Paper Trails CfP: ‘Hidden Voices’

Laura Sangha

You may know that last year saw the triumphant release of the first cluster of publications for Paper Trails: The Social Life of Archives and Collections. Paper Trails is a BOOC (Book as Open Online Content) published by UCL Press: a fully open access platform that allows for multi-form contributions across time. The BOOC offers space for contributions both from practitioners who study the past, as well as those who make the study of the past possible. So if you are an educator, librarian, historian, curator, collections manager, archivist or just someone interested in critical histories as well as reflections on practice, sources and materials – read on!

Paper Trails image

I am privileged to sit on the editorial board of the BOOC and in our most recent meeting we had a noteworthy discussion about how to describe the innovative format to others. One of the things we worried at was the extent to which we wanted people to think of Paper Trails as being a bit like an online journal – so for instance, when we add our second, new cluster of publications, we could call this a new ‘volume’ or a new ‘issue’ of the BOOC, and allocate numbers to different articles accordingly. By making an association with such a well-established format we could familiarise the BOOC concept, and I suppose the comparison could in some way lend it more academic ‘legitimacy’.

In fact we quickly came to a consensus that this was definitely not how we wanted potential readers and contributors to conceive of the publication. Part of our mission is to try to break down barriers in the world of historical research rather than to replicate existing ways of working, and the BOOC’s strength is its distinctive approach and design. So we considered what else we might call our second ‘cluster’ of articles – ‘release’ was mooted, but in the end we plumped for ‘update’. The latter was truer to the idea of Paper Trails as a ‘living’ book, evolving over time, and allowing for different contributions to speak in conversation. It also echoes other online platforms such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which has monthly updates. Thus while our readers can see the publication year at the end of every piece of writing, we don’t plan for each update to be viewed as a discreet whole, in isolation from earlier and later contributions.

And did I mention … our initial update is imminent – keep an eye out for it in the next few weeks!

The editors also agreed that it would be useful to add a gloss for our readers of another category that we have adopted, that is the four different streams of content (Research Stories; Co-Production; Collection Profiles; Engagement – for more on each see ‘About’ or click on the stream headings here).

These discussions evoked for me the sorts of choices that fifteenth and sixteenth century publishers of printed texts would have been faced with after the printing press became widespread in Europe. The first printed texts were in fact very similar in form, content and function to their medieval manuscript predecessors, and these early texts were reproductions of existing technology rather than deliberate departures from it. But this meditation on the categories that we use to describe things is also a very longwinded way of me introducing our latest call for papers, for a Paper Trails special update (you guessed it, this ‘special’ update has a theme). For as with the discussion of issues, releases and updates, how we describe and structure knowledge, and the often uninterrogated categories that we use to do so, are two of the key concerns that we want future contributors to consider.

Regular monster readers will see that the update’s focus on recovering the traces of past marginalised groups and absent voices is one that has been a longstanding concern on this blog, and we hope that some of you will be able to contribute to the update.

The full call for papers is below – do contact our General Editor (and esteemed leader) Andrew Smith if you have any questions.

Special Update CfP: Hidden Voices

In recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the inherent inequalities in the way collections are acquired, described, and structured amongst collection professionals. A range of work is currently being undertaken in the sector to undo this legacy and find alternative ways of approaching the curation of collections that support the diversification of historical collections and that allow for greater representation of marginalised groups.

Examples include reviewing the terminology used in cataloguing, proactive collection development, and co-curating exhibitions with members from marginalised groups.

There has been a concurring trend in scholarship to draw on historical collections to reveal and reassess historically underrepresented voices of marginalised groups.

This themed update to Paper Trails will bring together practitioner, academic and student perspectives on issues relating to the mis- and underrepresentation of marginalised groups in historical collections and provide a timely insight into the current challenges and debates in this area.

Topics might include:

  • The discoverability of material relating to marginalised groups
  • Absent voices and silences in collections
  • Bias in cataloguing practices and its impact on research
  • Collection-based collaborations between collection professionals, academics, and members of marginalised groups
  • Profiles of collections that contain the voices and experiences of those usually excluded from historical collections

Paper Trails brings together a diverse group of people both in its pages and its readership – researchers, practitioners and students – as well as featuring different historical collections (print, object and digital) held in a wide variety of different libraries, museums and archives. Its content is designed to bridge different communities of research and practice. The BOOC format creates a ‘living book’, which is entirely open access and evolves over time, allowing for different formats of pieces to speak in conversation.

Proposals, submissions and any questions should be sent to the editor Dr Andrew WM Smith (, who can liaise with the wider Editorial Board. When submitting, please indicate which Paper Trails stream you are submitting material for, and see our guidance for authors on the Paper Trails BOOC.

Submissions should be received by 30 September 2022.

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