Reading That Inspired Me In 2018

child reading a book

Today I’m reflecting on a range of readings that have inspired me or changed by thinking in 2018.  These works are all ones that I have read in the past year – they may be newly published or just new to me. Some are book length and some are short blog posts but they all relate to my professional practice as an archivist and public historian in some way.

Marika Cifor, Michelle Caswell, Alda Allina Migoni, Noah Geraci “What We Do Crosses Over to Activism: The Politics and Practice of Community Archives,” The Public Historian 40, no. 2 (2018): 69-95.
This article does an excellent job of situating community archives in relation to public history practice. and activism.  It also comments on the rise of community archives and the implications of community archival growth on the archival and public history community.  As a public historian who works in a community archive this article resonated with my work so much. By addressing community archivists on their own terms this paper argues that ,”whether they understand their work as activism, advocacy, or community organizing, community-based archivists are conceptualizing these archives as a means to challenge injustice, discrimination, and oppression to enable the creation and sustainability of stronger communities and a more just environment for
all.” (p. 92).The article draws heavily on literature connecting community archives to activism and recognizes activists as archival stakeholders.  Beyond providing excellent background on the topic of community archives Cifor et al. also analyze data collected via interviews with seventeen individuals involved with community archives.  The findings from these interviews provide insight into community identity, mixed feelings about activism, the relationship between archives and advocacy, and power structures in archival practice.

Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies edited by Chris Anderson and Jean M. O’Brien
This book compromises essays from Indigenous scholars from across academia with a focus on critical reflections on Indigenous methodology and approaches to research.  The section on Indigenous history is of particular relevance to historians in Canada who are looking to broaden their understanding of Indigenous concepts of research.  The book includes a robust section on kinship as well as a section on feminism, gender, and sexuality.  I found the “All in the family” section particularly thoughtful in its approach to defining (or not choosing not to define) concepts of kinship and community.

This is an Honour Song by Leanne Betasmosake Simpson
This beautifully written book is a collection of essays, poetry, and narratives connected to the 1990 Oka resistance. The book contains pieces written by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and activists.  I highly recommend this book to anyone looking to broaden their understanding of Indigenous resistance and colonial relatives within the land currently known as Canada.

Meghan Hillman, “NCPH’s Own Repair Work at #ncph2019 and beyond,” History@Work, 29 August 2018
I’m including this blog post not only because I love NCPH, but because I think it represents the type of reflection and transparency that more professional organizations need to be engaged in.  Written by NCPH staff member Meghan Hillman, this post looks at the ways NCPH is looking to implement recommendations on how it can make members and attendees feel welcomed and safe at NCPH events.  The post specifically addresses planning for the inclusion of pronouns on NCPH badges and the availability of all gender washrooms at conference events.  To me, this post represents a lot of thought and reflection on the past of NCPH and the beginning of steps toward making conference spaces more accessible to trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks.

Seven Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death, and Hard Truths in a Northern City by Tanya Talaga
I consider this a must read for Canadians and folks engaged in building relationships with Indigenous communities.  This book does an excellent ability of placing contemporary realities and racism in historical context.  It’s not an easy read but it is a tremendously important book that talks about the deaths of seven Indigenous high school students in Thunder Bay, Ontario between 2000 and 2011.  All seven of these students were forced to leave their home to ‘continue their education’ and were living hundreds of miles away from their families and communities at the times of their death.  Talaga connects present day dispossession to ongoing educational and social inequalities and the long legacy of residential schools and colonialism in Canada.

Alicia Kerfoot, “Reframing the Pregnancy Story: On Literature, Stitching, and Lost Narratives,” Nursing Clio, 25 October 2018
This is a really powerful blog post that addressing grief, loss, and the historical practice of embroidered morning pieces. Beautifully written this post interweaves personal history, histories of gender and health, and representations of loss in textile art and literature. The personalization of history is one of the reasons why I love the Nursing Clio blog, there is tremendous value in sharing stories, personal connections, and discussing history through the lens of individual experiences. As a note, this post has the potential to be triggering to anyone who has experienced pregnancy loss or infant death.

