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? 

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Building Bridges and Reading Across Disciplines

black and white Drone view of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge.

During one of my recent writing projects I started thinking about the implications of disciplinary silos and the value to reading across disciplines. A lot of my work is grounded in archival theory and public history practice, however it often intersects with the Canadian academic history profession.  From an outsider differentiating these three disciplines may seem like splitting hairs, but they really are proudly different in their approaches and literature.

A lot of my recent work has been thinking about archival silences and the power relationships entrenched in colonial archival spaces. This power dynamic and the challenge of doing research about historically marginalized communities is something that intersects across archival practice, public history, and academic history.  I started diving into this topic by examining archival theory and literature written by archivists. I then expanded to look at community based perspectives and a more public history take on archival voices.  Lastly, after consulting with a couple of colleagues I added a stack of Canadian history books and articles to my to read pile.

This exercise in reading across disciplines was enriching and helped broaden my understanding of the topic it hand.  It also highlighted how fields can approach the same topic from very different angles.  Many of the archival based works I was reading focused on the role of the archivist in creating or mitigating silence within the historical process.  The more public history leaning works focused on communities challenging silence, the right to internal community memory, and ways to build bridges across shared pasts.  Conversely, the more academic history reads were really focused on subverting archival silences – reading against the grain, using non-traditional archival sources to expand historical narratives, and how to overcome lack of records.  All of these areas of interest had overlapping points and areas of commonality.

These areas of similarity struck me as so important. Archivists and historians need to talk more.  Understanding how archives work and the intellectual/emotional/physical labour that goes into making archival records accessible is so important. Historians and media indicating that something was ‘discovered in the archives’ erases the archival labour that went into arranging and describing that material.  The archivist knew it was there and did a lot of work so a historian could access that material as part of their research.  Historians and archivists have definite overlapping interests and we would be better served by increasing the amount of work we did collaboratively.

What are your strategies for reading across disciplines? 

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