Poetics of the Archive, Part 1: “Lost to time”

The Saint Mary’s University Archives recently welcomed students in ENGL/ACST 3307: The Poetics of the Archive to examine records in our collection. This course asks students to respond creatively and critically to archival materials, and we are excited to share excerpts from an assignment in which records in the SMU Archives were the objects of study. This is the first in a collection of 4 excerpts from student assignments, collected by Teaching Assistant Claire Yurkovich, an MA student in the Women and Gender Studies program.

“Within this collection, you’ll find students’ description of an encounter with an archival object, ranging from their journey to this object, what they’ve found, and how, and what it is about the encounter that moved them,” says Dr. Luke Hathaway, instructor for ENGL/ACST 3307. “This collection provides the kinds of making (poiesis) that arise when, with the help of physical archives, readers, writers, and scholars are able to actually see and touch the documents of their study.”

Poetics of the Archive, Part 1: “Lost to time”

A historical photograph from the University Archives, in sepia tones. Pictured are Rev. Cornelius O'Brien, standing left; Bishop McIntyre of Charlottetown, sitting centre; and an unidentified layman, standing right.

The following excerpt is from student Steffanie Colvey’s assignment. Steffanie describes frustration about the sense of memories being “lost to time” they experienced while studying a photograph in the University Archives (pictured left). Read more from Steffanie:

“Through a sepia-coloured lense, I saw three men; one sitting, two standing. The sitting man dressed luxuriously, with a cushion under his feet. Looking distinguished in all black, next to the sitting man, was Cornelius O’Brien who I recognized from a picture I had seen in a newspaper clipping from earlier. The third man, wearing a perfectly nice, regular Sunday coat, looked rather shabby next to the others. He stood behind them, looking forward awkwardly. It was not the picture that struck me, but the words messily penned on the back:

Reverse of the photograph of the three men. A caption is handwritten in ink. It reads: "Bishop McIntyre of Charlottetown and his secretary Rev. Cornelius O'Brien (later Archbishop of Halifax). The layman is not identified. This information from Miss Cornelia Hughes. 154 Chapel St. Ottawa. Mar 18/1952." There is an illegible signature in the bottom righthand corner.

“Bishop McIntyre of Charlottetown and his secretary Rev. Cornelius O’Brien (later Archbp. Of Halifax). The layman is not identified”

The third man, the layman as he was called, was not even given the courtesy of having his name found out. If he was so unimportant that he can be left unidentified, why was he in a picture with the Archbishop and his secretary? I felt cheated by Miss Cornelia (the person who had provided the caption to the photograph) and the archives themselves. … But, he [the layman] was an unordained, “regular” person. … Since he was a layman, and nobody thought it necessary to save his items, his memory and his name were lost to time.”

For more information about the University Archives and our archival collections, please visit the website. The Archives is located on the 3rd floor of Patrick Power Library. You are welcome to visit during open hours:

  • Monday, Tuesday, and Friday: 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. 
  • Wednesday and Thursday: 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.
  • By appointment

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