At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Archives and Special Collections Library at the University of Louisville launched a project to collect the experiences of those living through what many saw as history in the making. Just weeks later, in the wake of the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, activists and citizens took to Louisville’s streets to protest racial injustice, again marking an unequivocally historical moment. Instead of collecting protestors’ experiences, Archives and Special Collections began to consider the practicalities and the ethics of active collecting. These historical events occurred in succession, but the conversations around the movement for racial justice reframed our efforts as archivists to document pandemic experiences. This article explores the implications of active collecting and concludes that active collecting needs a framework of support. We briefly review the COVID-19 project we launched at the University of Louisville and assess its outcomes. We then use this project as a reflection on the role of active collecting as reframed by the lens of the movement for racial justice, and we propose that the scaffolding of this framework be formed by three important features: critical reflection, institutional affirmation, and an ethic of care.
Kyna Herzinger is a white-presenting Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), Pacific Northwest U.S.-born, straight, cis, able-bodied woman. Rebecca Pattillo is a white, southern U.S.-born, queer, cis, able-bodied woman. At the time of writing, both are early to mid-career archivists employed in tenure-track faculty positions at the University of Louisville in Louisville, KY.
In 2016 and 2017, physicists Jordan Cotler and Frank Wilczek explored a framework in quantum theory that they called “entangled histories.” Using this framework, they conceptualized the past as “an entangled superposition [or interweaving] of time evolutions which are shaped by the outcome of measurement in the present.”1 For the non-physicist, journalist Jenna Wortham offers a useful translation of Cotler and Wilczek’s work. “Our best description of the past,” she summarizes, “is not a fixed chronology but multiple chronologies that are intertwined with each other.” 2 Historians, too, have harnessed the term “entangled histories” as a way to conceptualize the interconnected practices, perceptions, and processes that influence seemingly disparate cultures.3 Many of us, though, do not need the disciplines of physics or history to draw from simple observation this lesson: that countless interwoven stories give depth and nuance to a seemingly monolithic past, and at the same time, current technologies can potentially give voice to the many discrete stories that are entangled within a collective experience.4
Rewind to the early months of 2020 and the archivist’s thorniest question—what should we save?—seemed obvious. Significant history is rarely apparent when we are living in the moment, but with the global pandemic of the novel coronavirus, it felt like history was unfolding in real time. This awareness was paired with the sense that libraries, archives, and museums could throw all their resources toward documenting the evolving events but could never capture them all, and for that reason, archivists were uninhibited by the question of whose stories were the most significant and therefore the most worth saving. The pandemic represented an opportunity to preserve the entangled histories that would bring depth and nuance to tomorrow’s past. It was a chance for the documentary record to reflect more than just a handful of culturally dominant voices; it was a chance to capture a diverse cacophony.
The University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections (ASC) in Louisville, Kentucky, responded, sensing both an opportunity and an imperative. Along with many repositories across the United States, ASC launched a project to document the experiences of the university’s faculty, staff, students, and administrators during the COVID-19 pandemic by inviting the submission of photos, videos, emails, blog or social media posts, and the like. Experiences and reflections could range from direct observations to artistic expression and could touch on themes that spanned displacement from student housing, working from home, the shift to online learning or teaching, or leading the university through a crisis. In the following weeks, ASC also volunteered to serve as the preservation home for a COVID-19 time capsule initiated by the city’s Frazier Kentucky History Museum.5 This partnership avoided competing collecting while it harnessed each institution’s strengths, pairing the Frazier’s contacts with ASC’s technological infrastructure.
At the same time that schools moved online and white-collar employees were asked to work from home, a troublingly familiar story was captured by the media. A 26-year-old Black woman named Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by Louisville Metro Police when plain-clothed officers served a “no knock” warrant shortly after midnight on March 13, 2020. As the pandemic’s lockdowns and unprecedented job loss spurred widespread uncertainty, Louisville activists began to seek justice for Breonna. These local protests gained momentum as the national movement for racial justice grew in response to the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Demonstrations and marches in Louisville grew from hundreds to thousands of participants and prompted a range of responses from local, state, and federal officials that at times grew violent. The events of the days and weeks that followed May 25 were extraordinary, and again, ASC saw the unequivocal significance of the moment. But while these events stirred the same impulse to collect, ASC did not attempt a documentation project. Instead, we began to consider the practicalities and the ethics of active collecting through the lens of this movement for racial justice.6
The reasons for this shift were varied and will be discussed in greater detail below. Without a doubt, though, the movement to recognize the deep-seated role of racial injustice within our infrastructures, our laws, our institutions, and our own selves all served to illuminate an archival past that has been fraught with issues of ownership, agency, and representation. As we saw violence and force used against protestors, we turned to activist archivists like the Blackivists and members of the teams that support Documenting the Now and WITNESS.7 Each highlighted issues that could emerge when preserving emotional, often traumatizing history and doing so with no foundation of trust, no mechanism for sustained support, and no guarantee of protection from the authorities. Out of their poignant work, we began to ask questions like: Is our collecting appropriate? How do we shift focus from collecting materials to serving communities?8 How do we ensure underrepresented communities are not simply the subject of collections but exercise control over their own histories and representation? How do we, as Scott Cline advocated in 2009, “operate within a moral and ethical imperative that ultimately associates archival practice [with]…the call of justice”?9
This article does not offer a tidy formula or a multi-step plan that will guide active collecting during difficult times. Instead, it offers a glimpse into a messy and—as of yet—unfinished process, grappling with the areas of professional practice that these short-term projects expose, but that demand thoughtful, long-term cultivation and commitment. The authors hope that through our experience readers will find useful issues to consider before launching any active collecting project. We will briefly review the COVID-19 project that we launched and assess the outcomes, and we will set ASC’s efforts to collect individual experiences during the pandemic into a reflection on the role of active collecting in the archival profession as re-examined through the lens of the movement for racial justice.
Historically, ASC’s component units, which consist of Rare Books, Photographic Archives, University Archives, Digital Initiatives, and the Oral History Center, have collected materials related to underrepresented individuals, groups, and topics.10 Each collecting area has proudly embraced this identity, redoubling efforts in recent years and enabling targeted collecting to inform routine practice in an effort to capture a more representative documentary record. One of the factors that influenced this trajectory was the preexistence of a collecting repository in Louisville, the Filson Historical Society, which had been actively preserving the early history of the city and the surrounding region since the late nineteenth century. Local history for many early historical societies focused on affluent, white families, and such was the case for the Filson.11 The core of its collections and resulting publications reflected the affluent, white, cis male perspectives and interests of its founding members, and as a consequence, modern, twentieth and twenty-first-century collections that focus on urban history, social service, cultural organizations, and Black and LGBTQ rights found a more natural fit with ASC. These circumstances have enabled ASC staff to actively collect materials that range from the personal experiences of Latinx community members to Louisville’s underground punk rock scene, but they have also been hindered by an institutional history of racism and a lack of racial diversity within ASC’s personnel.12
When situated within ASC’s collecting practices, the COVID-19 documentation project was not unusual, but neither was it unprecedented. In 2009, a flood of the Ohio River had triggered ASC’s first in-the-moment active collecting. This was prompted by local interest in Louisville’s worst recorded flood, which had occurred in 1937. The 1937 flood served as a community touchstone, captivating interest across generations because of its wide-reaching impact. The 2009 flood project ensured that documentation would not be lost and, more importantly, supported the ability of Louisville’s citizens to reflect on their own history. Without established policies or procedures, ASC quickly adapted forms and workflows in order to document the flood’s impact. ASC solicited digital photographs from community members and collected online content through a trial subscription of Archive-It, but even though the project established a precedent for quick-response collecting, it did not ultimately prompt a conversation about future active collecting. It is our hope that the COVID-19 project will help ASC frame key considerations that could guide future decision-making.13
Even though this article seeks to explore the implications of active collecting and not the merits of how ASC executed the project, we will briefly chart our approach to establish context. The University of Louisville issued a work-from-home mandate effective March 16, 2020, and classes, which were scheduled to resume after spring break but had been postponed for two days, moved online. One week into the university’s remote operations, the Director of ASC shared the University of North Carolina – Charlotte’s newly launched COVID-19 active collecting project, suggesting that this could be a task for the hourly and student workers who we worried would lose hours during remote operations.14 The idea of launching a project of this nature garnered enthusiastic support from us and our colleagues. As with the flood of 2009, we sensed that future generations would want to know how the university and the broader Louisville community responded to and navigated the crisis.
