Arranging the Self: Literary and Archival Perspectives on Writers’ Archives

  • Jennifer Douglas
  • Heather MacNeil


This article reports on a small exploratory research project undertaken by the authors on the archives of three well-known Canadian writers − L.M. Montgomery, Marian Engel, and Alice Munro – for the purpose of assessing whether and to what extent we can know writers – their character and intentions – through their archives. The three writers’ archives were examined through two interpretive frameworks: the archival principles of arrangement and the literature on life writing. The authors found that the capacity of a writer’s archive to reveal character and intention, inevitably, is constrained by the writer’s own efforts to conceal and edit the self, and by the imposition of intentions of persons other than the writer on the archive.


Ce texte rend compte d’un petit projet de recherche exploratoire que les auteures ont mené en examinant les fonds d’archives de trois écrivaines canadiennes bien connues – L. M. Montgomery, Marian Engel et Alice Munro – afin de déterminer s’il est possible de connaître les écrivaines, leurs personnalités et leurs intentions, à partir de leurs archives, et si oui, dans quelle mesure. Les auteures ont examiné les archives des trois écrivaines en se servant de deux cadres d’interprétation : les principes archivistiques du classement et les textes théoriques portant sur le récit de vie. Les auteures ont conclu que la possibilité qu’un fonds d’archives d’écrivain révèle la personnalité et l’intention de l’auteur est inévitablement contrainte à la fois par les efforts mêmes de l’écrivain pour cacher ou réviser sa vie et par l’intervention de d’autres personnes qui peuvent imposer leur propre intention sur le fonds d’archives.

Author Biographies

Jennifer Douglas

Jennifer Douglas is a doctoral candidate at the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto. She holds an MAS from the University of British Columbia and an MA degree in English Literature from the University of Victoria. She has worked at the City of Richmond Archives and currently serves as a member of the Working Group on the Implementation of the IMEA Recommendations. Douglas’s research focuses on the theory of arrangement and description, and personal archives. Her research is supported by SSHRC through the Canada Graduate Scholarship Doctoral Fellowship Program.

Heather MacNeil

Since July 2008, Heather MacNeil has been an associate professor in the Faculty of Information Studies at the University of Toronto. Prior to this she was an associate professor and Chair of the Archival Studies Program in the School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies at the University of British Columbia. She has published extensively on a variety of topics, including privacy, the trustworthiness of records in traditional and digital environments, and descriptive standards. Her current research interests focus on the relationship between arrangement, description, and authenticity. She chairs the Canadian Council of Archives’ Working Group on the Implementation of the Recommendations of IMEA (Invitational Meeting of Experts on Arrangement).

How to Cite
Douglas, Jennifer, and Heather MacNeil. 2009. “Arranging the Self: Literary and Archival Perspectives on Writers’ Archives”. Archivaria 67 (July), 25-39.

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