Rock the Archive: Women Who Rock’s 2013 (un)Conference & Film Festival Launches Digital Oral History Archive

The guiding impulse of the humanities involves the creation and interpretation of archives. Historically “the archive” connotes repositories of officially-sanctioned value—Shakespeare’s folios, the Eisenhower papers, government-sponsored entities such as the National Archives & Records Administration. The Women Who Rock research project, now in its third year of funding by the Simpson Center, wants to rock that idea, revising popular and academic accounts by producing alternative, community-driven archives in a D.I.Y. (“do-it-yourself”) spirit.

For Michelle Habell-Pallán (Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies), the need to recognize women as agents of musical history and cultural change lies at the heart of the project. “That means asking not merely how women across racial and ethnic lines as well as gender identifications ‘fit’ into existing narratives, but how and why they were excluded from existing narratives in the first place. How does the inclusion of these women and their stories demand new forms of archiving? How can that lead to new paradigms for popular music studies?”

Spearheaded by Habell-Pallán and co-organizers Sonnet Retman (American Ethnic Studies) and graduate student Angelica Macklin (Gender, Women, & Sexuality Studies), and supported by a range of UW academic units and grassroots arts groups, Women Who Rock explores the role of women and popular music in the evolution of cultural scenes and social movements. The multifaceted project encompasses several interwoven components: project-based coursework at the graduate and undergraduate levels; an annual participant-driven conference and film festival; and an oral history project that ties the various components together.

The project of documenting and archiving the untold stories of female musicians and music professionals—including DJs, journalists, promoters, and producers—has galvanized researchers that include students, faculty, staff, performers, and other practitioners. Even as the annual conferences generate new forms of culture, knowledge, and expression, the oral histories have fed the cross-community dialogue and critical reflection that characterize the project as a whole.

Key to the project’s success is a co-taught course that supports a multi-level approach to mentoring graduate and undergraduate students who work in teams to conduct and film oral histories with women who have figured significantly in the development of local music scenes and movements. “UW graduate students have become Women Who Rock’s creative engines,” says Habell-Pallán, describing the roles assumed by Kim Carter Muñoz, Nicole Robert, Monica De La Torre, and others in developing interview protocols, organizing the annual conference, and experimenting with digital formats. More recently Angelica Macklin, organizer of the Women Who Rock Film Festival, has helped graduate and undergraduate students integrate their oral history projects into longer documentary projects through a series of courses focused on digital humanities skills, oral history methods and theory, and digital production techniques that are unique to audio and visual forms.

This year, Women Who Rock launches its digital oral history archive, which has been three years in the making and has developed in partnership with Digital Initiatives Program at the UW Libraries.  It houses more than thirty oral histories—including those from punk legend Alicia “Alice Bag” Armendariz Velasquez, hip-hop artist Medusa, as well as members of Home Alive, Ladies First, and Girl in a Coma—and at least a dozen short-form digital documentaries. This freely accessible resource will serve scholars, educators, artists, and practitioners locally, nationally, and internationally, providing material for the development of online exhibits and curriculum, and extending movements for access and equity within the music industry.

 “Producing knowledge among different groups of people who share common interests, and across institutional and community locations has been enormously generative, “says Retman. “The oral history archive promises that this vital record will persist, for researchers, educators, musicians, fans, and followers to produce new scholarship within popular music studies and beyond.”

To celebrate the launch, Women Who Rock hosts a symposium on Friday, March 8 at 4:00 pm in Communications 120. Scholars, librarians, and web designers will explore how new practices of feminist archiving can reshape popular music studies and new media studies. Speakers include Ann Lally and Angela Rosette-Tavares (UW Libraries Digital Collections), Tiffany López (English, University of California, Riverside), Tara McPherson (Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California), Sherrie Tucker (American Studies, University of Kansas), and Deborah Wong (Music, University of California, Riverside).

The 2013 (un)Conference & Film Festival follows on Saturday, March 9, starting at 12:00 pm at Historic Washington Hall, 153 14th Avenue, in Seattle. The event features conversations, skill-shares, and a keynote by iconic performer and founder of Great Leap Nobuko Miyamoto, known as the Joan Baez of the Asian American movement, at 4:30 pm.  It also includes musical performances:  Monica Rojas’s DE CAJóN Project AfroPeruvian, an open mic showcase led by YouthSpeaks Seattle and Uzuri Productions, and a community jam facilitated by the Seattle Fandango Project.

All events are free and open to the public, and attendees are encouraged to bring their own instruments, beats, ideas, t-shirts for screen printing, recording tools, art supplies, jarana, and dancing shoes.

Registration for event is free and open to the public on the day of the event. To register in advance, click here.

Learn more about Women Who Rock at

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