We quickly realized that the challenge of designing and executing this project in a short time frame was ill-suited for hourly and student workers, so a team of four faculty archivists worked to implement the project.15 In fact, the initial task of determining a scope and workflow were more complex than we anticipated and were further complicated by our new teleworking realities. Workstations consisted of whatever equipment employees had on hand at home and communication was handled through a flurry of overlapping emails, instant messages, and texts.
Despite these challenges, we quickly made several key decisions. First, we determined to collect solely from individuals affiliated with the University of Louisville. We felt that the deed of gift would be less complicated if we treated submissions like university records, and we were concerned about the number of submissions we might receive if we opened the project to the community at large. We also did not want to duplicate efforts that we learned were underway at other area institutions. Second, we selected a platform that would allow us to receive files with corresponding metadata along with a digitally signed agreement. Initially, we assumed that we could replicate the UNC Charlotte project wholesale, but we found that the Google Form that they used had some limitations. ASC would have had to pay for temporary storage, and contributors would have had to limit submissions to 10GB or less. We also considered file-sharing programs like the University’s Box subscription, DropBox, and others, but ultimately, we decided to use LibWizard. This product, which is an add-on to the popular LibGuides platform, ensured that each submission, along with its metadata and donor agreement, would remain together. Even though LibWizard accepted only certain standard file types, contributors could submit up to 100GB per entry, and we had the benefit of unlimited storage. Finally, we determined what information we wanted to collect from participants, and more importantly, we crafted a donor agreement (see Appendix A). The latter was adapted from existing agreements and drew heavily from what was used during the 2009 Flood project. Our libraries’ Scholarly Communications Endowed Chair, who holds a JD, reviewed the text which gave ASC a non-exclusive license to exhibit, promote, reproduce, and distribute the donated materials. As an open license, the donor would retain copyright over their material.
Our director proposed the active collecting project on March 21, and we launched it on March 25. With the submission portal live and a workflow adapted from our existing digital processing practices, we then turned attention to publicizing the portal. First, we shared directly with faculty partners who had regularly incorporated archival research into their coursework and with whom ASC staff had already developed a rapport. We also shared widely, notifying departments across campus and requesting their assistance to disseminate the link. We sent additional messages to student and employee organizations and placed a short pitch in the university’s announcement digest, which distributes separate daily emails to students and employees. Within a few days, the Office of Communications and Marketing contacted us about a write-up for the university’s official news site, and later, the project was featured by the Association of Research Libraries, alongside several other libraries and archives that launched similar projects.16 We also shared the project on ASC’s Facebook and Instagram social media accounts. Archivists from other states reached out with questions, and we encouraged them to borrow as much or as little as made sense for their circumstances. Meanwhile, the University Libraries’ Communications Coordinator ensured that the project was visible to the libraries’ stakeholders.
Once the portal was ready to receive submissions, we also revisited the idea of collecting experiences from the broader Louisville community. We learned by then that a local institution, the Frazier Kentucky History Museum, had launched a similar project called the Coronavirus Capsule.17 We knew it was impractical to run similar projects in the same geographic region. We also knew that the Frazier, a Smithsonian Institution affiliate whose mission is to interpret stories from the history of the state, did not have the infrastructure to preserve born-digital content. For that reason, we sought to form a partnership by offering to be the preservation home of the Coronavirus Capsule.
By the time representatives from both institutions met, the Frazier had established a website for the project, received submissions via email, and displayed them in a virtual exhibit. ASC’s offer to preserve and provide long-term access to the Coronavirus Capsule was accepted, an arrangement that had the added benefit of satisfying our vision to document as many experiences as possible. Since the Frazier had been affected by the governor’s “Healthy-at-Home” order, which suspended operations of all non-essential businesses, frontline employees who typically worked with the public were assigned remote tasks arranging and describing the submissions.18 ASC’s Metadata Librarian created a Google Sheet to capture metadata and document the submissions. The fields were standardized as much as possible by using data validation, drop-down menus with localized controlled vocabularies, and directions embedded in field headings. After several weeks of ongoing training and iterative changes to the spreadsheet, the Frazier staff developed a rhythm, and we repeated a similar process when they began preparing the files for transfer.
What we hoped to accomplish was clear to us. We wanted to capture the individual stories that would enrich an understanding of our shared experience during a truly historic moment. We could not, however, predict what would occur as a result of our efforts. The COVID-19 documentation project and the Frazier’s Coronavirus Capsule were, in effect, wildcards. Following the March 25 launch of ASC’s campus project, a few submissions trickled in and stopped just two weeks later. A second batch of materials, which appeared to be a class assignment, were submitted a few months later so that, in total, only eighteen individuals consisting of fourteen students, three staff, and one faculty member contributed their experiences. This was strikingly meager for a campus community of twenty-three thousand students.19 Although we plan to keep the portal open for at least the first half of 2021, there has been no evidence to suggest that we will capture the full campus experience that we sought.
In considering why we had such a low response rate, it is difficult to imagine that it never reached its audience—especially given our thorough and repeated efforts to share the project with the students, faculty, staff, and even administrators of our campus community. It is possible, though, that the submission portal itself was a deterrent. Metadata fields that required the donor to provide a description of the submission, to upload each file individually, and to navigate the “legalese” tone of the agreement may have discouraged some individuals. Some simply may not have had the time. Spring break had coincided with midterms, and students and faculty needed to quickly turn their focus to learning or teaching online and then to tackling end-of-semester projects. More importantly, the early months of the pandemic were especially stressful and uncertain. Some people quite understandably did not want to participate. Others did not have the emotional, mental, or even physical capacity to reflect on the moment, particularly as many juggled family health concerns, childcare responsibilities, job loss, food or housing insecurity, and other challenges triggered by the pandemic.
