The darker side of history

I couldn’t sleep last night. It was around midnight, and going to bed seemed like the last thing on my mind. I decided to find a free, on-demand movie to watch. I noticed that one of the free movies available was Hotel Rwanda. I saw this movie once before when I was a bit younger, but I wasn’t mature enough to understand it, and I did not watch the entire thing. Hence, I decided to re-watch it last night. For those of you who haven’t heard of this movie, it tells the story of the heinous genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. Although Hotel Rwanda is an incredible film, it is also incredibly difficult to watch. I struggled to process it both mentally and emotionally.

For archivists, the darker sides of history come into our presence on a regular basis. As we strive to document the stories of humanity through records, we are forced to confront stories that we wish didn’t exist. While watching Hotel Rwanda, I couldn’t help but notice the integral role that recordkeeping played. Records both assisted the genocide and helped resist it. Here are a few examples from both sides. . .

  • The Hutu militia (the force committing genocide against the Tutsi people) tried to use the guest list records from the Hotel des Mille Collines to find Tutsi refugees and kill them.
  • The Hutu militia used identity cards to commit murders. During this time in Rwanda, each citizen carried a card that identified the individual as Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa. The Hutu militia used forced people to show their cards and would subsequently murder anyone identifying as Tutsi.
  • Paul Rusesabinga – the protagonist – orders the destruction of records from the hotel, including the guest lists, to protect the lives of the Tutsi refugees.
  • An American reporter goes against his supervisor’s orders and captures footage of the carnage produced by the genocide. This footage revealed the undeniable tragedy that was taking place in Rwanda despite the ignorance and nonchalance of citizens in other countries.
  • Paul and his wife frantically search for their refugee nieces using a large poster filled with pictures of displaced children.

Records have the ability to both perpetuate evil and fight against it. If we bring this into the twenty-first century, it is even more interesting to consider digital records and how they influence the darker sides of history. For instance, I wonder if the Rwandan genocide could have (or would have) been stopped earlier if social media had existed. Perhaps countries like the United States would have learned of the atrocities faster and would have been more inclined to send help earlier. Maybe more families could have been reunited; maybe more of the murderers would have been brought to justice. I suppose we will never know.

I hope I didn’t make anyone feel depressed with this post. I just think it is important to revisit difficult periods in human history and explore how archives and recordkeeping influence these events. Leave comments below and let me know what you think. Consider other examples of human tragedy and ask, “What role did records play during the tragedy and in its aftermath?”

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The Power behind Archival Photos

STOP. If you haven’t seen the movie Wonder Woman, I suggest you cease reading this post and immediately go see it! Oh my goodness . . . it was so good! And this is coming from someone who only has a moderate interest in superhero action movies. In fact, I have been surprising myself with my enthusiasm for this film. My interest, however, is not so much rooted in the fighting, superpowers, or the infamous “lasso of truth.” I love this movie because the entire plot begins with an archival photograph.

I do not want this post to be a spoiler, so I will refrain from describing the significance of the archival photograph that is featured in the film. I do, however, want to use Wonder Woman as a platform to discuss the magic and mystery that lies within photographic archives. It’s a common saying that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” This phrase is pretty cliché, but I think it’s true in many ways. Photographs communicate much more than we can put into words. Through a single image, they help us understand people, places, historical context, emotion, circumstances, and life stories. The fictional photograph in Wonder Woman was taken during WWI, which is already super cool. But it’s not until you get at least halfway into the movie that you realize why this photo was taken and how incredibly significant it is to the plot.

Okay, enough about Wonder Woman before I actually start to spoil it for you! What I’m really trying to say is that archival photographs evince a moment in time. They do this through the image they portray, but also by their format. In fact, sometimes knowing the format of a photograph is the only way to actually date the photograph at all. Here’s a little history lesson for ya. . .

In 1839, the first form of photography was developed. These photographs were called daguerreotypes, named for their creator – Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre. From there, we embarked on a long journey of photographic processes that included uncoated paper processes, collodion emulsions, albumen emulsions, gelatin emulsions, photomechanical processes, color processes, and digital photographs, just to summarize. Understanding how photographic processes fit into history is essential for accurate photographic identification.

