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The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English

QMCRLE Seminar Series 2020-21

 Detail from: The Paalhuis and the Nieuwe Brug, Amsterdam, in the Winter, Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten. Public Domain Rijksmuseum


Detail from: The Paalhuis and the Nieuwe Brug, Amsterdam, in the Winter, Jan Abrahamsz. Beerstraten. Public Domain Rijksmuseum


Minority Record: Record-Keeping from the Margins

A virtual discussion group, where people meet and converse about the methodological and theoretical approaches to the historical record-keeping practices from the margins.


It is a common saying that history is written by the winners. Yet the histories of those on the margins, those who lost out, those who were erased from the narrative are crucial to our understanding of the past. Their negotiation with majority culture, the futures imagined but never realised, the carving out of spaces in which they could express themselves were all part of the fabric of the past. Their existence challenges the idea that past communities were monolithic and invites us to reflect on our own, twenty-first-century assumptions.

Focusing on record keeping practices (in its broadest sense, encompassing archives, libraries, memoirs, collections, etc.) enables us to look at the way those who were marginalised sought to sustain their community within dominant societies. How did they reflect on their past and future? To what extent were the written word and materiality deemed important in preserving a minority community? How did they wish to ensure their community was perpetuated across the generations? Whose voice did written and material traces record: the individual or the community? Was there a sense of representation, or collective endeavour, through the production and preservation of records? How do the internally-kept records relate to the paperwork produced in interaction with those in power?

This reading group provides a platform for further exchanges among those working on minorities and record keeping (religious, ethnic, cultural, social minorities), from various disciplines. Intriguing work on the libraries, martyrologies, letter collections, material mementos, etc. has recently been undertaken for particular minority groups. Scholars remain within their own subfields, studying particular groups, replicating theoretical frameworks from within their discipline. Thus far, no integrated conversation about minority records has taken place. Bringing together researchers, curators, archivists, and librarians working on a range of minorities together to reflect on the particularities and differences between these various minorities and the range of approaches to the materials allows us to discern some of the meanings and motivations of minorities’ records, their various uses over time, their specificities and commonalities. Does the label ‘minority record’ fit? Do they challenge a majority memory? Are there characteristics which set minority records apart from majority ones? Are some formats best suited to minority memories? Together, our conversations will offer space to consider the ideas and practices that shaped the construction and use of records in the past, and develop broader frameworks to analyse them.

We are facilitating these conversations in a way most suitable to the current environment, and will hold them virtually. We would pre-circulate a draft of an essay, article, or chapter a week before our meeting. The author would introduce their contribution for about 5 minutes, to open up to discussion for an hour. We envisage to meet a two or three times a term in the 2020-21 academic year. Everyone is welcomed to dip in for one session, or join for as many sessions as they wish, which will help developing a conversation across the weeks. Attendance will be free, but if you are interested to join, please sign up beforehand to ensure you receive the pre-circulated reading and an invite link to online conference call.  

Our programme for the Autumn of 2020 is:

  • 28 October, 19:30 (UK time): Dean Irwin (Canterbury Christ Church University): The Archae System Revisited
  • 25 November, 17:00 (UK time): Celeste Gianni (Hill Museum & Manuscript Library, Saint John's Abbey and University, Collegeville, MN), Paul Sbath’s moving library: Conceptualising the library of a Syrian Catholic priest between Europe and the Middle East
  • 2 December, 17:00 (UK time): Simon Macdonald and Colin Jones (QMUL), Revolutionary Duchess: The Life and Letters of Innocente-Catherine de Rougé d’Elbeuf, 1788-1794

If you are interested in joining the conversation, either as participant or as presenter, please contact Liesbeth Corens via email.



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