The Frazier’s Coronavirus Capsule, in comparison, received a much greater response with 328 separate submissions from individuals, families, and entire classrooms. This number reflected the project’s scope as it accepted materials from anyone in the Louisville Metro region, but it also revealed the number of relationships that the Frazier had already cultivated with area educators and which had been formalized for the purpose of the project as a partnership with the Jefferson County Public Schools. Although there were more submissions, the vast majority came from elementary school children and were works of amateur art. The Coronavirus Capsule thus contained a considerable amount of material that we had not previously accepted as archival.
Similarly, materials received from the faculty, staff, and students of the university community were not items that we would have otherwise automatically accessioned. Submissions included some visual items like a photograph of the vacant campus and a queue of hardware store customers spaced every six feet, as well as a video of empty toilet paper shelves. As discrete items, the materials told little of the story that was not better framed and contextualized by local media. Submissions also included written reflections, but the narratives were short, averaging only a paragraph long, and tended to be broad. They touched on multiple themes like isolation from friends, increased time with family, and remote instruction, but were scant on the illustrations or explanations that give depth to first-hand accounts. Furthermore, the typos and unclear prose betrayed several authors’ hasty efforts.
One student, who is now an alumna, did succeed in capturing a full picture of her experience, and she did so by submitting thoughtful content every few weeks. Her submissions contained a mix of journal entries, photographs, and even an original political cartoon. The student struck a balance between specific experiences and contextual observations. Early on, she reflected on the inequities exposed by the pandemic, and as the summer progressed, she shifted to the movement for racial equality, the presidential election, and the spike of infections going into the new year. The Frazier’s Coronavirus Capsule contained similar gems such as an original folk song by two local musicians and evocative artwork that captured the range of experiences—from isolation and loss to determination and hope.
The trends we observed in the first few months remained steady throughout the year. In hindsight, these early observations hinted at some underlying issues with active collecting during difficult times, but these issues did not become apparent to us until the movement for racial justice began to unfold. This social reckoning, which centered on the impact of systemic racism and white supremacy in American life, highlighted racial disparities like higher death and unemployment rates in communities of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. This simple fact served as a catalyst to reframe our active collecting. We began to wonder how we might be perpetuating problematic representation in our collections and on whose emotional labor we were relying. Put another way, we witnessed two significant historical events—a pandemic and a social movement—that occurred in rapid succession, but in which the second illuminated the first. In response, we began to grapple with the ways that privilege or the lack of privilege, stress or trauma, and movements or individual acts of dissent can play out in what is collected, how it is collected, and how it is represented or used.
The death of Breonna Taylor on March 13 coincided with early efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19 in the United States, and the investigation into Taylor’s death paralleled the launch of both ASC and the Frazier’s active collecting projects. Taylor’s death was covered by the local media, but it was overshadowed by coverage of the growing pandemic. The movement to seek justice for Breonna Taylor began to take shape two months later around mid-May, and following the May 25 murder of George Floyd, quickly solidified locally and across the nation. Hundreds of protestors gathered in Louisville on May 26 and, over the following weeks, that number swelled to thousands. Jefferson Square Park, which is located at the heart of the city and adjacent to the county courthouse, city hall, and the Louisville Metro Police Department headquarters, became an impromptu base for activists and was renamed “Injustice Square Park” and “Breonna Taylor Park” by local Black organizers. Activists built a memorial to Taylor and the countless Black victims of racial and police violence and continuously occupied the park daily until winter weather made conditions unsafe.20 Meanwhile, civic groups, institutions, religious organizations, and University of Louisville students, faculty, and staff organized additional marches throughout the city during the spring, summer, and fall of 2020.
The movement for racial justice occurred nearly back to back with the pandemic and captured our attention as caretakers and advocates of our local history and witnesses to the continued brutalization of Black lives. Our desire to document was driven by the conviction that history and the ability to reflect on one’s own experience are important, but that day-to-day life is often fleeting. These sentiments absolutely rang true in the early weeks of the pandemic and reverberated during the local movement for racial justice. But this resonance also offered an intense, strikingly useful lens that nudged us toward self-reflection. We had not grappled with the pragmatic issues encountered during the COVID-19 projects (such as the impact on staff and lack of community engagement), much less the more troubling (the inclination to collect traumatic experiences, including from those who would bear a greater position of the costs). Meanwhile, the movement for racial justice illuminated the need for humility and an ethical response in our archival work that we had overlooked. The following highlights some of the reflections and questions that we have been grappling with ever since.
As the Justice for Breonna Taylor movement gained momentum, we were immediately struck by our own impulse to actively collect materials that would document the protests. We considered our positionality as white and white presenting women, respectively, within a nearly all-white archival staff, at a predominantly white institution. We did not trust our own perspectives, which, from our own place of privilege, had driven a sense of urgency into documenting the COVID-19 pandemic. We wondered how collecting racial justice experiences would only reinforce the cultural dominance of racism. Our archival colleagues, after all, cautioned that records are “value-laden instruments of power,” and their creation, representation, and use are far from neutral.21 For that reason, we were hesitant to expand our active collecting to incorporate the movement for racial justice. Our first question shifted to if, rather than what, we should collect.
We were also hesitant to document protest experiences without the collaboration of local organizers. Comments that came out of the Society of American Archivists’ Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives forum stressed that some local organizations may not want the assistance of archivists from predominantly white institutions, and forum participants recognized that some communities had little reason to trust those who have historically ignored their history.22 These considerations reframed our role as we accepted that we may not be the right people to actively collect the material, our institution may not be the right place to preserve them, and now may not be the right time. Underlying this archival restraint was not inaction, but a movement toward an archival autonomy that is grounded in the recognition of participants as co-creators who should be empowered as decision-makers.23 Because we did not have established partnerships with the activist community, nor an adequate relationship of trust with existing community-based memory workers, we chose to collect widely accessible materials as a launching point for our future researchers. These materials lacked depth as they took the form of local and national news articles, as well as social media posts promoting local events, press conferences, and actions by local activists and racial justice organizations. To protect privacy, the materials did not identify individual participants but captured the public face of organizations that were mentioned in the media. We have not ruled out the possibility of more substantial or directed collecting in the future, but only if it involves the Black activist community and memory- workers, is given institutional priority and support, and can be done with what public historian Aleia Brown describes as an “ethic of care.”
Brown’s work is situated in a long history of Black feminist scholarship and memorializes ongoing events that affect Black life. Brown describes an ethic of care as “a deep love for Black folks, and commitment to being accountable to Black communities.”24 Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor also frame the archivists’ role through the lens of feminist theory, highlighting that an ethic of care binds archivists “to records creators, subjects, users, and communities through a web of mutually effective responsibility.”25 As we discussed the possibility of documenting the racial justice movement in Louisville, we did so with an understanding that without a reciprocal and mutually beneficial relationship with the activists and citizens we sought to document, we would be neglecting that ethic of care.
