An Archive of Hope: Translating Memories of Revolution

Hoda Elsadda

This essay offers an analysis of issues related to the translation of memories of resistance of women who participated in protests since 2011 in Egypt for inclusion in a web archive created and managed by the Women and Memory Forum. It argues that stories and testimonies are powerful modes of activism in the struggle over the collective memory of a particular group or country. They complement and/or contest official narratives and potentially construct counter-narratives of dominant histories. However, the archiving of these stories, which may be conceptualized as a process of translating memories to a wider audience in a structured manner for ease of access, is not straightforward or innocent. Archives have been described as “tools of the powerful” that seek to normalize, standardize and impose order; they are “the manufacturers of memory and not just merely guardians of it” (Harvey Brown and Davis-Brown 1998:21-22). Archives are necessarily entangled in the construction of hegemonic narratives as well as counter-hegemonic narratives that potentially shape the future of a given group, country or nation.

Hoda Elsadda is Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cairo University and a prominent activist for women’s rights.  She previously held a Chair in the Study of the Contemporary Arab World at the University of Manchester and was Co-Director of the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World in the UK. In 1992, she co-founded and co-edited Hagar, an interdisciplinary journal in women’s studies published in Arabic. In 1997, she co-founded and is currently Chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Women and Memory Forum,  a research organization based in Egypt that promotes the production of gender sensitive knowledge.  Her research interests are in the areas of gender studies, women’s rights, cultural studies, comparative literature, oral narratives and women’s writings. Her most recent book is Gender, Nation and the Arabic Novel: Egypt: 1892-2008 (2012). She is currently working on creating an oral history archive of women who have participated in activist movements and political initiatives post 25 January 2011. Hoda served on the 50-member committee that drafted the Egyptian constitution endorsed in 2014.