Last week (July 31, 2018), I had the honor of speaking at CLIR’s (Council on Library and Information Resources) summer seminar for new Postdoctoral Fellows. I was very excited to get the opportunity to meet a new cohort of fellows just as they are beginning their new positions at various institutions. (For more information on CLIR Postdoctoral Fellowships, visit their website! And keep an eye out for the next round of applications this fall/winter.)
My talk centered on the work we do at Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage (aka “Recovery”), the importance of minority archives, and working toward inclusivity. For 27 years, Recovery has dedicated itself to recovering, preserving, and disseminating the lost written legacy of Latinas and Latinos in the United States. US Latina/o collections, like other minority collections, do not traditionally form part of a larger national historical narrative. Herein lies the importance of minority collections: the stories they tell give us a more nuanced understanding of US history and culture.
Let’s take a step back to think about the structure of archives, the inherent issues, and the questions that we—as archivists, scholars, students, and educators—should ask ourselves when engaging with historical collections. Archives help structure knowledge and history. Michel Foucault argues that history “now organizes the document” [with “document” being the archival] “divides it up, distributes it, orders it, arranges it in levels, establishes series, distinguishes between what is relevant and what is not, discovers elements, defines unities, describes relations” (146). Thus history, or perhaps more aptly, what we understand to be or call history, cannot be distinguished from the production and organization of the archive. Furthermore, national archives help to create an authoritative national narrative. The International Council on Archives, for example, describes archives on their webpage as follows:
Archives constitute the memory of nations and societies, shape their identity, and are a cornerstone of the information society. By proving evidence of human actions and transactions, archives support administration and underlie the rights of individuals, organisations and states. By guaranteeing citizens’ rights of access to official information and to knowledge of their history, archives are fundamental to identity, democracy, accountability and good governance.
Given this defined mission of archives, we can think about what archives do or are meant to do; they define:
- “the nation,”
- what is—and what isn’t—considered “important,”