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Hangen and O’Connell Discuss Challenges Researchers Face

September 16, 2015
By: Worcester State University News

Tona Hangen of the History and Political Science Department and Sam O’Connell of the Visual and Performing Arts Department presented “Lost in the Archives: Abandoned Research Projects and the Curious Case of Historical Research” on September 11 as part of the Shared Scholarship Series.

Hangen, who has written extensively on the intersections of religion, technology, media, society, and popular culture, drew upon her latest experience digging materials out of local archives in Virginia to address the problems, opportunities, and uncertainties associated with historical archival research.  She discussed the impact of new digital technologies on the collection and preservation of materials, opening unprecedented access for researchers while creating new dilemmas of excess and indiscriminate collecting.  These developments have added another dimension to the ongoing dilemma in archival research of how to define and assess the historical significance of materials and what artifacts are worth preserving.

O’Connell, whose research interests and publications explore the intersections of media technology and popular culture in a range of areas from opera to popular music, presented a different kind of dilemma facing researchers who work on more recent social and cultural events for which archival collections do not yet exist.  He described his role in building archives.  At the same time, his interdisciplinary approach to performative theory and practice in theater has led him to examine the relationship between archive and repertoire, where archive refers to the supposedly stable documentary record in contrast with the repertoire that refers to constantly evolving embodied practice.

Their cross-disciplinary reflections on being “lost in the archives” generated a strong showing of faculty from both schools, marking a promising start to a new season of Shared Scholarship events.  The Shared Scholarship Series is organized by Daniel Hunt (Communications) and Martin Fromm (History and Political Science) and is sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning, with generous support from its new director, Sue Fan Foo (Education).

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