Archives matter because you matter

During my undergraduate years at the University of Georgia, I had an English professor named Dr. Ron Baxter Miller. He said something in class I’ll never forget. With boldness, he stated, “English matters because the human condition matters.” As a humanities student myself,  I took this quote and its logic with me through my undergraduate years and into my graduate school career. Now, as I work toward graduating with my master’s degree in archival studies next year while also continuing to gain experience as a practicing archivist and an archival scholar, I’d like to amend Dr. Miller’s quote and declare that “archives matter because the human condition matters.”

Just this week, I’ve experienced situations that demonstrate how and why archives matter. On Tuesday, I began a new internship at the Robert W. Woodruff Library, Atlanta University Center. My job is to process the collection of Dr. Bernard Bell, a prolific and accomplished African American literary scholar. I was an English major in undergrad, so naturally, I was excited to begin working with this collection merely because of its content. I did not anticipate, however, the incredible convergence between Dr. Bell’s life and my own. Not only did Dr. Bell have personal relationships with writers whom I love and respect the most, such as James Baldwin, but I recently found a manuscript draft of a textbook Dr. Bell co-authored and realized that I used this very textbook during one of my English classes at UGA!  And you’ll never guess who taught that class … Dr. Ron Baxter Miller. Archives brought us full circle.

In addition, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an article a few days ago exposing an amazing archival discovery hidden for years in a small town in North Carolina. A newly discovered reel-to-reel tape holds the fifty-five minute speech that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave to a group of high school students in Rocky Mount, NC in 1962. On this tape, Dr. King uttered his iconic phrase, “I have a dream,” which suggests that it was this group of students, not the quarter of a million attendees at the March on Washington, who first heard of Dr. King speak of his dream. Archives brought a new history to light.

Archives matter because people matter. Archives matter because our stories matter. Archives matter because the human condition matters.

Why do you think archives matter? ?? Let’s start a conversation!

Also, here’s a link to the Dr. King story: http://www.myajc.com/news/news/king-had-a-dream-before-the-dream/nnR8C/?icid=ajc_internallink_myajcinvitationbox_feb2014_accessdigital_post-purchase#872f5a41.4118745.735839

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A community that archives together stays together … or vice versa?

Since April of this year, I’ve been serving as a volunteer intern at the Flat Rock Archives in Lithonia, GA, and—

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Hold it! Before I go any further, I need to make a shameless plug. Here it goes: Check out our new and improved website! Visit www.flatrockarchives.com!

Whew, sorry about that interruption, but an archives has gotta do what an archives has gotta do #NoShame. Anyway, like I was saying, the Flat Rock Archives is located southeast of Atlanta, and it is an institution dedicated to preserving the history and culture of African Americans in the Flat Rock region. Although the name “Flat Rock” has not appeared on a Georgia map since the early nineteenth century, this tight-knit community of African Americans has not disappeared geographically or socially.

In many ways, the Flat Rock community is quite an anomaly. Family displacement and mass movement brought on by slavery, Reconstruction, and the Great Migration prevented many African Americans from forming communities characterized by endurance, longevity, and a common ancestry. The Flat Rock community is rare because during the Reconstruction and Great Migration eras, everybody pretty much stayed put. This was largely due to the efforts of a legendary Flat Rock community member named T.A. Bryant Sr.,  who often bought and resold parcels of land to his fellow neighbors so the community could remain intact. Hence, few people moved. This culture of “staying put” continued for generations. Fast forward over one hundred years, and what remains is a tightly bound community of African Americans, all with shared bloodlines, a shared culture, and a shared history.

Johnny Waits, a Flat Rock native, established the Flat Rock Archives in 2006. The Archives resides in the home built by T.A. Bryant Sr. in 1917. Bryant’s son, Reverend T.A. Bryant Jr. (who also happens to be the grandfather of actor/comedian Chris Tucker), donated the home for the Archives’ edifice. The Flat Rock Archives is a prime example of what an archivist would call a community archives.  Essentially, a community archives is a phenomenon that occurs when members of a community choose to document their own history, usually, in a way that is intentionally separate from “mainstream” archives.

