Archives As Activism: The Case of Residential Schools

I’m on a podcast! Given my obsession with listening to podcasts it might not be surprising that I’m very excited to have been part of a podcast recording.

Recently Scott Neigh of Talking Radical Radio interviewed Skylee-Storm Hogan and I about the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, activism and archives, and more broadly about documenting social movements.  Our conversation was partially inspired by my recent Active History post on “Archives As Activism” which discusses some of the current trends around archiving and documenting social movements in Canada.

You can listen to the full episode online via the Rabble Podcast Network.

Kinda related: I would love to be part of an archives or Canadian history podcast — anyone want to team up to create some awesomeness? 

Listening: Historically Yours Podcast

podcast scrabble tiles

Image by Nick Youngson used under CC BY-SA 3.0

My podcast listening has changed drastically over the past couple of months – mainly because I’m no longer spending two hours a day in the car.  I’ve become a bit more selective in what I listen to and I’ve also changed up when I’m listening.  I’m now spending more time listening to podcasts while at the gym, walking, or doing physical processing while at work.  The fact that I’m occasionally listening while moving archival boxes around or labeling folders makes the Historical Yours podcast all the more perfect.

Historical Yours is a podcast created by the University of Iowa Libraries and Special Collections.  It is hosted by Outreach Librarian Colleen Theisen and each episode features Theisen and a guest who “will read one historic letter, research the context, and discuss the role of letter writing past and present.”  I love concept behind this podcast and it’s focus on a one off letter that has no associated context.  Each podcast is like a mini-historical research research project or scavenger hunt looking to provide context to a lone piece of correspondence.

The podcast is based on a unique collection held by University of Iowa of which is comprised of thousands of single letters.  The letters have zero context about who wrote them, who they were sent to, or who held on to them over the years.  Historically Yours draws attention to this collection but also tries to fill in some of the context that isn’t currently found within the thousands of letters in the collection. It’s a bi-weekly podcast with only a few episodes released so far but I highly recommend having a listen and I look forward to hearing more episodes as they are released.

Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action

Sophia Reuss recently wrote an article on  how “Indigenous people want museums to heed TRC’s calls to action: Cultural institutions have an important role to play in Canada’s reconciliation process.”  Reuss’ piece looks at the role museums and archives play in caring for and presenting materials relating to Indigenous communities and the need to the heritage field to critically responsd to the TRC Calls to Action.

Reuss’ article incorporates comments from Jay Jones, the current president of the Children of Shingwauk ALumni Association and myself.  Jay and I both discuss the unique history of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the important of Indigenous community perspectives in managing collections.  Jay and his entire family are an inspiration and I am constantly grateful to be able to work with them through my involvement with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

AAO Tour: Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives

CLGA Reading Room

CLGA Reading Room

One of the highlights for me at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference was the tour of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA) located in Toronto. The CLGA was amazingly well represented at AAO with two of their staff members presenting, a site tour on the conference program, and numerous CLGA volunteers involved in the conference.

The CLGA tour included an interesting discussion of the history of the organization – the early grassroots connection to Pink Triangle Press, police raids of archival collections, and the challenge of gaining recognition as an archive and as a non-profit organization.  Jade Pichette, the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinate led the tour I was on and they did an excellent job of integrating stories of resilience, community history, and challenge into the tour.

It was also intriguing to see what the CLGA has done to cope with it’s location in a historic house and to work around challenges of space, lack of environmental controls, and accessibility. I love the fact that CLGA is also a community space and has partnered with other organizations to put on artistic performances in their space, allow meeting space to be used by community groups, and create other engagement opportunities within their space.  Similarly, I was impressed by the movement to reach people where they are – and put CLGA collections in other visible community spaces through exhibitions and programming.

The tour also allowed for a peak at the range of material held by CLGA.  The archive has an extensive archival collection but it also has a well developed library, poster collection, audio-visual holdings, portrait collection, vertical file/clippings collection, and a reading room.  The range of the material in the archive also speaks to the ephemeral nature of much Queer* history, the event orientation nature of some community collections, and the value of saving community memories associated with mediums other than paper.

Personally, I was also really happy to see that the CLGA tour also started with introductions and provided participants a chance to express their preferred pronouns. The CLGA staff were also very active on Twitter throughout the AAO conference and encouraged folks to add their pronouns to their name tags.

The seemingly small change to adding pronouns to name tags can be huge and can go a long way to make begin to make conference spaces more welcoming for trans, non-binary, gender fluid, and other folks. This is something I would really like more organizations to take note of include in plans for upcoming events.

Collaborative Archival Practice: Rethinking outreach, access, and reconciliation using Wikipedia

I had a great time at the 2017 Archives Association of Ontario conference last week.  If you’re interested in the talk Danielle Robichaud and I gave relating to Wikipedia, archives, and reconciliation work our slides are now online.

It was great to meet Danielle in person (and yay for twitter connecting us virtually long before this conference). Many thanks to all who came to our talk.  If you have questions relating to our presentation, using Wikipedia in archives, or Wikipedia editing as reconciliation work feel free to reach out to either Danielle or I.

AAO: Wikipedia and Reconciliation

Headed to the Archives Association of Ontario conference this week? Come join Danielle Robichaud and I on Friday April 28th from 2:30-3:15pm in session 6b.  We’ll be talking Wikipedia and reconciliation and sharing some of our experiences editing Wikipedia within the context of reconciliation.

I’m really looking forward to this talk and hope to see many Ontario archives folks at AAO this year. If you’re planning to be at AAO but you can’t come to our talk please feel free to say hello during the conference.