April Hathcock, “Racing to the Crossroads of Scholarly Communication and Democracy: Bu Who Are We Leaving Behind?,” In the Library With The Lead Pipe, 22 August 2018 
I’m a huge fan of April Hathcock’s writing, scholarship, and work.  This piece is no exception, Hathcock tackles scholarly communication and access through the lens of intersectionality.  It takes a hard look at open access, the democracy of access to information, and the ways in which just posting content online does not make it open or accessible to all. Hathcock calls for reflective interrogation of race and communication practices; challenging scholarly communication folks, librarians, and authors to take a critical look at diversity, representation, and professional practices.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Summer Reading Plans

Person reading a book on a couch. Sign saying "Sorry for what I said when it was winter"

It is finally warm outside! And though summer is still awhile away, Spring is definitely in the air and I have been thinking about my summer reading goals.  I also have a fair bit of travel coming up in May and June, so I plan on getting a head start on some summer reads.  My reading list currently includes:

Archival Theory and Archival Practice

  • Melanie Delva, “Decolonizing the Prisons of Cultural Identity: Denominational Archives and Indigenous ‘Manifestations of Culture‘”, Toronto Journal of Theology (2018): 1-17.
  • Trish Luker, “Decolonising Archives: Indigenous Challenges to Record Keeping in ‘Reconciling’ Settler Colonial States”, Australian Feminist Studies 32 (2017): 108-125.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/08164649.2017.1357011
  • Michelle Caswell, “Teaching to Dismantle White Supremacy in Archives”, The Library Quarterly 87, no. 3 (July 2017): 222-235.  DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/692299
  • Jimmy Zavala et al., “‘A process where we’re all at the table’: community archives challenging dominant modes of archival practice”, Archives and Manuscripts 45, no. 3 (2017 ): 202-2015. DOI: 10.1080/01576895.2017.1377088

Public History and Community Engagement 

  • Aaron Glass, “Drawing on Museums: Early Visual Fieldnotes by Franz Boas and the Indigenous Recuperation of the Archive”,  American Anthropologist  120, no. 1 (2018): 72-88 DOI: 10.1111/aman.12975
  • Shauna MacKinnon, ed. Practising Community-Based Participatory Research: Stories of Engagement, Empowerment, and Mobilization (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018)
  • Pam Schwartz, et al., “Rapid-Response Collecting after the Pulse Nightclub Massacre,” The Public Historian 40, no. 1 (2018): 105-114. DOI: 10.1525/tph.2018.40.1.105
  • Trevor Owens, “Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History” in Companion to Digital History ed. by David Staley. DOI: 10.17605/OSF.IO/T5RDY

Indigenous Histories and Narratives

  • Emily Snyder, Gender, Power, and Representations of Cree Law (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018)
  • Jane Dickson, By Law or In Justice: The Indian Specific Claims Commission and the Struggle for Indigenous Justice (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2018)
  • Leanne Simpson, Islands of Decolonial Love: Stories & Songs (Winnipeg: ARP Books, 2013)
  • Kate McCoy, Eve Tuck and Marcia McKenzie (eds), Land Education: Rethinking Pedagogies of Place from Indigenous, Postcolonial, and Decolonizing Perspectives (London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2016).

For Fun

  • Uncanny Magazine.  If you like diverse narratives and SFF this is my go to recommended read.  Plus, co-editor Lynne M. Thomas is an archivist, so one could almost make the argument that it is kind of work related…right?

What is on your summer reading list? 

Photo Credit: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Reading that changed my thinking in 2017

Book open on table with a white mug, red background with white lights.

For my last post of 2017 I’m going to highlight some of the books, blog posts, and articles I read this year that have had an impact on my thinking and professional practice.  These items are not necessarily new publications but just works I have read (or re-read) this year.

Silencing the Past by Michel-Rolph Trouillot
This is a book that completely changed my thinking about the silences in history.  I think it is a must read for any archivist or those who use archival records as part of their work.  It includes a deep and well framed dive into the nature of power in historical narratives. Trouillot argues that silences are created during every step of the historical process – from source creation, to preservation in archives, to the writing of historical narratives/the work of historians.  Personally, Trouillot’s framing has been helpful when I’ve been thinking critically about the colonial archives in Canada and the silences presented around Indigenous communities in those archives.

