Achille Mbembe states that archives confer status on their contents, and on the culture and society that produced those contents: “The archive … is fundamentally a matter of discrimination and of selection, which, in the end, results in the granting of a privileged status to certain written documents, and the refusal of that same status to others, thereby judged ‘unarchivable.’ The archive is, therefore, not a piece of data, but a status” (2002, 20). The status that the archive awards is, first of all, according to Mbembe, the foundational status of existence, of a person or a culture having existed: “The archive becomes … something that does away with doubt, exerting a debilitating power over such doubt. It then acquires the status of proof. It is proof that a life truly existed, that something actually happened. … The final destination of the archive is therefore always situated … in the story that it makes possible” (20–21). Fans, fan fiction, and fan communities have historically been granted incredibly low status in cultural hierarchies (Jenkins 1992, 9–23; Coppa 2006b, 230–233), and online archives of fan works will not likely alter that ranking. But Mbembe illuminates the power of digital communities’ self-made archives to award those communities with the minimal status of having truly existed, of their individual and collective cultures having actually happened, and therefore of making possible their insertion into history. In the absence of archives of their work, female and queer uses/users of the Internet would risk disappearance and erasure; their cultures would remain unknown and unknowable to subsequent generations, as the existence of so many women’s and queer people’s cultural expressions in earlier eras have been excluded from the historical record.

Fans who found and operate their communities’ digital archives do not guarantee that they or their works will be remembered, but they create the conditions of possibility for persistence and recollection. Perhaps the last quarter-century of digital fan archiving will matter to no one a quarter-century from now; but perhaps digital fan productions made between 1990 and 2015, and many genres of user-generated Internet content from the same time period, will be widely regarded as critically important forms of early digital networked culture, just as silent films hold a venerable place in cinema history and amateur ham radio operators are understood to be the direct ancestors of the broadcasting industries. Maybe successive generations of girls and women and LGBTQ people will benefit from the first twenty-five years of fan archiving; maybe future historians will value the ability to access evidence of what it was to be female and queer online in the first wave of mass Internet use. Fan archivists cultivate this chance, this may-be. 

Fan Archiving, Part 1
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