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.

Update from the SCCA Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force (TRC-TF) – Feb. 2017

Erica Hernández-Read recently posted on Arcan-L an update of the work of the SCCA Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force.  For those not on Arcan-L but curious as to how the archival community is responding to the TRC calls to action on a professional level I’ve re-posted the notice below.  We are currently working on a number of projects as a Task Force with the goal of having an actionable final report completed by September 2018.


 

Dear members of the Canadian archival community,

 As you may recall, the mandate of the SCCA Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force (TRC-TF) is to conduct a review of archival policies and best practices existent across the country and to identify potential barriers to reconciliation efforts between the Canadian archival community and Indigenous record keepers. With such a review in hand, the Task Force will then work in collaboration with Indigenous  community partners  to create an actionable response to this research which will become the foundation for a reconciliation and decolonization framework for Canadian archives. The following is a summary of the TRC-TF Action Plan (v.5) submitted to the SCCA Steering Committee on January 30, 2017 which outlines the specific activities and timelines TRC-TF members will engage in and work towards as they fulfill this mandate.

Summary of Planned Activity:

 *  Beginning 23 January 2017, TRC-TF members will begin collaborations on their team-based assignments. The first activities to be undertaken include identifying and soliciting financial support from potential institutional partners and funding agencies. This funding, if received, will be applied towards travel costs for community outreach and for TRC-TF members to undertake a “History Matters” reconciliation dialogue workshop at the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation which will assist them in grounding themselves within the legacy of the Indian Residential School system.

  *   Initial activities also include developing and disseminating an on-line survey to the Canadian archival community as a means through which to obtain perspectives / requirements / questions / concerns / hopes for reconciliation within a Canadian archival context, and to obtain samples of existent policies or protocols employed by Canadian archivists for the purposes of decolonizing institutional access to, and description of, archival holdings.

  *   Concurrently, TF team members will undertake the identification and development of appropriate communications protocols and a comprehensive outreach strategy in preparation for March-July 2017 outreach initiatives with Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada. Through these community outreach initiatives it is hoped that many Indigenous record-keepers will be inspired towards collaboration and will agree to engage with us as we collectively work towards the development of draft Protocol and Principles documentation.

  *   The next round of activities will include conducting a literature search spanning both national and international archival discourse around reconciliation, and any pertinent discourse identified within other professions (i.e. library science, museum studies, social work, etc.) so as to highlight what reconciliation activities have been undertaken; what has worked and what has failed; and to highlight decolonization strategies which might be successful if applied within a Canadian archival context.

  *   Following on the heels of this literature research will be direct one-on-one follow-up dialogue by TRC-TF team members with the authors and contributors to this discourse to really gain a sense of how their past work towards reconciliation is, or is not, being continued into the present. Indigenous cultural experts identified during community outreach activities who are willing and able to engage directly with TRC-TF team members in this way will also be consulted as part of this dialogue process.

  *   Data obtained through the survey, community outreach activities, literature search, and follow-up dialogue will be synthesized down to its essence to form the foundation of the Protocols and Principles documentation. Once drafted by the designated TRC-TF team in collaboration with our Indigenous partners, and vetted through by the entire TRC-TF, the draft Protocol and Principles documents will be released to the Canadian archival community and Indigenous communities to solicit feedback. This release is tentatively scheduled for the beginning of April 2018, with the conclusion of this iterative process by the end of May 2018.

  *   A final report, outlining research methodology and findings, a list of recommendations for action, and the final draft Protocol and Principles documents will be submitted to the SCCA Steering Committee by the end of September 2018. Once approved, all documentation will be publically disseminated to the broader Canadian archival community and Indigenous communities and organizations across Canada.

  *   Our Indigenous partners, communities and organizations who worked with us throughout this process will then be publically acknowledged for their contributions and thanked.

  *   It is anticipated that all work by the TRC-TF will be concluded by the October 2018 meeting of the SCCA Steering Committee.

If you have any input/questions/concerns you would like to share with the TRC-TF please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Regards,

Erica Hernández-Read, Chair
On behalf of Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Task Force Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives

AAO 2017 Conference

The 2017 Archives Association of Ontario conference is slated for April 26-28, 2017 at the University of Toronto Faculty of Information (iSchool).  This year’s conference theme is “Come Together: Meaningful Collaboration in a Connected World.”  The draft program at a glance is available online and it looks like a great couple of days of programming. Early bird registration just opened and runs to March 12, 2017.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve had the opportunity to attend AAO – I blame the fact that Sault Ste. Marie is so far from basically everywhere. But this is typically a great smaller conference with lots of friendly folks and good conversation.