150 Acts of Reconciliation for the 150 Days of Canada’s 150 by Crystal Fraser and Sara Komarnisky
In an year filled with Canada 150 celebrations and #Resist150 protests there is a need for Canadians to think critically about what it means to live on Indigenous land. The #150Acts list presented tangible actions settlers could take towards reconciliation. This is a must read for anyone interested in reconciliation work or building better relationships with Indigenous communities.  Read each act. Then actually do the work.

The Canadian Indian Residential School System Wikipedia Article
Since June 2016 Danielle Robichaud and so many other archivists, librarians, and activists have worked to improve this Wikipedia article.  At the start of this effort the article was rated as C-class. It had a number of content and source problems. As a result of a whole lot of work the article now well written, properly sources, and was a Featured Article on December 26, 2017. I think it’s fantastic that so many people worked together to improve this article and hold this up as an example of how editing Wikipedia can be a form of reconciliation and decolonization work.

Tending tenderness and disrupting the myth of academic rock stars by Zoe Todd
In this blog post Todd presents an approach of radical empathy to move away from the cult of the academic celebrity.  Her work emphasizes building meaningful and nurturing relationships while, rethinking “our relationships to the academy and to centre a strong ethic of collaboration and co-thinking within our efforts to disrupt the academy itself.”

“The Holiday Spirit Will Prevail: Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Erasure in Ontario’s ‘Cottage Country’” #Beyond150CA Twitter Conference Presentation, by Anne Jahunen
This was one of the many fantastic presentations that were part of the Beyond 150 Twitter Conference held in August 2017.  Jahunen’s presentation does an excellent job of illustrating the colonial roots of cottage country and the Parks system in Canada.  The presentation looks specifically at the Georgian Bay National Park but many of colonial systems pointed to can be applied to other parks as well.  I included this presentation in the readings for my public history students during the week were talking about Parks and it generated a lot of thoughtful discussion.

She’s Hot: Female Sessional Instructors, Gender Bias, and Student Evaluations by Andrea Eidinger
This post shattered the record for most reads on the Active History website.  It is a must read for anyone in academia.  Eidinger takes a critical look at the gender bias behind student evaluations and examines the structural problems with heavily weighting student evaluations in relation to tenure/promotion.

Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia by Michelle Caswell.
I struggled to pick just one of Michelle Caswell’s works to include on this list.  But ultimately her book Archiving the Unspeakable won because of its breadth and perspective on the the nature of archives within colonial or oppressive regimes.  Caswell’s work examines the Khmer Rouge archives in Cambodia with an emphasis on the photographic archives and the associated silences found in these records.  This book address archival silences in photographs but also talks about the power of photographs in terms of community memory and identity.

Let the People Lead: Supporting Sustainability vs Dependency Models for Funding Community-Based Archives by Bergis Jules.
This post takes a look at community based archival models in the United States with an emphasis on the funding, staffing, and sustainability of community models. Jules argues that, “Grant makers can have an extremely important role to play in funding the sustainability and the growth of community-based archives, but they risk replicating exploitative models if the people who do the the work of community archives aren’t at the table from the beginning or tapped to lead some of these efforts.” The post also discusses the challenges of community based archives houses within post-secondary spaces.  As someone who works at a community archive within a university this really hit home for me.  There is a lot of food for thought in the piece which I’m still chewing on.  Recommended for anyone interested in community archives.

This is just a snapshot of some of the fantastic reads I’ve had the chance to consume over the past year.  What are you favourite reads from 2017?

Photo Credit: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Graphic Art, Comics, and History

coloured pencils on left hand side of a grey background.

Some days it is really obvious why I love my job.  This week as part of doing lecture and class prep I spent some time revisiting my favourite history themed web-comics, graphic novels, and graphic arts projects.

My drawing skills are pretty much nil. But I love the idea of using graphic arts as a way to interpret history, communicate history beyond the academy, and challenge historical narratives.  Historians who can draw and decide to disseminate their work via comics amaze me.  I also love historian/artist partnerships that show a shared appreciation for historical narratives and art making.

Graphic novels have been shown to encourage reluctant readers while building vocabulary and a they have a lot of power as educational tools for both young and mature audiences.  Graphic arts informed by history are a great example of creative public history, outreach, and finding ways to reach audiences where they are.