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The Flat Rock Archives

I don’t know about you, but I think the concept of a community archives is both fascinating and empowering. Over the past few years, the idea of  community archiving has been a prevalent topic in archival literature. Here are just a few examples you might want to check out:

Andrew Flinn, Mary Stevens, and Elizabeth’s Shepherd’s 2009 article entitled “Whose memories, whose archives? Independent community archives, autonomy, and the mainstream” acknowledges the ambiguity of the terms “community” and “archives,” and hence, the ambiguity of the term “community archives.” They do offer, however, a general definition for community archives. They describe these archives as “collections of material gathered primary by members of a given community over whose use community members exercise some level of control.”[1]

Jeanette Bastian talks about the importance of culture and communities in her 2013 article entitled “The records of memory, the archives of identity: celebrations, texts, and archival sensibilities.” She states, “Without deep knowledge of its core cultural events, it might be difficult, even impossible, to truly document any community.”[2]  

In Michelle Caswell’s 2014 article, “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the fight against Symbolic Annihilation,” she writes, “community archives are independent grassroots efforts for communities to document their own commonalities and differences outside the boundaries of formal mainstream institutions.”[3] 

What are your thoughts on community archives? What are some examples of community archives where you live?

[1] Andrew Flinn, Mary Stevens, and Elizabeth Shepherd, “Whose memories, whose archives? Independent community archives, autonomy, and the mainstream,” Archival Science 9, no. 1-2 (2009): 73, http://ezproxy.clayton.edu:2102/docview/214910297/fulltextPDF/94BCC26D4484740PQ/3?accountid=10139.

[2] Jeanette A. Bastian, “The records of memory, the archives of identity: celebrations, texts, and archival sensibilities,” Archival Science 13, no. 2-3 (2013): 122, http://ezproxy.clayton.edu:2102/results/94BCC26D4484740PQ/1?accountid=10139.

[3] Michelle Caswell, “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation,” The Public Historian 36, no. 4 (2014): 31, http://ezproxy.clayton.edu:2076/stable/pdf/10.1525/tph.2014.36.4.26.pdf?acceptTC=true&jpdConfirm=true.

A stint in Cleveland, a lifetime of memories

Thanks to my amazing internship supervisor at the Internet Archive, Jefferson Bailey, I had the opportunity to attend the Archive-It partner meeting at the 2015 Society of American Archivists annual meeting in Cleveland, Ohio. It was so much fun! I really enjoyed getting to know the Archive-It staff members face-to-face. During my time at the meeting, I made a presentation about my work with the Archive-It K-12 Web Archiving Program; I learned about the current status of the Internet Archive and Archive-It, and I also found out about some exciting web archiving efforts that various institutions are engaging in through partnerships with Archive-It.

Me presenting at the 2015 Archive-It Partner Meeting--part of the 2015 Society of American Archivists annual meeting
Me (JoyEllen) presenting at the 2015 Archive-It Partner Meeting–part of the 2015 Society of American Archivists annual meeting
Archive-It goodies!
Archive-It goodies!

Now I’ll share some of the most interesting info I learned from the meeting:

Some Archive-It stats:

  • Archive-It already has 64 new partners this year
  • Since 2006, Archive-It partners have created over 530 terabytes of data
  • Archive-It partners are responsible for preserving 12 billion URLs
  • Archive-It had seven K-12 partners this year

Some Archive-It partnerships I found particularly interesting:

  • The National Library of Medicine is currently collecting born-digital resources to document the 2014 Ebola outbreak
  • The Kansas state archives along with various universities in Kansas have partnered together to create the Kansas Archive-It Consortium (KAIC). Yes, it is pronounced like “cake.” The goal is to create a web archiving “documentation strategy,” if you will, involving multiple institutions and providing increased access to preserved web content.
  • The University of Scranton uses DuraCloud, an on-demand storage space powered by DuraSpace, to back up its Archive-It WARC files. Rather be safe than sorry!

Some updates on the Internet Archive:

  • About 490 billion URLs collected
  • Receives about 3 million visits per day
  • Currently collecting millions of hours of television (though not all of this is available)
  • Forward-focus goals:
    • Lessening focus on collecting and now focusing more on accessibility
    • Working on changing the Wayback machine to make searches easier (i.e. you won’t have to know the exact URL of a site to search its web archives)
    • Focus on improving book and text searches

Lastly, I’d like to make a huge-shout out to Archive-It for hosting a lovely dinner on Tuesday night! We enjoyed dinner at Hodge’s restaurant in downtown Cleveland. OMG. If you’re ever in Cleveland, you must go. It is yummy!
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What’s on your archival bookshelf?

