Searching for a Black Pacific: An Alternative Archive

What is pamphlet literature?

What is pamphlet literature? 

Pamphlet literature as I apply it in this project forms a subset of grey literature, that is "literature that has not been published through traditional means." Physically, these often constitute unbound documents of fewer than fifty pages. 

This means, similarly to the way in which alternative archives are necessary to house sources that institutional spaces erase, miss, or ignore, pamphletry denotes published material which contains 'alternative' literature - literature created outside mainstream publication either by intent or happenstance. Pamphlet literature in form and in mode of production therefore mirrors those of an alternative archive: not only the contents of these sources, but their very process of publication and proliferation are indicative of this slippage between mainstream and marginal, institutional and alternative. 

In short, pamphlet literature presents myriad opportunities to trace histories of erasure and neglect - such as that of black art production in Vancouver. 

So why pamphlet literature?

Vancouver, BC has a long history of erasure - physical, cultural and historical - of its black community despite the influence wrought by black diasporic communities through art, political organization, commerce and more. This thesis will endeavor to bring together a schema of black art production through a historiography of pamphletry and the digitization of sources produced to proliferate art in the era post-demolition of Hogan’s Alley (which forced the relocation of a major centre of black community and commerce) to provide an alternate archive.

I will focus not on the works of art or even their mediums (which range from theatre to sculpture to mixed-media photography) but rather the body of literature produced by, through, and for the proliferation of these artworks and events. While this body of literature defies easy categorization, I have chosen the term “pamphletry” for several reasons. The first: I want to reflect both the nature of production used in their creation, that is as literature whose intended use would in some way proliferate black art, and also the nature of archival practices and their historic classifications of certain types of literature over/above others. Finally, one of the only collections in the City of Vancouver archives in which I was able to locate sources on “black art” was the pamphlet collection, which first exposed me to the classification (though incidental) of pamphlet literature.

One more important note on the body of pamphletry in this archive: this body of literature produced by and for artwork and artists can itself be considered art. I will include a brief discussion and amalgamation of applicable discourses to these distinctions in the critical component of the project. Lastly, I have chosen this area and method of focus as this project will make use of both components of my joint honours program in History and English Literature: I will need to leverage historical knowledge, research methods and historiographic analysis to construct a schema of black art in Vancouver and provide context for the archive itself, and I will need literary criticism, close reading, and textual analysis to approach and present the sources.

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