[Edited for typo fails]

Archives As Activism

My latest post on “Archives As Activism” can be seen over on Active History. The post explores the connection of archives, activism, and community.

It discusses the idea that archives can disrupt social norms by collecting and archiving the work of those outside of mainstream society.  The piece also dives into examples of Canadian archives who have made an effort to collect material relating to activist movements.

Occupy Vancover signs.

Occupy Vancouver signs, 2011. Public Domain image.

Rapport Active History Interviews

Used under CC0.4 license.

My Active History colleague Daniel Ross and I were recently e-interviewed by Risa Gluskin for Rapport the Ontario History & Social Sciences Teachers’ Association blog.  Our interviews are part of Rapport‘s Doing History series which profiles “people working in the area of history but not necessarily as history teachers.”

The interview with Daniel looks at some of the some of the ideas behind active history and public history.  If you are unsure of what active history or public history is Daniel does a great job of breaking down these ideas and showcasing ways in which people can be involved in both active and public history.  The interview also includes a segment exploring Daniel’s interest in urban history.  My interview discusses my public history roots, how I entered the archival profession and my reconciliation work through the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.

Many thanks to Risa and OHSSTA for showcasing Active History and our work.

Stereotypes and Misconceptions of Librarians and Archivists

Erin Leach recently shared some powerful words about being a cataloger in instruction spaces and stereotypes that are often used to describe those involved in cataloging. I’m not a library cataloger, far from it, however Erin’s words struck a cord with me.  Her anecdote of interacting with others and their responses to her cataloguing status stayed with me, “What I imagine the librarians in public-facing roles who tell me what an anomaly I am are actually saying is, it’s okay that you’re a cataloging because you’re not that kind of cataloger.”

I remember expressing an interest in library school as an undergraduate to a much older male who worked in a education context. His response “You’re too pretty to be a librarian.”  Fast forward a number of years to having a colleague remark “I had no idea that librarians could have personalities” or “Librarians just shelve books and tell people to be quiet, that can’t be stressful” or “It never occurred to me that archivists can do instruction.”  There are a whole lot of misconceptions about library and archival staff. Sometimes these misconceptions are tied to perceived personality traits and sometimes they are tied to confusion around roles and skill sets.

In the media librarians and archivists get painted with a wide, dull brush a lot.  Media and other unrepresentative portrayals often fall back on gendered expectations and are related to the gendered nature of the profession. I’m not going to do a deep dive into the visual stereotype discussion as so many people have already done so and done so well.  Jessica Olin and Michelle Millet’s 2015 look at gender and leadership roles in the library profession indicated that the profession is comprised of approximately 80% women and 20% men. Despite women gaining leadership roles and closing the gendered leadership divide there are still a whole lot of challenges associated with being a woman in the library field and perhaps mores so if you are in an authority role.

I don’t have a solution to the prevalence of these stereotypes.  My thoughts are mostly around more outward facing advocacy and speaking up when we see comments being made to colleagues.  Projects like Librarian Wardrobe aim to highlight the aesthetic diversity of clothing choice within the librarian profession.  And initiatives such as Archival Awareness Week and ArchivesAware! seek to share ideas about increasing public awareness of the archival profession.  However I think these are just a few of many examples of outreach, awareness building, and crushing stereotypes – and that what types of conversations and outreach you’re able to engage in is going to vary greatly depending on your position, privilege, and workplace.  And we need to do more to support those who speak out on this issue.

Community Archives and Collaboration in the Classroom

keep-calm-and-collaborateEarlier this week Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were invited to speak as part of an ongoing faculty professional development series focusing on collaboration.  Our session focused on ways faculty can collaborate with archives, how archives can be brought into the classroom, and using archives across disciplines.

The workshop was relatively informal with Skylee-Storm and I briefly talking about our experience working with archives in classroom spaces, how to engage students with primary source research, and past successful collaborations.  The rest of the workshop was spent discussing potential collaboration opportunities, approaches to teaching site and national specific history, and creative engagement possibilities.

One of the things our conversation touched on a number of times was the idea of archives as interdisciplinary and that archival work can be skill building for students across programs.  This point is something I’ve talked about before, but I do really believe that the skills that students learn through engagement with archival material can be far reaching.  During our presentation Skylee-Storm hogan talked about the development of primary source research skills, community outreach techniques, curatorial skills, writing, and presentation skills that were developed through engagement with archival material.  These skills are not tied to a single discipline and are often connected to tangible projects as part of course work or employment.

During the session we also spent a considerable amount of time discussing community engaged research.  This involved thinking about how a grassroots community based archives can be used to teach research methods, foster community connections, and how to build classroom examples around the archive.

Overall the conversation was heartening and really reminded me of the uniqueness of the archives that I work in.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archive is deeply connected to a marginalized community.  The survivor community has played a fundamental role in the development of programming and holdings since the establishment of the SRSC archive. This Indigenous community led approach to research and collecting is something unique and is something worth talking about. In an era where more and more institutions are looking at ways to integrate Indigenous content and Indigenous voices into the classroom space the holdings of the SRSC are increasingly important when talking about preserving the legacy of residential schools, community based healing, and teaching history from an Indigenous perspective.

The session also reminded me of the ongoing need to educate and advocate for archives.  Even internally there is always more work that can be done to raise awareness about the extent of holdings and what services archives offer.  That outreach piece is something that often feels like treading water – you might be repeatedly having the same conversation with different people – but eventually it does result in progress and if all goes well increased awareness and use.