Let me be real . . . identifying photographs based on their type and process is one of the HARDEST things I am learning to do as an archivist. I feel like I never get it right. In fact, I’m not even sure if the archival photo in Wonder Woman is consistent with popular photographic processes in 1918 (I’m thinking the process would have been some type of gelatin print?). Nonetheless, I’m determined to continue learning and sharpening my skills. I recently signed up for some awesome FREE webinars hosted by the Image Permanence Institute. These webinars are all about identifying photographic processes: https://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/process-id-webinars. There may still be room to register, so if you’re interested, go for it! Also, the Image Permanence Institute has a grant to host a series of FREE three-day workshops totally focused on photograph identification (https://www.imagepermanenceinstitute.org/process-id-workshops). The processing archivist at my job was selected to go to the seminar in Atlanta! I’m so happy for him. All of the 2017 workshops are closed, but there are still five more that will be offered in 2018. Y’all. . . I want to go so badly. I think I may end up applying for one next year.

In a nutshell, archival photographs are amazing. They allow us to experience and confront the past in ways that were simply unprecedented prior to the nineteenth century. Even if you are not an archivist who gets to be around these things all day, I encourage you to search for archival photographs in your home! You may be surprised at the story that lies behind one image.

 

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This is the archival photo featured in Wonder Woman. So cool! 

Recommended resource: Photographs: Archival Care and Management by Mary Lynn Ritzenthaler & Diane Vogt O’Connor

 

 

Because We’re Special.

One of my favorite phrases in archival terminology is the phrase “special collections.” I love this phrase so much because it describes itself perfectly. If you have never heard the phrase “special collections” before, the first thing to note is that it’s a multifaceted term.  For instance, take a look at Laura Schmidt’s explanation of the phrase in her publication Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research:

Special collections are institutions containing materials from individuals, families, and organizations deemed to have significant historical value. Topics collected in special collections vary widely, and include medicine, law, literature, fine art, and technology. Often a special collections repository will be a department within a library, holding the library’s rarest or most valuable original manuscripts, books, and/or collections of local history for neighboring communities.[1]

This definition is interesting to me because it’s pretty much synonymous with the general definition for archives. In fact, many people use the terms “archives” and “special collections” interchangeably. However, others prefer to view special collections in a slightly different category than archives. In some archival repositories, particularly archives often refer to the records created during the course of organizational business while special collections refer to manuscripts, rare books, and other rare, unpublished material that may be more personal, or perhaps covers a wide range of topics.

There’s really no right or wrong to view of the phrase “special collections.” It all depends on your repository and what it collects. As Schmidt mentioned in her definition, some institutions are solely “special collections institutions” that collect a wide variety of archival materials from individual people, families, communities, and organizations. Other institutions, such as corporate archives and government archives, probably have very few special collections materials because they focus on collecting the business archives of a specific entity. Other institutions, such as universities, often have a mix of archives and special collections materials. For example, at the Kennesaw State University Archives (where I work), we have separated our repository holdings into three main records groups: University Archives, Special Collections, and Digital Collections (http://archives.kennesaw.edu/archive_use/collections.php). For us, the university archives and the special collections work together to fulfill our mission, which is to document an inclusive history of our university and of the north and northwest Georgia community. Our university records (presidential records, departmental records, student group records, etc.) document university history and our special collections (local history records, genealogical records, family papers, etc.) document the north and northwest Georgia community in which we live. If I am being completely honest, I must say that I have always preferred working with our special collections because I get to learn about so many different people’s stories. There’s just something so intimate about reading a handwritten letter between a Vietnam soldier and the girl he adores, analyzing marginalia in a medieval manuscript, or preserving a carte de visite that once sat in a nineteenth-century parlor!

No matter how you view or describe special collections, one thing to remember is that they truly are special. I’ve traveled through the World War II Homefront, the Civil Rights Movement, the era of Native American Removal, and many other periods of American history simply by working with special collections.

You are special. Humans our special. Our memories are special. Our collections are special.

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*This is the front side of a letter in the Robert deTreville Lawrence III Papers at the Kennesaw State University Archives. The Lawrence Collection is one of our special collections.

[1] Laura Schmidt, Using Archives: A Guide to Effective Research (Society of American Archivists, 2011).

I will no longer stay quiet.

I generally do not engage in political talk on this blog. First and foremost, I simply do not like talking about politics; it stresses me out. But secondly, I like keeping the peace. I remember learning something in political science class during my freshman year of college that will always stick with me. The TA dropped a little wisdom on us and said that if you’re ever with a group of people you don’t know very well, stay away from discussing money, religion, and politics. Because this blog is a space open to everyone, I would hate for someone to feel attacked or unwelcome by a post simply because he or she holds certain political views.  Hence, my idea of a politically neutral blog has been totally sufficient for almost two years.

