Tag: archives

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Editors’ Choice: Post-Custodial Archives and Minority Collections

Image of chained books

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,”
  • “history,”
  • what is—and what isn’t—considered “important,”
  • “knowledge.”

Read the full post here.

Resource: An Archive of 8,000 Benjamin Franklin Papers Now Digitized & Put Online

From the post:

Let me quickly pass along some good news from the Library of Congress: “The papers of American scientist, statesman and diplomat Benjamin Franklin have been digitized and are now available online for the first time…. The Franklin papers consist of approximately 8,000 items mostly dating from the 1770s and 1780s. These include the petition that the First Continental Congress sent to Franklin, then a colonial diplomat in London, to deliver to King George III; letterbooks Franklin kept as he negotiated the Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War; drafts of the treaty; notes documenting his scientific observations, and correspondence with fellow scientists.”

Read more here.

Resource: 2,000+ Early Modern Paintings Now Free Online

From the post:

Georges Seurat, Henri Rousseau, Giorgio de Chirico, Auguste Renoir, Vincent Van Gogh — all of us associate these names with great innovations in painting, but how many of us have had the opportunity to look long and close enough at their work to understand those innovations? To feel them, in other words, rather than just to know about them? The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has just recently made it possible for us to contemplate thousands of works of art including those of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and early Modern masters, zoomed in up close and at any length we like, by digitizing their collection and making it free online.

Read more here.

Editors’ Choice: Ghosts in the Machine

As the only historian in my immediate family, I’m responsible for our genealogy, saved in a massive GEDCOM file. Through the wonders of the web, I now manage quite the sprawling tree: over 100,000 people, hundreds of photos, thousands of census records & historical documents. The majority came from distant relations managing their own trees, with whom I share. Such a massive well-kept dataset is catnip for a digital humanist. I can analyze my family! The obvious first step is basic stats, like the most common last name (Aber), average number of kids (2), average age at death (56), or most-frequently named location (New York). As an American Jew, I wasn’t shocked to see New York as the most-common place name in the list. But I was unprepared for the second-most-common named location: Auschwitz. I’m lucky enough to write this because my great grandparents all left Europe before 1915. My grandparents don’t have tattoos on their arms or horror stories about concentration camps, though I’ve met survivors their age. I never felt so connected to The Holocaust, HaShoah, until I took time to explore the hundreds of branches of my family tree that simply stopped growing in the 1940s.

Read full post here.