Waldo Gifford Leland Award: Michelle Caswell

Michelle Caswell, assistant professor of archival studies in the department of information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the 2015 recipient of the Waldo Gifford Leland Award for her book, Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia, published by University of Wisconsin Press. The Waldo Gifford Leland Award is given for writing of superior excellence and usefulness in the fields of archival history, theory, and practice. 

In Archiving the Unspeakable, Caswell provides a compelling perspective on the mug shots taken in Tuol Sleng prison during Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. The mug shots have come to represent the brutality of the regime, under which roughly 1.7 million people died from untreated disease, starvation, and execution and thousands of “enemies of state” were tortured and killed in prison. Caswell studies these mug shots under an archival lens and examines how the photographs have transformed from Khmer Rouge administrative records to museum displays, archival collections, and databases, illustrating unimaginable human suffering.

The Award Committee called Archiving the Unspeakable “thoughtful and thought-provoking” and noted that it “succeeds in its mission to ‘challenge archivists to embrace their own power to counter the silences embedded in records, particularly records that document human rights abuse’.”

Established in 1959, the Waldo Gifford Leland Award is named for one of North America’s archival pioneers and SAA’s second president.