The issues that became apparent during our conversations about documenting the racial justice movement in Louisville revealed a lack of thoughtful consideration about active collecting as a whole, so that, ironically, these relatively short-term projects exposed areas in need of long-term attention. Two areas, in particular, were captured by archivist Mario Ramirez, who highlighted, first, that simply acquiring diverse collections without diversifying those who are doing the collecting is inadequate. ASC’s success in collecting from underrepresented communities obscured an institutional history steeped in whiteness, and one tellingly marked by a nearly all-white archival staff. Our white identities influence the decisions we make about acquisition, description, and use, and ultimately, shape what and how collections are represented to researchers. By choosing a rather passive approach to our COVID-19 documentation project by way of an online portal and lack of significant interpersonal engagement, we relied on the neutrality and safety of our whiteness. Second, Ramirez argued that repositories must embrace “a paradigmatic shift in power wherein whiteness no longer claims unquestioned and protected status and where the roots of our professional imbalances are addressed.”26 Black, Indigenous, and other archivists of color have borne the weight of this work, highlighting the harmful and oppressive systems that are upheld by a predominantly white profession.27 Public historian GVGK Tang poignantly observed one of the consequences of these power structures. “White middle-class public historians” they note, “are columbusing activist history-making and grassroots preservation work—treating it as a new frontier to be discovered, explored, and exploited. The recent spate of pandemic and protest collection projects initiated by traditional practitioners erases a rich history of activist-led scholarship and documentation efforts.”28 At minimum, white archivists must listen and learn, particularly when it comes to active collecting of events that disproportionately affect BIPOC, LGBTQ+, neurodiverse, disabled, and other historically marginalized groups. “Ultimately, rendering marginalized communities the subjects of your research [or in this case, active collecting effort]” Tang writes, “doesn’t absolve you of your privilege or complicity in an inherently anti-Black, racist, classist, and ableist system.”29 If, indeed, “one of the most overlooked but important things that archivists working in hegemonic institutions can do is to ensure the acquisition, preservation, and accessibility of the very records that hold that institution accountable to its constituents,” what can archivists do to redirect their efforts and attention?30 Instead of commandeering the work and history of underrepresented communities, perhaps archivists should consider what they can do to dismantle oppressive structures by maintaining the evidence of individual and group actions.
An ethic of care should have also extended to employee wellness. As we came to realize the importance of aligning rapid response projects with strategic priorities, we realized that we had never discussed what tasks would be postponed to make room for active collecting. Although projects that take longer than expected are far from abnormal, our day-to-day responsibilities never abated with some things taking longer to accomplish simply because of our remote work environments. The financial impact of the pandemic, meanwhile, prompted salary reductions, retirement contribution cuts, and furloughs across campus, but we met the demands of the projects aware of how important it was to ensure that ASC was seen as a contributing member of the campus community. To be sure, we were grateful to have jobs, but in hindsight we wondered how to affirm workers during times when compensation is simultaneously diminished. We also wondered what could have been done to ensure that the workload did not add additional pressure to employees who were already coping with the stresses of an evolving COVID-19 environment. ASC employees, after all, were not immune to the concerns of the pandemic and Louisville’s reckoning with racial injustice.
Our archival colleagues outside of Louisville took interest in our active collecting efforts, with an eye toward launching something similar at their own institutions. It seemed to us that these kinds of projects were almost (forgive the bad pun) contagious as if many of us were engaged in a professional form of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Thanks to an increase in virtual professional development, which quickly became the norm through the summer and into the fall, we connected with institutions across the nation that also launched documentation projects and who described the same lack of engagement and dearth of submissions that we had seen. In our own community we were careful not to duplicate the collecting efforts of other area institutions, so if individuals did not want to share their experiences or did not see a need to do so, were these projects only serving archivists’ desires to collect? Eira Tansey described this initial fervor to collect first COVID-19 and then racial justice materials as “the newest form of archival commodification” wherein archivists exploit personal experiences—at times traumatic experiences—in their scramble to appear relevant or signal care for their communities. In the end, though, archivists only jeopardize their own relevance as they shift attention away from one of their most important functions: holding institutions accountable.31 If preserving evidence of and maximizing access to institutional acts enables public scrutiny, could our time have been better spent? For example, in the early months of the pandemic, our administrators claimed that the university was committed to ensuring furloughed employees remained financially whole, but in fact, the administration targeted the lowest wage earners at a time when unemployment offices were overwhelmed. Should we have done more to capture decisions that resulted in the most precariously employed navigating multiple pay periods without receiving either a paycheck or unemployment insurance benefits?32
Finally, in the midst of these weighty issues, we wondered whether active collecting was the best use of our greatest resource: time. By May, we had observed the lackluster response to the COVID-19 projects just as we realized that we had invested many more hours than we intended. This is not to say that an underperforming project or even a failed project is inherently without merit, but as time progressed, we lost sight of where active collecting fit into our core mission—to the degree that we wondered if, in taking on these projects, we had undermined our ability to accomplish our own strategic priorities that centered on access to existing collections and outreach to the faculty, staff, and students of our campus community. As we grappled with the best ways to achieve our goals within the confines of the pandemic, we realized that our finite resources deserved thoughtful allocation. This became even more apparent when we noticed that our administrators and publicists were the parties most interested in our COVID-19 active collecting. Archivist Eira Tansey aptly cautioned that these types of projects can “provide our administrators with feel-good press releases so they can somehow show that we’re responding to societal concerns, but without actually requiring any accountability or significant resource allocation on the part of the institution itself.”33 We felt like we presented ourselves capable of weaving gold from the proverbial straw, and even though ASC has had a long history of shoe-string resources and can-do attitudes, we wondered what we were communicating to resource allocators and stakeholders when we continued to do more with less, especially in the face of a public health crisis that was financially impacting our institution.
The Latin roots of our English word record mean “to recall the heart of” and aptly capture the idea of revisiting the central significance of the past.”34 In recording our experiences, we do much more than jot down facts or plot data points; we capture and remember an essential and vital part of our own story. The archivist is especially attuned to the value of capturing these stories, but not only that; the archivist is aware that the documents which support our understanding of history are skewed heavily toward those in power. “[W]e learn most about the rich, not the poor; the successful, not the failures; the old, not the young; the politically active, not the politically alienated; men, not women; white, not black; free people rather than prisoners.”35 In response, we archivists have seized the idea that ordinary, obscure, and even silenced people have something to say, which leads us, on the one hand, to suggest that active collecting—especially when undertaken during difficult times—should have a robust framework of support. Even when events necessitate a rapid response, the archivist’s instinct to collect should be buoyed with self-reflection, affirmed by institutional prerogatives, and marked by an ethic of care. But, we also recognized the impossibility of a single archive collecting the experiences of all members of society; it must be handled widely, and it must be handled outside of institutions.
We entered into our active collecting projects without the sort of scaffolding that supported self-reflection, but despite our short-sightedness, the important events of 2020 created space to reflect on our decisions. They challenged our assumptions and reframed our responsibilities, prompting us to ask how we might better prepare for the next historic moment. This is not to say that we have formulated a one-size-fits-all solution. We have increasingly wondered, in fact, how an entirely different approach might have better served the faculty, staff, and students of our university community, and how ASC, in partnership with other collecting repositories in our area, might have empowered individuals living in and around Louisville to document themselves. Rather than replicate the many documentation projects that sought to collect and preserve, we wondered how we could have facilitated discussion around personal archiving and preservation methods. How might we have equipped individual citizens to carry out their own active collecting?
