An Archive of Unnamed Women

Concept Text:

“An Archive of Unnamed Women” is a browser-based digital archive juxtaposing nineteenth-century literature about women with photographs of unnamed or unidentified American women found in the collections of the New York Public Library collection, including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, as well as the U.S. Library of Congress. We are building a re-presented archive as a speculative feminist humanity/ies project on WordPress with custom PHP scripts. In lieu of citation information, visitors who search our archive of unnamed women are presented with misinformation in the guise of description. These descriptions are drawn from a parallel collection of women’s writing about women. Joined in the database, the resulting imagined narratives relocate the women on the screen as subjects of literary examination.

Blurring the lines between art and archive, this project furthers discourse about the digital archive as an authority of knowledge curation. Visitors exploring the database encounter visible perimeters; it becomes clear that some information is erroneous or irrelevant. This reveals the arbitrary nature of information preservation and highlights the constructed nature of digitized materials.

We are exploring the stakes in preparing an archive while making a space for self-generated narrative, all the while asking: What would it mean to move these unnamed women from anonymity, deep within the archive, to the center of the screen?


burrough is a new media artist, author, and Associate Professor of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication at UTD. Starnaman is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Literary Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas. Their project, “The Laboring Self,” was funded by Humanities Texas, the Dallas Museum of Art, and Puffin Foundation West, Ltd. Their collaboration began upon meeting at a Feminist Research Collective meeting at UTD.