But there are times when you just cannot stay quiet. Right now, we are in one of these times. A few days ago, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, and his administration released their proposed budget for fiscal year 2018. This proposal sent archivists, librarians, scholars, educators, museum curators, students and all those who care about cultural heritage into a complete shock. In this proposal, Trump and his administration desire to eliminate funding for the following programs related to archives and libraries:

  • National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
  • National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
  • Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
  • National Heritage Areas program at the National Park Service. There are currently 49 Heritage Areas nationwide.
  • Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
  • Twenty individual grant programs at the Department of Education are eliminated. The proposal specifically mentions international education which includes Title VI/Fulbright-Hays.
  • The Department of Interior’s budget is cut 12%.

In my mind, this is nothing less than a tragedy. Even though this is just a proposal and it is highly unlikely that this will have any chance of making it through Congress, I call this tragic because it shows us that the President of the United States simply does not value what we value. Apparently, he does not see value in funding archives, libraries, and the countless other cultural heritage institutions that document the human experience. This proposal has once again forced me to confront the question, “why do archives matter?” I found my answer to this question many years ago, and it still has not changed. Archives matter because humans matter. Archives matter because the human condition matters, and our collective experiences, stories, victories, challenges, and legacies matter on this planet. Does President Trump value the human experience? Does he value human expression? Does he value the culture and rich traditions that we all share as members of the human race? According to this budget proposal, the answer is no, and that, my friends, angers me.

On an even more intense level, I must add that this budget proposal personally offends me. I cannot even begin to explain the incredible impact that programs like the NEH, IMLS, and National Heritage Area programs have had on my life. In 2015, I was awarded a ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellowship, which paid for the last year of my graduate schooling and provided me with a paid internship so I could gain experience in my field and enter the job force after graduation. Yeah, the IMLS did that!! Do you all remember my work with the Flat Rock Archives? The Flat Rock Archives is a small community archives in Lithonia, GA that documents the history of African Americans in the area. The Flat Rock Archives survives on two grants per year, and one of these grants is provided by the National Heritage Area program. Without this grant, the archives would cease to exist. As for the NEH, where do I even begin? The NEH and the IMLS partially fund almost every conference I attend as an archives professional. The NEH provides the entire cultural heritage profession with preservation grants, outreach grants, research grants, and more. Eliminating the NEH would be completely catastrophic for the development of the humanities in this country.

I want to raise my future children in a country that values their thoughts, expressions, and stories, and history. I want to live in a country that sees value in its people and their ideas. Right now, I am sick with grief over the current administration’s death sentence toward so many things that I hold true to my heart. But I will not give up hope!! There are too many of us to let this go down without a fight. I believe that through solidarity, activism, prayer, and grit, America will push back against this assault on its cultural heritage.

Who’s with me??

For more information about the Trump FY 18 Budget Proposal, visit http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/16/politics/trump-budget-cuts/

To see the Society of American Archivists’ most recent analysis of the Trump FY 18 Budget Proposal, visit http://www2.archivists.org/news/2017/trump-administration%E2%80%99s-proposed-fy-18-budget-slashes-neh-nea-imls

 

Out of Sight, Out of History??

Fun fact about JoyEllen: I LOVE Amish fiction. For those of you who are reading this post and already raising your eyebrows, yes, Amish fiction is actually a thing. See below…

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These are just a few of the Amish books I’ve enjoyed since my obsession began just a few summers ago. And just in case you are wondering, I am not making this genre up; you can go to Barnes and Noble and find an entire section labeled “Amish fiction.”  For some reason, I am fascinated by the Amish lifestyle and belief system, particularly since there are so many different types of Amish people. While my Amish fiction books make wonderful stories, the archivist in me keeps wondering about the real stories of Amish people that we can only find through their archives. How do Amish people preserve their history? Are there archivists within the Amish community? Are there academic institutions that collaborate with the Amish? This kind of goes along with my general interest in community archives and the hidden collections and stories of people mainstream society often lets slip through the cracks. This whole situation is a little difference when it comes to Amish folk, though. In many ways, they choose to separate themselves from mainstream society and its “fancy” culture, as they say. I completely understand and respect this choice; however, just because we may not see and interact with them as much doesn’t mean they are not a part of history. As archivists, how do we preserve and document the history of a people who, for the most part, would rather be left alone? This is an issue that comes up in other communities as well, such as the Native American community. In 2007, a collaborative group of Native American and non-Native American archivists and librarians got together and drafted the “Protocols for Native American Archival Materials.” Although this document was not officially accepted by the Society of American Archivists, it did establish some ethical and respectful standards for the historical representation of indigenous people. If archivists were to spend more time documenting the Amish, would a similar document be necessary?