As part of the 2017 conference Danielle Robichaud and I will be talking archives and Wikipedia as part of the Digital Storytelling session on Friday April 28, 2017.   April is going to be a busy month for me with both NCPH and AAO within a couple of weeks. But I’m really looking forward to connecting with Ontario archives folks at AAO and presenting with Danielle.

#1Lib1Ref Initiative

The #1Lib1Ref (One Librarian, One Reference) initiative is running January 15 – February 3, 2017.  The project targets librarians and information professionals and encourages them to engage with Wikipedia by improving citations and adding citations to existing pages.  The skills required to add citations draw on a lot of the research and reference skills that librarians excel at and adding a citation is an easy way to start editing Wikipedia.

Earlier this month via Arcan-L Danielle Robichaud reminded the Canadian archival community that archivists have similar skills and resources which can be used to contribute to the #1Lib1Ref initative.  Danielle suggested that archivists include citations from:

  • reference resources held in your reading room that are not currently available online; [i]
  • historical newspapers you have on hand in clippings files, on microfilm/fiche or as part of paid subscriptions;[ii]
  • print resources that your organization has digitized and have made available online or through the Internet Archive; [iii]
  • digital versions of finding aids, news features or journal articles that pertain to the topic at hand that have not been used elsewhere in the page.

I whole heatedly agree with Danielle and would encourage both librarians and archivists to become involved.  I have been working away at contributing citations to Wikipedia pages relating to residential schools, Indigenous activists, and members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association.

New to Wikipedia and unsure where to start? The #1Lib1Ref page has a basic outline of the steps required to add a citation using either the visual editor or source editor in Wikipedia. You can also check out the visual editor guide or the short introduction tutorial. More importantly I would just suggest diving in and trying things out.  Citations are a really easy way to improve Wikipedia and the learning curve is relatively easy, even if you have never edited a page before.

On a citation spree and want to get folks at your place of work or a group of information professionals involved? There’s a “Coffee Kit” page that provides guidelines for organizing an event around #1Lib1Ref.  There are also lots of other suggestions of other ways to engage your library/archive with the wider Wikipedia community.


[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_Haviland#cite_note-Russell-1
[ii]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Thiele#cite_note-KWRBrief-9
[iii]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Indian_residential_school_system#cite_note-Bryce1906-38

Performing Archive: Digitizing and Contextualizing Edward S. Curtis Photographs

Performing Archive: Edward S. Curtis + “the vanishing race” is the result of a three-month pilot project undertaken by the Claremont Center for Digital Humanities. The project is focused on the well known and controversial collection of photographs of Indigenous communities and people that were created by Edward S. Curtis in the early 20th Century.  Curtis is perhaps most known for his published work The North American Indian and for his work photographing Indigenous people because of his belief that they were a “vanishing race.”

The use of Curtis’ photographs is currently controversial because of the context behind them – they are representative of colonial relationships, often very staged, and representative of a fundamental lack of understanding of the communities they portray. As the Performing Archive essay “Vanishing Race and Canon de Chelly” by Ken Gonzales-Day notes “In many cases Curtis encouraged his models to stage, restage, or perform dances or ceremonies out of season and out of context, but Curtis believed that performing for the camera could serve as a way of preserving cultural traditions while there was still a living memory of them. The staged images were often paired with titles created by Curtis which further emphasized his perspective of Indigenous communities as vanishing and as ‘others.’

The Performing Archive initiative digitally brings together archival material relating to Curtis from Claremont Colleges Honnold-Mudd Library Special Collections, Northwestern University, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian by way of the Digital Public Library of America, and the University of Indiana Bloomington Archives of Traditional Music. The project brings together “nearly 2,500 items related to Curtis and his ethnographic and photographic work with western American and Canadian tribes” and also “brings together a number of new scholarly works designed to facilitate teaching with Curtis’ work.”

I think it is crucial to note that the Performing Archive aims to contextualize Curtis’ images and to present them in a way that critically engages with the context of the creation, preservation, and current day usage.  The site aims to unpack the relationships of authority in the images and provides critical essays to critically engage students and casual viewers who come across the content.  The essays written by Ken Gonzales-Day unpacking the creation and use specific images are extremely well done and insightful.  However, I do worry about viewers skipping this important part of the website and diving headfirst into the images without that important piece of context.  That being said the site navigation is setup in such a way that the introduction and critical essays are displayed first making it more likely that visitors will engage with that material prior to simply searching for photographs.

I also really enjoyed the sections of the site which examined the archival and visualization implications of Curtis’ images and the digitization of these works.  The project has also looked into using data analysis and data visualizations to examine the relationships between photographs and the communities the represent.  In the site essay “Conclusion: The Archive and the Technology of Race” David J. Kim notes that “The approach we have taken with the network representation of Curtis’ images and his social network is an attempt to unveil the history of visual documentation as technology of establishing the “what of” and the “knowing” of, or the essence of, Native Americans, as well as the history of how the scientific discourse of race has made the category of Native Americans archivable and archived in the early twentieth century.”  Performing Archive does an excellent job of critically examining and exploring it’s own processes and the cultural implications of these approaches to Curtis’ work.

