Traces in the Archive: Re-imagining Sofia Kovalevskaya’,

Life Writing,


Abstract: In this paper I draw on my research project of writing a feminist genealogy of automathographies, through excavating Sofia Kovalevskaya’s auto/biographical documents. As the first woman to hold a chair in mathematics in modern Europe, but also as a novelist and playwright, Kovaleskaya is a figure that has inspired generations of women mathematicians, as well as feminist and literary scholars around the world. And yet, apart from her autobiography of her early years in Russia her personal diaries, journals and letters have never been translated in their entirety and remain inaccessible to non-Russian speaking scholars. What has emerged instead from the significant body of secondary literature that has evolved around her life and work is a meta-archive of scattered auto/biographical documents with different and often competing translations, fragments of lines, extracts and passages from her letters, diary entries, as well as novels and plays that create palimpsests of traces of the self.  In addressing questions arising from working with fragments and traces of the self, I consider the importance of creative imagination in forming entanglements between the researcher and her archival figures. In this light archival research is configured as a process of doing, learning and understanding, an ongoing becoming emerging after layers of documents have been assembled, organized, reordered, read, transcribed, translated and effectively rewritten.


Key words: automathographies, archival figures, creative imagination, Kovalevskaya, meta-archive, traces, women in mathematics