I genuinely do not know the answers to these tough questions. After all, this is a matter of ethics just as much as it is a matter of preservation. I decided to explore what some archival literature has to say about it. But. . . after some quick online searches, I could hardly find anything related to the Amish and their archives. I did a keyword searches in The American Archivist and hardly found anything. The same goes for Archivaria, Archival Science, and Archival Issues. These are just a few journals off the top of my head. I definitely have more to survey. In addition, I may need to reach out to some archivists in states that have large concentrations of Amish people (Pennsylvania, Ohio, etc.) to see if they have any insight on the archives of the Amish. If anyone has any insight into this, please leave a comment! An inquiring mind (aka me) would love to know!

Our 31 days of glory. Make the most of it!

Ah, October. One of my favorite months! For people like me who live in the southeastern United States, October commences our collective obsession with fall, sweaters, boots, wedding season, football games, cool weather, and pumpkin spice EVERYTHING. For archives lovers, October has even more meaning, because it is officially American Archives Month!!! Yay! To top it all off, Georgia archivists decided to double claim this month, because it is officially Georgia Archives Month as well. Yeah, we did it. BOOM. As exciting as this is, it also puts a lot of pressure on people like me, whose jobs revolve around archival outreach. This is the month where I finally have an excuse to talk about archives every second of every day. Whether it’s through social media, scholarly articles, outreach events and programs, or even just striking up a conversation with a stranger—my life this month is all about bringing the importance of archives into public awareness and advocating for stronger and better supported archival programs throughout the United States.

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Taking advantage of Archives Month must be done in a thoughtful way, because whether we like it or not, most people are probably unaware of and/or don’t care much about archives. I know . . . it hurts to say it! However, I believe that most of this nonchalance comes from ignorance, simply because the majority of people do not understand what archives are and why they are useful. In order to reverse this way of thinking, we have to get creative! Instead of merely lecturing our audiences about the nature of archives or doing a show-and-tell presentation of a few collection highlights, let’s step outside of the archival box and have a little fun! Here are some fun ideas I’ve seen floating around in the archival community:

  1. Although archivists strive to create a complete, authentic, and accurate view of history, why not get a little fictitious for a second?? Invite fellow archivists or members of your community to participate in a fiction contest featuring an archives, an archivist, or archival materials. This is a great way to get the archival community and the general public to use their imagination and to think about archives in unconventional ways. Take a look at the Society of American Archivists’ second annual fiction contest invitation: http://archivists.org/short-fiction-contest.
  2. Participate in #AskAnArchivistDay—a large-scale Twitter conversation where archivists from all over the country answer any and every question about archives and archivists. This year’s #AskAnArchivistDay is on October 5: http://www2.archivists.org/initiatives/askanarchivist-day.
  3. Draw comics about archives and post them on social media. Here’s an example from the ArchivesAware! Blog: https://archivesaware.archivists.org/2016/07/25/beyond-the-elevator-no-5/
  4. Develop a state or local theme to coincide with Archives Month and develop programming around this theme. In Georgia, our theme this year is “Archives Big and Small: Showcasing Our Gems.” 
  5. Have a photo contest or a photo identification contest where you solicit the general public to either submit archival photos they may have in their homes or help identify unknown faces and names in collections of unlabeled photographs. (Ahem . . . don’t even pretend like your repository doesn’t have a collection of mystery photographs!)
  6. Make contacts with local and state politicians. This month is the prime time for advocacy! Each year in Georgia, we kick off Archives Month with a proclamation signing and photo op with our governor. This was my first year attending! (see the photo below):
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A few Georgia archivists (I am fourth from the left!) with Governor Nathan Deal as we officially proclaim October as Georgia Archives Month.
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Having a little fun in the Governor’s Office before the Georgia Archives Month proclamation signing 🙂

Anyway, these are just a few small ideas, but I’d love to hear more!! Please use this space as a sounding board for Archives Month ideas and experiences 🙂

I’ll do me. You do you. But let’s all do SAA!

