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