Radical Empathy in the Context of Suspended Grief

An Affective Web of Mutual Loss


  • Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez University of California, Irvine




Archivists are inextricably bound to records creators, subjects, and donors not only through the work they do to ensure the preservation and access of these records, but through their affective relationships with each of these groups. Managing archival collections about grief, trauma, and death form part of many of career trajectories of practicing archivists, but we leave little space in the academic curriculum, and the profession, to acknowledge how this affects archival processes, workflows, and each other.

In this article, I would like to highlight a case-study about suspended grief, or grief experienced, witnessed, and re-lived throughout an archive, and the mutual or secondary grief archivists may experience when processing collections about traumatic events and experiences. The mutual grief experienced, witnessed, and re-lived by the subject, in this case, Argentine poet and human rights activist Juan Gelman; the donor, Gelman’s widow, Mara La Madrid; and my own, I argue, had a cathartic influence in the way I interacted with the donor, the subject, the materials, and the way they were described.

Pre-print first published online 02/01/2022

Author Biography

Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez, University of California, Irvine

Elvia Arroyo-Ramírez is a queer Latinx daughter of immigrants working in the field of archives. She is the co-editor for the special issue on “Radical Empathy in Archival Practice” in the Journal for Critical Library and Information Studies (JCLIS). Her practice and scholarship are grounded in a feminist ethic of care, and works to expose and repair archival practices rooted in systemic biases that perpetuate harm to BIPOC and other marginalized communities.