I have written about a few of the below elsewhere, but they are still so good that I couldn’t resist sharing again. In no particular order here are some of my favourite graphic representations of history:

    • Hark! A Vagrant and essentially anything created by Kate Beaton.  Beaton’s humorous approach to Canadian and international history tickles my funny bone.  I particularly love her Prime Minister focused comics, French Revolution series, and anything she does relating to the Bronte sisters.  Bonus – if you have kids Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony book is adorable.  It includes a strong female character and a farting pony that kids love.
    • Remember | Resist | Redraw: A Radical Poster Project by the Graphic History Collective.  This project provides alternative narratives relating to well known events and highlights the experiences of Indigenous people, women, and under represented groups.  The posters and their accompanying essays are fantastic educational resources that show how graphic history can be used to challenge mainstream narratives.
    • Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography by Chester Brown. Originally created as a serialized comic (1999-2003) and later published as a graphic novel Brown’s work focuses on Riel’s relationship with the Canadian government, the Red River Resistance, and Riel’s death.  Brown’s work includes a foreword, index, and end notes and is a great example of comics being used as a form of biography and historical scholarship.  The novel reached best-seller status in Canada and saw general success in the mainstream publishing market.
    • Maus by Art Spiegelman. This Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel depicts Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experience during the Holocaust.  All of the humans in the story are depicted as animals. The Jewish race is drawn as mice and the Germans as cats. The comic is a graphic representation of the oral history that Spiegelman’s father shared with him.
    • Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss.  Another biography style graphic novel.  I’ve added this one to the list not only because of its historical context but because of how beautiful the book is.  It was a delight to read and I could spend ages just looking at the images.

Photo credit: Photo by Kelli Tungay on Unsplash

Teaching: Select Topics in Community-Based Public History

This fall I’ll be teaching HIST 3296: Select Topics in Community-Based Public History at AlgomaU. I’m thrilled to have this opportunity and excited to be able to share my love of public history with students.

From the course calendar: The course will introduce students to the theory and practice of community-based public history, with reference to local and regional examples. Students will explore the history and relevance of community-based efforts to make the past visible and comprehensible to the public. The social functions of museums, libraries, archives, and monuments, as well as web-based sites of historical commemoration, will be critically assessed. Contrasts between history, heritage, social memory, and tools such as oral history will be examined.

I’m still working on the planning of the course but in the meantime I’m using this as a reason to enjoy some public history focused books that I have been on my to-read list for ages.  So far my reading has looked at Parks Canada, commemoration in Canada, participatory heritage, museum writing, and exhibit design.  If nothing else this reading has filled my head with a lot of great ideas and also reminded me about the diversity of public history.  So much of my work is archives focused theses days. I do engage in a lot of educational programming, community outreach, and the occasional exhibit design – however it is all through an archival lens.  It’s been nice to take a step back from that really focused form of public history and to look at broader social trends, work that is going on in my local community, and interesting projects occurring across Canada. Onwards!

Reading: Critical Archival Studies

The most recent issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies is a special issue focusing on critical archival studies.  The issue is edited by Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand and it is completely open access.

The journal issue tackles the ways in which “records and archives serve as tools for both oppression and liberation.”  Many of the articles discuss archives in the context of social justice, community activism, and human rights. The introduction defines critical archival studies as:

those approaches that (1) explain what is unjust with the current state of archival research and practice, (2) posit practical goals for how such research and practice can and should change, and/or (3) provide the norms for such critique. In this way, critical archival studies, like critical theory, is emancipatory in nature, with the ultimate goal of transforming archival practice and society writ large. As an academic field and profession, critical archival studies broadens the field’s scope beyond an inward, practice-centered orientation and builds a critical stance regarding the role of archives in the production of knowledge and different types of narratives, as well as identity construction. (p.2)

The application of critical theory has the potential to change the shape of archival practice and highlight the politics and power relationships involved in archival collecting.  The articles in the issue are largely focused on the work of archivists engaged with marginalized communities. I’m still working my way through the issue but so far Anne J. Gilland’s article of “A Matter of Life or Death: A Critical Examination of the Role of Records and Archives in Supporting the Agency of the Forcibly Displaced” and Jamie Anne Lee’s “A Queer/ed Archival Methodology: Archival Bodies as Nomadic Subjects” have both been excellent reads.