This is a hugely interesting project and I’m amazed at how much material is here considering it was developed out of a three month pilot project.  I also think that this is a crucial work examining the historically context around colonial photography from archival and historical perspectives.  One red flag for me about the project was that the section on partnerships with Indigenous communities was very limited.  By the sounds of it there is plans that this part of the initiative will grow, and I really hope it does as working with the Indigenous communities represented in the photographs is hugely important.  Similarly I’m always slightly uncomfortable seeing Curtis’ images published anywhere – be they in a book or on a website – I think the contextualization done by Performing Archive mitigates that somewhat but without Indigenous community support this initiative has the potential to repeat colonial relationship structures.

Reflection: 2016 Accomplishments

1469923511-mc-hp-1For the past few years I’ve reflected on my professional practice and accomplishments at the end of the year.  I’m going to continue that tradition with this blog post albeit in a slightly more list based format than the reflective posts I’ve done in the past.

In 2016 I did a lot of things including:

Talks and Presentations

  • In March I spoke as part of aFinding the Embedded Archivist” panel at the National Council for Public History annual meeting in Baltimore, MD.
  • This year I provided instructional programming to over 1,250 people.  The bulk of these instruction sessions related to residential schools, the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School, and reconciliation.  However a handful were also related to teaching about archives and archival literacy.
    • As part of this work I’ve taken a serious look at how I present residential school history and revamped my instruction practices to make sure I’m giving priority to Indigenous voices.

Committee Work

  • I was appointed as the co-chair of the membership committee for the National Council on Public History
  • In August I was appointed to the Steering Committee on Canada’s Archives (SCCA) – Response to the Report on the Truth and Reconciliation Task Force.   I am really honoured to be part of this committee and engaged in this important work relating to Indigenous communities and archives.

Outreach

  • I started seriously editing Wikipedia.  This was a bit of a rabbit hole for me – it initially started as a way to expand some of the archival outreach I do and evolved into a hobbie and something I really enjoy. I also organized a small edit-a-thon at Algoma University geared toward increasing content relating to Indigenous women on Wikipedia.
  • I spearheaded the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s contributions to the Archives of Ontario Family Ties: Ontario Turns 150 exhibition.
  • I curated and co-curated a number of smaller scale exhibitions on campus including one about local author Brian Vallée, and one focusing on Indigenous Women Activists and the Water Walk movement.
  • I setup and have been maintaining social media accounts for the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. I also learned a bit more about different tools to help schedule and manage this outreach work.

Self-Care and Other Priorities

  • I kept with my commitment to make my physical health a priority.  I’ve been consistent in going to the gym on a regular basis and have been trying to eat better.
  • After much years of debate my partner and I made a decision to move.  We’ve bought and house and will be moving in 2017.  This move will mean I’m much closer to my work, it will cut down my commute significantly, and result in me getting to spend more time with my daughter.
  • I’ve been meeting regularly as part of two writing groups – an academic one (online) and a non-fiction group.  Both of these have been key in keeping me motivated on some ongoing projects.
  • In November I was honured to stand beside my sister as during her wedding.
  • I’m raising a funny, energy filled 2 year old who can identify Doctor Who on my t-shirts and who loves playing tea time.

At the end of 2016 I am very grateful for great colleagues, a community of public historians who energize and inspire, and challenging conversations.   Onward.

AAO: Toward Truth and Reconciliation

Today the Archives Association of Ontario (AAO) announced the first of two web pages “aimed at supporting the Truth and Reconciliation process and improving access to Indigenous focused archival and cultural resources.”  Toward Truth and Reconciliation is a page dedicated to “assisting Ontario’s archival community to navigate the path toward the decolonisation and Indigenization of our practice” and contains a list of open access resources relating to the TRC, decolnisation, Indigenous issues, and the intersection of archives/Indigenous communities.

The list is well worth a look for anyone interested in learning more about how the AAO is responding to the TRC’s Calls to Action and steps the archival community can take to decolonize and Indigenize their practices.  This list is ongoing and the first part of a larger project so I imagine it will evolve and be added to over time.  General comments and suggestions for improvements on the project can be directed to the AAO Web Administrator.

Full Disclosure: The list includes a link to my place of work as one of the Indigenous cultural heritage resources in Ontario, a blog post I wrote for Active History is included as a resource, and the Off The Record: Archives and Indigenous Issues publication listed also contains a piece I wrote about working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  The page also contains a couple of my favourite pieces which I frequently recommend to folks interested in learning more about Indigenous communities, archives, and reconciliation.