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Ephemera Conference


Updated July 2014

Mailing Address
Rice University
6100 Main St., MS-475
Houston, TX 77251 - 1892

Physical Address
Rice University
Mechanical Laboratory Bldg
Rooms 205-210

Phone: 713-348-5843
Fax: 713-348-6129

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The Ephemera Project

Ephemera are detritus or garbage that people produce without intending it to survive the moment. Categorically speaking and according to the Ephemera Society of America, “Ephemera include paper materials such as advertisements, airsickness bags, baseball cards, currency, board and card games, greeting cards, invitations, labels, menus, paper dolls, postcards, posters, puzzles and puzzle cards, stock certificates, tickets, timetables, trade cards, valentines, watch papers, and wrappers.” Nonetheless and perhaps more than any other form of evidence, ephemera encode social objectives in their fragile bodies – both ideologies and the shadow of a human touch. That is probably why according to John Grossman of the Collection of Antique Images, studying ephemera provides a way of grasping the everyday expectations and hopes of ordinary people momentarily embedded in the material world.

Archives are collections of “records and relevant materials created not only from official government management, but as the result of all manner of personal, social, economic, functional, and symbolic activities of individuals, organizations, and institutions…to maintain the specific detailed information that would otherwise disappear or be forgotten,” according to the Society of American Archivists. In The Archeology of Knowledge Michel Foucault describes archives as a collection of pieces from a historical period reflecting the historical a priori of the time period. From this perspective the detritus of one time period is the flow of information for future periods. 

Our overall objective is to establish an Ephemera Collection via online and library collections which originated in work that Steve Lewis and Tani Barlow have carried out over the last decade. You have seen samples of our collections of public service and commercial advertising images. These collections continue to develop.  However, we are also set on an intellectual course because collecting, analyzing, categorizing and evaluating ephemera also pose philosophic problems.  Evidence based research must always consider its sources, and increasingly ephemera will count as a source of information for other scholars as projects like ours make ephemeral materials widely available.  Consequently, the workshops are planned to philosophize and to collect ephemera largely though not exclusively from China.