As  I gear up for another wonderful year of graduate school (yippee!), I also find myself wanting to “bulk up” my archival bookshelf. After all, archivists have a lot to say, and keeping up with such a dynamic field requires a constantly evolving and intensive reading list. Archival researchers, scholars, practitioners, bloggers, students, and everyone in between, all have experiences to share that can alter that way we consider the role of archives in society. Personally, my favorite works are those that can inspire members of the archival community as well as those outside of it. One such book is currently on my archival bookshelf, and I’d like to give you a glimpse of it here, especially since I know the author! Yep, just another perk of attending annual conferences and meetings like the Archival Education and Research Institute—you get to hang out with the “heavy hitters”!

The book I’d like to highlight is called Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia by Dr. Michelle Caswell.

caswell book

Real talk … I am just as excited to read this book as I am frightened to read it. While I’ve heard nothing but amazing reviews of Dr. Caswell’s riveting work, I know how emotional it is going to be. In this book, Dr. Caswell explores the creation, use, and silences of a body records that evinces “unspeakable” crimes of tragedy and injustice. These records are the mug shots of slaughtered Tuol Sleng prison victims. In the most recent issue of American Archivist, Randall Jimerson wrote a book review of Dr. Caswell’s work. In his review, he not only praises her theoretical insights and scholarly treatment of such a tragic subject, but he also notes, “Caswell writes with the passion and commitment of a participant in the experiences she describes.” [1] I think this type of writing is rare because it requires an element of vulnerability that is uncomfortable for scholars. In other words, conducting archival research is not always safe. Exploring, understanding, and writing about the records of humanity can challenge both archival and scholarly boundaries because it forces one to reconsider what it means to be an in-depth researcher vs. a participant, someone who externalizes vs. someone who internalizes, a scholar vs. an activist. I have a feeling that when I read Dr. Caswell’s book, I will ask many of these same questions. I cannot wait to get started … well, as soon as Amazon decides to deliver it.

Now that I’ve shared a book on my archival bookshelf, an inquiring mind wants to know … what’s on your archival bookshelf this fall? Is it a reference book? A case study? Some good, old-fashioned theory? A magazine? A peer-reviewed journal? A historical account? A fiction work? A blog post? Feel free to leave comments!

[1] Randall Jimerson, review of Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia, by Michelle Caswell, American Archivist 78, no. 1 (2015): 267, http://americanarchivist.org/doi/pdf/10.17723/0360-9081.78.1.265.

Now we’ve come to the end of the road… *Boyz II Men voice*

I can hardly believe this summer is just about over. Before my eyes, the summer months have come and gone, and along with them goes my incredible internship with Archive-It K-12 Web Archiving Program. I will always remember my summer as  a “virtual intern”—the things I learned, the people I met, and the inspirations I received—all from a computer screen. This summer taught me to research better, write better, network better, archive better, learn better, but most of all, it taught me that when it comes to history, no one’s voice is “better.” Archives are, essentially, the documented stories of humanity. We keep archives because of their enduring value and their ability to tell the everyday stories of life and its many successes, failures, scandals, milestones, transactions, and more. When we deny certain voices or formats entry into the archives, we are not striving for, as Richard Pearce-Moses would say, “a complete, authentic, and accurate story of the past.”[1] That is why initiatives like the K-12 Web Archiving Program are so important. K-12 students, for once, are getting to represent themselves in the archives by participating in the archival process. After all, who better to decide what is important to K-12 students than actual, real-life K-12 students?

In closing, this summer showed me the raw, dedicated, cutting-edge, exhilarating, and at times, frustrating passion it takes to be an archivist in the digital era. This summer also showed me I couldn’t possibly be more passionate about any other career. Thank you, my fellow blog readers, for taking this summer journey of learning with me! I will still maintain this blog, of course (you’re not off the hook LOL!), but this is probably the last time I’ll be posting about the Archive-It K-12 Web Archiving Program for a while. But not to worry … my previous posts will always be accessible. Want to know why? Because I chose to Archive-It! Haha! But for real though. I totally did.

Please enjoy the PowerPoint presentation below called “Lessons from a Virtual Intern.” It provides a final summary of my work with Archive-It. Thanks for a great summer, y’all! Stay tuned for more posts coming your way.


[1] Cathy Miller, “Everyday Digital Archives Q&A: Richard Pearce-Moses,” Society of Georgia Archivists (blog), Society of Georgia Archivists, March 2, 2015, http://georgiaarchivists.blogspot.com/2015/03/everyday-digital-archvies-q-richard.html.