Indeed, the most evocative stories about COVID-19 and the Justice for Breonna Taylor movement in Louisville were not captured by either ASC’s COVID-19 project or the Frazier’s Coronavirus Capsule. During the fall, professors from the university’s Departments of Pan-African Studies and History had students, most of whom were Black and Brown, conduct interviews as part of the semester’s coursework. The classes collaborated with the director of ASC’s Oral History Center who provided the professors and students with training and guidance and accessioned the materials which are now part of ASC’s permanent collection. The resulting oral histories captured rich stories that revealed the complex interweaving of the effects of COVID-19 and the racial justice movement on Louisville’s Black and Brown community and its activists, and they inspired a sense of ownership in the telling of history. They also highlighted an impressive level of participant engagement. Empowering University of Louisville students to do their own archival project, under the guidance of their professor and an archivist, challenged the traditional oppressive structure of the archive—one which traditionally places power of accession, description, and collecting in the hands of a majority white, institutional archive. In comparison, our efforts to document were, at best, clumsy and, at worst, dominating as we toed the line between collecting university employee and student records and controlling or even shaping them.36 The very nature of our online submission form required a sense of technical know-how from those we sought submissions from. Who might this have excluded?
Although we have explored some issues that may surface while documenting history in the moment, we recognize that these considerations are not exhaustive, but that they are the beginnings of a discussion centered on what is needed to support rapid response collecting. The questions that we have explored and that are outlined below may form the basis of a framework to guide decision-making, whether in response to a localized flood that displaces individuals from their workplaces and dorms, a pandemic that disproportionately impacts the most vulnerable populations, a movement calling for long-overdue justice in the face of racism, or any other significant event. Of all the things to consider, perhaps the most crucial should focus on who is best equipped to meet peer to peer with the community that is being served. Is there potential for the project to be community-led with institutional support, rather than being institutionally led with community support? Is there community-led or grassroots documentation already taking place? If a formal archive is best to handle an active collecting project, it should be supported by three areas: critical reflection, institutional affirmation, and an ethic of care. The following questions may be used to consider these areas.
- What resources do we anticipate we will need to complete the project?
- Do we have enough financial, human, and technological resources to meet that need? If not, how will we secure those resources?
- What might need to be postponed or eliminated to take on the new project?
- Does the project ultimately serve the institution, rather than archival users?
- Could this project be seen as archival commodification? Rather than ask what you should collect, determine if you should collect.
- Where does this project fit into the archive’s mission and strategic priorities?
- How will we communicate (and later reiterate) the importance of this project to our staff? To our administrators?
- How can we seek additional support from directors, deans, and other administrators? What additional support is needed to see the project through?
Ethic of care
- What is the potential emotional impact to staff and community members?
- What resources are available to assist both staff and community members and how do we incorporate those resources into our messaging?
- How does the positionality and identities of the archivist reinforce or dismantle existing power structures?
- How does the project serve or support the community it documents? Is there potential for harm? If so, are there ways to mitigate harm?
- Who are the project partners? How will we ensure the community’s perspectives are heard?
- If there is a lack of or no established relationship with those you seek to document, how can you build and sustain trusts amongst them?
Ultimately, these questions explore the unintended consequences of archival work and seek to position that work within a framework of professional values. We hope that others will build on this foundation by revealing limitations, suggesting additional considerations, and connecting real-world examples to the professional principles that support our collective work.
We are indebted to Stevie Gunter, for graciously agreeing to review this article and to the Lead Pipe’s Ian Beilin and Denisse Solis, for providing helpful insights and key feedback and shepherding us through the editorial process. We would also like to thank our colleagues at the University of Louisville for providing space to grapple with these ideas. Rebecca would like to thank her partner, Charlotte Asmuth, for graciously offering their writing expertise as they read through many drafts of this article.
Appendix A: Project Portal
Documenting Your Experience during the Covid-19 Outbreak
We are living in an historic moment. In the same way that, today, we want to know how Louisvillians navigated the historic 1937 flood of the Ohio River, years from now, others will want to know how we navigated the experience of a global pandemic brought on by the novel coronavirus.
In the spirit of documenting this moment, the University of Louisville Archives and Special Collections wants to collect and preserve the experiences and reactions of UofL students, staff, faculty, and administrators. Personal accounts can range from direct observations to artistic reflection and may touch on any number of themes such as displacement from student housing, working from home, the shift to online learning or teaching, social distancing or self quarantining, or leading the university through the crisis. Personal accounts can be in the form of a journal or blog, email, photos, videos, audio recordings, or social media posts.
What is your University of Louisville affiliation (administrator, faculty, staff, or student)?
- You may upload standard word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentations, images, audio or video recordings, and compressed files.
- A single file may not exceed 100 MB (if your file does exceed this limit, please complete this form and contact email@example.com to coordinate an alternate file transfer method.
- You may upload 10 files per form.
Describe your items.
Please include the location/event, date, people included, and any other relevant information known.
Are you the sole creator of these materials?
If not, please list the names of any other creators or co-creators, their email address(es), and the circumstances of how you came to have the materials. IMPORTANT: you must seek the approval of your co-creator(s) before submitting co-created materials. Co-creator(s) should also complete a copy of this form, but note that files do not need to be uploaded.
By clicking on the checkbox and initialing this form, I acknowledge that as the creator and/or copyright holder of the submitted materials (“the materials”), I grant to the University of Louisville and Archives and Special Collections (“ASC”) an irrevocable and nonexclusive license to make use of the materials, including but not limited to reproduction, distribution, derivative adaptations, and public performances and displays, consistent with accepted archival practices and ASC policies as they may exist from time to time. A non-exclusive license transfers no copyright and the submitter otherwise retains all other rights in the materials subject to this prior nonexclusive license. By submitting the materials, I certify that I am the creator and/or copyright holder and have full authority to grant this license and have exercised appropriate diligence in creating the materials and capturing any images, likenesses, and/or other inclusions of possible 3rd party copyrighted materials. I also acknowledge that ASC may distribute the materials under an open license, such as Creative Commons, of ACS’s sole choosing that allow others to make use of the materials consistent with the terms of the open license in order to make the materials available for educational, informational, and similar purposes worldwide.
I grant permission to use my name as the donor for exhibits, description, and publicity
I wish to remain anonymous
Briston, Heather. “On Accountability.” In Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark A. Greene, edited by Christine Weideman and Mary A. Caldera. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2019.
Brown, Alex. Twitter, August 18, 2021. https://twitter.com/queenofrats/status/1427985206976253956?s=21.
Brooks,Caitlin. “UofL Archives and Special Collections documenting COVID-19 experiences,” UofL News, April 3, 2020, https://www.uoflnews.com/post/uofltoday/uofl-archives-and-special-collections-documenting-communitys-covid-19-experiences/
Caswell, Michelle. “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in the Archives.” Library Quarterly 87, no. 3 (July 2017): 222-235. https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/692299
——— and Marika Cifor. “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives.” Archivaria 81 (spring 2016): 24.
———, Marika Cifor, and Mario H. Ramirez. “’To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing’: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives.” American Archivist 79, no. 1 (spring/summer 2016): 56-81. https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.56
———, Alda Allina Migoni, Noah Geraci, and Marika Cifor. “‘To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise’: Community Archives and the Importance of Representation,” Archives and Records 38, no. 1 (2016): 5-26, https://doi.org/10.1080/23257962.2016.1260445
Clay, Richard H.C.. “From the President,” The Filson News Magazine 20, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 3.
