecessary way: The years and sessions visible in the database are decided by the size of the archival content and the volume capacity of the brown cardboard boxes. Whenever a cardboard box contains material dating from more than two separate NSU sessions, only the first and last year/session have been entered in the database.

Maybe the Study Circles series is a better bet? In real life, the Study Circles are the hearts of NSU, they are where exchange and work happens. I’m hoping for more info on the study circle from 1972-73 referred to in Kvindehistorisk samling, to decide whether I should order it from, alternatively travel to, Viborg. But there, the digital information has dissolved into years and numbers only.

I end up filling out order forms based on the serendipital strains of information I can draw from Daisy: The material from Kvindehistorisk samling, «Emnespecifikke sager», the Sessions package and some info about the Study Circles.

Hild Borchgrevink, 14 August 2019. More info at https://futureechoes.hildborchgrevink.no

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