Reading: Make Roanoke Queer Again

Person holding book.
Used under CC0 license.

The latest issue of The Public Historian featured a number of great articles including “Make Roanoke Queer Again: Community History and Urban Change in a Southern City” by Gregory Rosethal. This article explores the specifics of interpreting queer history in Roanoke, Virgina but also focuses more broadly on queer community history projects, resistance through grassroots history, and interpreting urban history through a queer lens.

Rosethal argues that “queer public history projects can utilize cities as living laboratories for the exploration of the queer past” (p. 43). When discussing the history of urban environments and marginalized communities looking at places of past activism, past conflict, past meeting/social connection venues can be hugely powerful.  Similarly community experiences of erasure of flourishing can frequently be tied to physical spaces.  Rosethal uses the examples of the Make Roanoke Queer Again bar crawl and the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project of examples of community history rooted in collecting, preserving, and sharing queer histories.

I loved this article’s emphasis on the idea of queer history being connected to physical spaces, geographic places, and as a lived history.  In many communities queer history has gone undocumented and at times is seen as non-existent or as irrelevant. Grassroots activism and community based history initiatives are one of the many ways to document queer pasts and realities – and I think that acknowledging the diversity of queer* experiences and histories is something that is hugely important when creating local history narratives.  Rosethal’s article is well worth the read if you’re at all interested in community based public history or queer history interpretation projects.

Reading: Interpreting LGBT History At Museums and Historic Sites

Ferentinos-210x300Months ago as part of a National Council on Public History annual conference workshop I received a copy of Susan Ferentinos book Interpreting LGBT History at Museums and Historic SitesI started reading the book months ago but somehow it managed to get lost in my to-read pile until fairly recently.  This book examines queer history in the United States, provides an overview of sexuality and gender studies in the US, includes three case studies on interpreting LGBT history at historic sites, and a lengthy additional reading list for more information.

I learned more than I anticipated in the sections which covered queer history in the US – perhaps partially because queer history touchstone events in Canada follow a different time line and the history of the LGBT movement in Canada has been documented in different ways than the US.  This background section is worth a read if you’re not familiar with queer history in the US. I also really enjoyed the case studies which included in the book – all of which looked at approaches and challenges related to interpreting LGBT history as a public historian.  The case studies looked at queer history in museum spaces, historic houses, and archival settings.  They also touched on the value of integrating queer history in permanent exhibition or interpretation guides vs the inclusion of LGBT materials in special or temporary programming.  For me these case studies where the real value add and the best part of the publication.

This book contains a lot of advice around consultation, community based interpretation, and the need to have institutional and local buy-in to projects relating to LGBT history.  It’s a great resource for anyone looking to learn more about queer history in the US or about successful initiatives relating to the display and discussion of LGBT history in the US.

Reading: Unwritten Histories

oldbookA few months ago I stumbled across Andrea Eidinger’s Unwritten Histories blog.  If you haven’t already come across her site it’s well worth a visit.  I’ve particularly enjoyed her Historian’s Toolkit posts and her “What’s in My Bag?” series which uses material culture as a lens to examine the past.

Andrea has been wonderfully consistent in posting new content and typically maintains a schedule of a new blog post on Tuesday and a Canadian history roundup post on Sunday which highlights other Canadian history content online.

I commend anyone who is able to maintain that type of schedule for numerous months and still come out with interesting and insightful content.  I also love the name of her blog and the implications of exposing histories and parts of historical practice that are not commonly discussed.

Friday Reading: ArchivesAware

Last most the Committee on Public Awareness (COPA) of the Society of American Archivists launched ArchivesAware a site deigned for those engaged in archival work to share experiences and ideas around raising public awareness of archives.

The blog has just started but so far the content has been promising and has showcased a number of interesting outreach projects.  Featured projects so far include a archival instruction videos created using LEGO and stop-motion video, an emerging comic focused on archives, and a look at an archives use of Tumblr to promote their collection and raise awareness about what archives do.  I look forward to see what other projects are showcased in coming months – there are lot of innovative and creative outreach projects out there in archives land and it’s great to see a professional organization taking the initiative to highlight this work.

The site is open to submissions of “Features” or short “Highlights”  and welcomes non-traditional mediums for more details and how to submit click here.