Cline, Scott. “‘To the Limit of Our Integrity’: Reflections on Archival Being.” American Archivist 72, no. 2 (fall/winter 2009): 331-343. https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.72.2.g0321510717r6j14
Cook, Terry. “Archival Science and Postmodernism: New Formulations for Old Concepts.” Archival Science 1 (2001): 3-24.
———. and Joan M. Schwartz. “Archives, Records, and Power: From (Postmodern) Theory to (Archival) Performance.” Archival Science 2 (2002): 171-185.
Cotler, Jordan and Frank Wilczek. “Entangled Histories,” Physica Scripta 2016, no. T168 (May 2016): 1-7. https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-8949/2016/T168/014004
———. “Temporal Observables and Entangled Histories.” (Unpublished manuscript, February 20, 2017). https://arxiv.org/abs/1702.05838
Daniels, Caroline, Heather Fox, Sarah-Jane Poindexter, Elizabeth Reilly. “Saving All the Freaks on the Life Raft: Blending Documentation Strategy with Community Engagement to Build a Local Music Archives.” American Archivist 78, no. 1 (spring/summer 2015): 238-261. https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.78.1.238.
Drake, Jarrett M. “Liberatory Archives: Towards Belonging and Believing (Part 1).” On Archivy (blog). (October 22, 2016). https://medium.com/on-archivy/liberatory-archives-towards-belonging-and-believing-part-1-d26aaeb0edd1
Dunbar, Anthony W. “Introducing Critical Race Theory to Archival Discourse: Getting the Conversation Started.” Archival Science 6, no. 1 (2006): 109-29. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-006-9022-6
Evans, Joanne et al. “Self-determination and Archival Autonomy: Advocating Activism.” Archival Science 15 (2015): 356-57.
Gould, Eliga H. “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery.” American Historical Review 112, no. 3 (June 2007): 766. https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr.112.3.764
Groves, Kaylyn. “Research Libraries, Archives Document Community Experiences of COVID-19 Pandemic.” ARL Views (blog), May 14, 2020. https://www.arl.org/blog/research-libraries-archives-document-community-experiences-of-covid-19-pandemic/
Harrison, Lowell H. “A Century of Progress: The Filson Club, 1884-1984.” Filson Club History Quarterly 58, no. 4 (October 1984): 381-407.
Howard, Rachel, Heather Fox, and Caroline Daniels, “The Born-Digital Deluge: Documenting Twenty-First Century Events,” Archival Issues 33, no. 2 (2011): 100-109, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1793/72349
Huvila, Isto. “Participatory Archive: Towards Decentralised Curation, Radical User Orientation, and Broader Contextualisation of Records Management.” Archival Science 8 (2008): 15-36. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-008-9071-0
Jimerson, Randall C. “Embracing the Power of Archives.” American Archivist 69, no. 1 (spring/summer 2006): 32.
———. Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009.
Jules, Bergis. “Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in the Archives.” On Archivy (blog), November 11, 2016. https://medium.com/on-archivy/confronting-our-failure-of-care-around-the-legacies-of-marginalized-people-in-the-archives-dc4180397280
———. “Archiving Protests, Protecting Activists.” DocNow, published June 17, 2020. https://news.docnow.io/archiving-protests-protecting-activists-e628b49eab47
Ketelaar, Eric. “Tacit Narratives: The Meanings of Archives.” Archival Science 1 (2001):131-141.
Project STAND. “Documenting Student Activism w/o Harm.” Accessed March 1, 2021. https://standarchives.com/elementor-6715/.
Quinn, Patrick M. “Archivists and Historians: The Times They Are A-Changing.” Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 5-13.
Ramirez, Mario. “Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative.” American Archivist 78, no. 2 (fall/winter 2015): 339-356. https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.78.2.339
Rothert, Otto A. The Filson Club and its activities, 1884-1922: A History of the Filson Club, including lists of Filson Club publications and papers on Kentucky History prepared for the Club, also Names of Members. Louisville, KY: J.P. Morton, 1922.
Sixty Inches from Center. “The Blackivists’ Five Tips for Organizers, Protestors, and Anyone Documenting Movements.” Published June 2, 2020. https://sixtyinchesfromcenter.org/the-blackivists-five-tips-for-organizers-protestors-and-anyone-documenting-movements/.
Tang, GVGK. “We need to talk about public history’s columbusing problem.” History@Work (blog), National Council on Public History, June 25, 2020. https://ncph.org/history-at-work/we-need-to-talk-about-public-historys-columbusing-problem/.
Tansey, Eira. “No One Owes Their Trauma to Archivists or the Commodification of Contemporaneous Collecting,” Eira Tansey (blog), June 5, 2020. http://eiratansey.com/2020/06/05/no-one-owes-their-trauma-to-archivists-or-the-commodification-of-contemporaneous-collecting/
Texas After Violence Project. “Trainings.” Accessed March 1, 2021. https://texasafterviolence.org/?page_id=2627%3E.
Wetherington, Mark V. “Filson Club Historical Society.” In The Encyclopedia of Louisville, edited by John E. Kleber, 289. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2001.
WITNESS. “Witness Resources.” Accessed March 1, 2021. https://www.witness.org/resources/.
Wolf, Stephanie,. “Downtown Breonna Taylor Memorial Will ‘Rest with her Ancestors’ at Roots 101.” WFPL News, November 2, 2020. https://wfpl.org/downtown-breonna-taylor-memorial-will-rest-with-her-ancestors-at-roots-101/
Wortham, Jenna. “How an Archive of the Internet Could Change History.” New York Times Magazine, June 21, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/magazine/how-an-archive-of-the-internet-could-change-history.html
Zinn, Howard. “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest.” Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977), 14-26.