Last week, archivists from all over the country (actually, probably the world) came to Atlanta for the eightieth Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting. And it was AWESOME. Aside from the fact that I live in Atlanta and had the luxury of watching so many of my colleagues enjoy all that my city has to offer, I had a chance to experience what it was like to serve on the host committee for the SAA meeting. In addition, I am a 2015 – 2017 Association of Research Libraries/Society of American Archivists Mosaic Fellow, so I enjoyed a few different special events through that as well. One thing that I love about the SAA conference is that no one’s experience is identical. At some conferences, everyone attends the same sessions, eats the same conference food, etc. Nothing is wrong with that. However, at the SAA conference, there is no possible way an archivists can go to every session, visit every vendor, drink at every happy hour, eat at every restaurant. . . it’s just not humanly possible. Hence, each archivist attending the conference has a customized experience based on what is important to him or her. Some archivists choose to stay for the entire conference while others may only stay for a few days. Some may choose to attend pre-conference workshops while others may choose to spend that time getting to know the area and socializing with colleagues. There is no wrong way to do SAA! Even archivists that cannot physically come to the meeting can enjoy conference recordings on Mp3. How cool is that??

Anyway, I’m going to give you a glimpse into my SAA experience. I encourage everyone to comment and share their own!

Tuesday, August 2

8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. ARL/SAA Mosaic Forum

During this all-day forum, my fellow Mosaic scholars and I enjoyed learning about diversity in archives and early career development from a variety of panel speakers. I’d like to make a special shout-out to my friends Holly Smith, Gabrielle Dudley, and Courtney Chartier for conducting a wonderful panel to kick off our forum! Later in the day, we had lunch with current SAA President Dennis Meissner and SAA Executive Director Nancy Beaumont, which was delightful. We ended the day with a mock job interview. I am already employed, so it didn’t mean much to me, but the practice is always good.

Tuesday, August 2:       

5:30 p.m. Archive-It Partner reception

Be still my beating heart! Some of my oldest blog readers may remember that interned with Archive-It during the summer of 2015. That’s the reason I started this blog in the first place! I enjoyed a lovely reception with my former co-workers and internship supervisors. It was so wonderful to see them. They came to Atlanta all the way from San Francisco.

Tuesday, August 2

6:30 p.m. ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellow dinner at White Oak Kitchen

Dinnertime with my Mosaic Fellows! We had a delicious dinner at White Oak Kitchen in downtown Atlanta and enjoyed lots of bonding. I was so impressed because the restaurant was even able to accommodate all of my dietary issues (which is rare). Yum!

 

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Aren’t we adorbs??

Wednesday, August 3

8:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. Academy of Certified Archivists exam

Umm, do I really need to describe this one? It was definitely a challenging test. I am keeping positive thoughts and hoping that I passed! I want to be a certified archivist!

Wednesday, August 3

12:30 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. Bookstore

Those prices were incredible!! I bought two new books—College and University Archives: Readings in Theory and Practice edited by Christopher Prom and Elaine D. Swan and the new, hot-off-the-press Digital Preservation Essentials edited by Christopher Prom, Erin O’Meara, and Kate Stratton. In addition, I got to meet Abigail Christian, SAA’s Editorial and Production Coordinator.

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Wednesday, August 3

2:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Registration table

Part of being on the SAA host committee is putting in work. In addition to contributing to the conference blog, one of the ways I contributed was by working the registration table. This allowed me to meet archivists from all over the place. I even got a chance to meet Frank Boles—an accomplished and prolific archivist who has written countless articles for The American Archivists and other well-known journals in our field. Meeting people was so much fun!

Friday, August 5

5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. 71st Presidential Address and Awards Ceremony

During this large ceremony, I was recognized as an ARL/SAA Mosaic Fellow along with other SAA scholarship winners. I even got to walk on stage. I also enjoyed listening to the address that President Dennis Meissner gave. He talked about a variety of topics including the need for inclusion in the archival profession and the need for archivists to become givers to their profession. After the presidential address, I met two INCREDIBLE archivists whom I have looked up to for such a long time—Cheryl Oestreicher and Scott Cline!!!

I had such a wonderful time at SAA. There were tons of things I wish I could have done, but attempting to go back and forth between the conference in downtown Atlanta and working at my job in Kennesaw in addition to moving into my first apartment that same week, I could only do so much. (Yes, there was stress involved). To be honest, I REALLY wished I could have attended the Write Away! Breakfast. *Sigh* Next year definitely!

That was my experience at SAA. Now tell me how you did SAA!!