- Jordan Cotler and Frank Wilczek, “Entangled Histories,” Physica Scripta 2016, no. T168 (May 2016): 7, https://doi.org/10.1088/0031-8949/2016/T168/014004. See also Jordan Cotler and Frank Wilczek, “Temporal Observables and Entangled Histories” (unpublished manuscript, February 20, 2017), https://arxiv.org/abs/1702.05838. [↩]
- Jenna Wortham, “How an Archive of the Internet Could Change History,” New York Times Magazine, June 21, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/magazine/how-an-archive-of-the-internet-could-change-history.html. [↩]
- Eliga H. Gould, “Entangled Histories, Entangled Worlds: The English-Speaking Atlantic as a Spanish Periphery,” American Historical Review 112, no. 3 (June 2007): 766, https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr.112.3.764. [↩]
- Wortham, “How an Archive of the Internet Could Change History.” [↩]
- “Coronavirus Capsule,” Frazier Kentucky History Museum, accessed March 1, 2021, https://www.fraziermuseum.org/coronaviruscapsule. [↩]
- Throughout this article we use the term “active” to describe the idea of contemporaneous collecting in order to document events as they are happening. Even though our project’s methods were relatively passive (participation, after all, was voluntary), we use this term in keeping with its broader use in the profession. Active collecting finds its roots in the American archival tradition and, specifically, in Theodore Schellenberg’s mid-twentieth century contributions to appraisal theory. Schellenberg argued that one of the archivist’s key roles is to select records for long-term preservation, and his work informs the intellectual foundation for the late-twentieth century idea of saving records as they are created. Nonetheless, a number of archivists have acknowledged the immense challenge and inherent pitfalls of actively shaping the historical record. As Canadian archivist Terry Cook noted, the archive is a “site where social memory has been (and is) constructed—usually in support, consciously or unconsciously, of the metanarratives of the powerful.” South African archivist Verne Harris highlighted an additional layer of complexity when he considered how the archivist infuses layers of meaning into the records at each stage of the curatorial process—not just when it is selected for preservation. When taken together Cook and Harris offer cautionary words, but they also invite archivists to be highly transparent in their professional practice and to create space for multiple interpretations of the record. While our active collecting project cannot be divorced from the positionality or temporality of ourselves or our institution, we echo Cook in acknowledging that records are in a continuous process of being reimagined, and we hope that this article can be a tool in that process. Theodore R. Schellenberg, Modern Archives Principles and Techniques (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1956), 138-139; Terry Cook, “Fashionable Nonsense or Professional Rebirth: Postmodernism and the Practice of Archives,” Archivaria 51 (2001), 27; Verne Harris, “Claiming Less, Delivering More: A Critique of Positivist Formulations on Archives in South Africa,” Archivaria 44 (1997), 136-138. [↩]
- “The Blackivists’ Five Tips for Organizers, Protestors, and Anyone Documenting Movements,” Sixty Inches from Center, published June 2, 2020, https://sixtyinchesfromcenter.org/the-blackivists-five-tips-for-organizers-protestors-and-anyone-documenting-movements/; Bergis Jules, “Archiving Protests, Protecting Activists,” DocNow, published June 17, 2020, https://news.docnow.io/archiving-protests-protecting-activists-e628b49eab47; “Witness Resources,” WITNESS, accessed March 1, 2021, https://www.witness.org/resources/; “Trainings,” Texas After Violence Project, accessed March 1, 2021, https://texasafterviolence.org/?page_id=2627%3E; “Documenting Student Activism w/o Harm,” Project STAND, accessed March 1, 2021, https://standarchives.com/elementor-6715/. The authors are indebted to the members of Documenting the Now, WITNESS, The Blackivists, Texas After Violence Project, Project STAND, and other Black archivists and memory workers who have shared their expertise on documenting the racial justice movement. [↩]
- Throughout this article, we use the term “community” to describe groups of people that may share a common geographic location, race, ethnicity, position (i.e. student or employee), or some combination of these and other identities. We recognize that this is an imprecise term and, more importantly, that librarians and archivists can be imperceptive to the many communities that ought to be served. Alex Brown (@QueenOfRats) aptly noted, “Our service population is not 1 group but many. There is more than 1 community in a town or mentro [sic] area, but we provide the most services to 1 of those groups (guess which).” Twitter, August 18, 2021, 9:26 a.m., https://twitter.com/queenofrats/status/1427985206976253956?s=21. [↩]
- Scott Cline, “‘To the Limit of Our Integrity’: Reflections on Archival Being,” American Archivist 72, no. 2 (fall/winter 2009): 331-343, https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.72.2.g0321510717r6j14. [↩]
- ASC’s component units developed separately with Rare Books having been established in 1957; Photographic Archives in 1962; the Oral History Center in 1968; University Archives, which includes community manuscript collections, in 1973; and Digital Initiatives in 2006. All units merged into a single library in 2013. Of the collecting areas, the university’s archives and manuscripts was the one to embrace inclusive collecting from its inception thanks to the work of several key individuals. Broadly, their efforts reflected then-emerging currents within the field of history as well as their individual experiences. (Our colleague Tom Owen, for example, taught the University’s inaugural course in African American history—a concession by the university’s administration in the wake of student protests in 1969—and brought that lens into his work with the archives. He was also a self-proclaimed community hustler for defunct organizations.) When the archives received records from local individuals and organizations, the Oral History Center collected corresponding narratives, resulting in the African American Community and Louisville’s Jewish Community oral history collections. As the paper, photo, and rare book collections grew, the oral histories expanded as well to cover topics in the 1980s-90s like school integration, urban renewal, the Civil Rights Movement in Louisville, and more recently in the early 2000s Louisville’s LGBTQ community and Fairness Campaign. [↩]
- Patrick M. Quinn, “Archivists and Historians: The Times They Are A-Changing,” Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977): 8. Quinn observed that “traditional notions of what types of primary source materials should be collected and from what sectors of the population…encouraged an elitist approach to writing history, an approach that in effect ignored the history of blacks and other minorities, women, working people and the poor.” Lowell H. Harrison, “A Century of Progress: The Filson Club, 1884-1984,” Filson Club History Quarterly 58, no. 4 (October 1984): 381-407; Otto A. Rothert, The Filson Club and its activities, 1884-1922: A History of the Filson Club, including lists of Filson Club publications and papers on Kentucky History prepared for the Club, also Names of Members (Louisville, Ky.: J.P. Morton, 1922), 15-19; Mark V. Wetherington, “Filson Club Historical Society” in The Encyclopedia of Louisville, ed. John E. Kleber (Lexington, Ky.: University Press of Kentucky, 2001), 289. Like many collecting repositories, the Filson Historical Society has since taken steps to expand its collecting scope. Most recently, in the wake of the movement for racial justice, to “[a]ctively engage with the Louisville Black community to more fully archive the marginalized histories of our city, state, and region.” Richard Clay, “From the President,” The Filson 20, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 3. [↩]
- Caroline Daniels et al., “Saving All the Freaks on the Life Raft: Blending Documentation Strategy with Community Engagement to Build a Local Music Archives,” American Archivist 78, no. 1 (spring/summer 2015): 238-261, https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.78.1.238. [↩]
- Rachel Howard, Heather Fox, and Caroline Daniels, “The Born-Digital Deluge: Documenting Twenty-First Century Events,” Archival Issues 33, no. 2 (2011): 100-109, http://digital.library.wisc.edu/1793/72349. [↩]
- “Contribute your stories of the Covid-19 outbreak,” J. Murrey Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte, published March 26, 2020, https://library.uncc.edu/contribute-your-stories-covid-19-outbreak. [↩]
- The University of Louisville extends faculty status to some positions within the University Libraries, including to seven of the thirteen positions in ASC. Each individual who was involved in the project holds one of these tenure-track faculty positions. [↩]
- Caitlin Brooks, “UofL Archives and Special Collections documenting COVID-19 experiences,” UofL News, April 3, 2020, https://www.uoflnews.com/post/uofltoday/uofl-archives-and-special-collections-documenting-communitys-covid-19-experiences/; Kaylyn Groves, “Research Libraries, Archives Document Community Experiences of COVID-19 Pandemic,” ARL Views (blog), May 14, 2020, https://www.arl.org/blog/research-libraries-archives-document-community-experiences-of-covid-19-pandemic/. [↩]
- “Coronavirus Capsule,” Frazier Kentucky History Museum, accessed March 1, 2021, https://www.fraziermuseum.org/coronaviruscapsule. [↩]
- Executive Order 2020-257 (signed March 25, 2020), https://governor.ky.gov/attachments/20200325_Executive-Order_2020-257_Healthy-at-Home.pdf. [↩]
- University of Louisville, Just the Facts 2019-20, 2020, https://louisville.edu/oapa/institutional-research-and-planning/quick-facts/copy_of_just_the_facts_2020webadacompliant.pdf. [↩]
- Stephanie Wolf, “Downtown Breonna Taylor Memorial Will ‘Rest with her Ancestors’ at Roots 101,” WFPL News, November 2, 2020, https://wfpl.org/downtown-breonna-taylor-memorial-will-rest-with-her-ancestors-at-roots-101/. The memorial to Breonna Taylor has since been transferred to Roots 101 African American Museum. [↩]
- Terry Cook and Joan M. Schwartz, “Archives, Records, and Power: From (Postmodern) Theory to (Archival) Performance,” Archival Science 2 (2002): 178. See also Terry Cook, “Archival Science and Postmodernism: New Formulations for Old Concepts,” Archival Science 1 (2001): 7; Eric Ketelaar, “Tacit Narratives: The Meanings of Archives,” Archival Science 1 (2001):139, 141; Randall C. Jimerson, “Embracing the Power of Archives,” American Archivist 69, no. 1 (spring/summer 2006): 32. The literature applying postmodern theory to archival concepts is a useful foundation for conceptualizing archival power. Cook, for example, shows that the power at work during record creation—including even “the document’s structure, resident information system, and narrative conventions”—shape the records, arguing that these forces are, in fact, more important than the records’ content. Ketelaar observed that “not only the administrative context, but also the social, cultural, political, religious contexts of…creation, maintenance, and use,” shape the record. He challenges archivists to “stress the archive’s power” through deconstruction and reconstruction, an idea that Jimerson also encouraged. Archivists, he wrote, should “embrace the power of archives” as a force for good, suggesting that archives can protect public interest rather than the privileges of the powerful. [↩]
- Society of American Archivists, Community Reflection on Black Lives and Archives (forum, held online, June 12, 2020), accessed March 1, 2021, https://www.pathlms.com/saa/events/1996/video_presentations/162192. [↩]
- Joanne Evans et al., “Self-determination and Archival Autonomy: Advocating Activism,” Archival Science 15 (2015): 356-57. The authors defined “archival autonomy” as “the ability for individuals and communities to participate in societal memory, with their own voice, and to become participatory agents in recordkeeping and archiving for identity, memory, and accountability purposes.” [↩]
- Aleia Brown (@CollardStudies) “The missing details, assumptions, one-dimensional presentations, and lack of accountability were all symptomatic of a lack of care for Black life. Lack of care doesn’t seem nefarious until you consider the ways this approach to Black public history manifests deeper issues…Care is also answering Black Studies scholar Christina Sharpe’s inquiry, ‘How do we memorialize an ongoing event?’ What is the violence wreaked by a capitalist, white supremacists, patriarchal society?” Twitter, July 8, 2020, 7:06 p.m., https://twitter.com/CollardStudies/status/1281001812032708610. [↩]
- Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor, “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives,” Archivaria 81 (spring 2016): 24. [↩]
- Mario Ramirez, “Being Assumed Not to Be: A Critique of Whiteness as an Archival Imperative,” American Archivist 78, no. 2 (fall/winter 2015): 352, https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.78.2.339. [↩]
- Michelle Caswell et al., “‘To Be Able to Imagine Otherwise’: Community Archives and the Importance of Representation,” Archives and Records 38, no. 1 (2016): 5-26, https://doi.org/10.1080/23257962.2016.1260445; Michelle Caswell, Marika Cifor, and Mario H. Ramirez, “’To Suddenly Discover Yourself Existing’: Uncovering the Impact of Community Archives,” American Archivist 79, no. 1 (spring/summer 2016): 56-81, https://doi.org/10.17723/0360-9081.79.1.56; Michelle Caswell, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in the Archives,” Library Quarterly 87, no. 3 (July 2017): 222-235, https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdf/10.1086/692299; Jarrett M. Drake, “Liberatory Archives: Towards Belonging and Believing (Part 1),” On Archivy (blog), October 22, 2016, https://medium.com/on-archivy/liberatory-archives-towards-belonging-and-believing-part-1-d26aaeb0edd1; Anthony W. Dunbar, “Introducing Critical Race Theory to Archival Discourse: Getting the Conversation Started,” Archival Science 6, no. 1 (2006): 109-29, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-006-9022-6; Isto Huvila, “Participatory Archive: Towards Decentralised Curation, Radical User Orientation, and Broader Contextualisation of Records Management,” Archival Science 8 (2008): 15-36, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-008-9071-0; Bergis Jules, “Confronting Our Failure of Care Around the Legacies of Marginalized People in the Archives,” On Archivy (blog), November 11, 2016, https://medium.com/on-archivy/confronting-our-failure-of-care-around-the-legacies-of-marginalized-people-in-the-archives-dc4180397280. [↩]
- GVGK Tang, “We need to talk about public history’s columbusing problem,” History@Work (blog), National Council on Public History, June 25, 2020, https://ncph.org/history-at-work/we-need-to-talk-about-public-historys-columbusing-problem/. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Eira Tansey, “No One Owes Their Trauma to Archivists or the Commodification of Contemporaneous Collecting,” Eira Tansey (blog), June 5, 2020, http://eiratansey.com/2020/06/05/no-one-owes-their-trauma-to-archivists-or-the-commodification-of-contemporaneous-collecting/. [↩]
- Ibid. [↩]
- Archivists define accountability as the capacity to “answer for, explain, or justify actions or decisions” that are the responsibility of a system, individual, or corporate entity. What is more, archivists have identified accountability as a core professional value, and one that should guide daily practices and characterize professional intentions. Archives’ role in supporting accountability gives archives power—power that is exercised during daily processes like deciding what gets saved, who gets access, and how records are represented, which ultimately impacts how we remember the past. Nevertheless, the work of the archivists cannot foster accountability by itself; this is also the work of record creators and researchers, and in fact, the complexities of collecting for evidentiary purposes from the very institutions that often fund the archive can introduce tensions or, worse, interference. Nevertheless, archives play a key role in cultivating transparency as they engage in this work. Dictionary of Archives Terminology Society of American Archivists, s.v. “accountability (n.),” accessed August 3, 2021, https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/accountability.html; SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics,” Society of American Archivists, last modified March 30, 2018, https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics; Heather Briston, “On Accountability,” in Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark A. Greene, ed. Christine Weideman and Mary A. Caldera (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2019), 76-81. Randall C. Jimerson, Archives Power: Memory, Accountability, and Social Justice (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2009), 246-247. [↩]
- Tansey, “No One Owes Their Trauma to Archivists or the Commodification of Contemporaneous Collecting.” [↩]
- Merriam-Webster, s.v. “record (n.),” accessed March 1, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/record. [↩]
- Howard Zinn, “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest” Midwestern Archivist 2, no. 2 (1977), 21. [↩]
- Jimerson, 22-24. In summarizing other scholars, Jimerson highlights the role that archives play in legitimizing and sanctifying certain documents over others and the role that archivists play in representation and controlling access. The consequence, he notes, is a reinforcement of that which is culturally dominant: powerful, well-resourced, white, cis, male. [↩]