Healing and Education Through Digital Access

White arrows on dark wood, pointing up

Earlier this month I was thrilled to find out that the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre at Algoma University was successful in our Digitization Canadian Collection application to the National Heritage Digitization Strategy.  Details about all 21 projects which were funded through this program can be found here.

The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre’s project is titled “Healing and Education Through Digital Access.” The project will support the digitization of Indigenous language materials and some of the early administrative records associated with the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Residential Schools.  Once digitized this material will be OCR’d and made accessible to the broader public as appropriate. We will be working closely with members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association to ensure that any material placed online is done in a respectful way and reflects the desires of the Survivor community. Personally, I’m thrilled to see this important work being supported and look forward to engaging with this project in the coming year. Onward!

Photo credit: Jungwoo Hong on Unsplash

Indigenous Archival Material, Open Access, and Decolonization

Map of the united states

The Newberry Library recently released a digitized collection of early 20th Century drawings by the Lakota community.  These drawings are part of the Edward E. Ayer Collection which contains artworks, books, and other material relating to Indigenous culture.   These drawings were created in 1913-1914 and are now in the public domain.

Any press content I’ve read about the material focuses on how the digitization project reflects “the institution’s awareness of absences within its holdings, and represent important steps towards decolonizing the archives.” Similarly, any of the news coverage I have read focuses on how unique this material is, 40 of the drawings were created by Lakota children.

I kept reading these press releases and articles hoping that there was a mention of the Newberry working with Indigenous communities in developing access protocols and to provide copies of the material to the community. Not a single release mentioned working with the Lakota or any other Indigenous group. Rather, the press releases focus on the missionary who paid Indigenous people to draw the images and subsequent settlers involved in their collection.  Maybe I missed something. Maybe there was consultation. And if so,  I would welcome details on the collaboration.

Open access does not automatically mean decolonization. Indeed, in many cases Western understanding of copyright goes completely against Indigenous intellectual property rights and community ownership principles.  For folks looking to learn more about this I would suggest reading the First Nation Principles of OCAP and the Protocols for Native American Archival Materials. I would also recommend Allison Mill’s Archivaria article “Learning to Listen: Archival Sound Recordings and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.”

As many archival and heritage organizations begin to think about decolonization and reconciliation, Indigenous ways of knowing need to be incorporated into how we operate.  Indigenous people know what is best for their communities and their heritage. As archivists and heritage professionals we need to listen to those desires and needs.

Photo credit: United States of America compiled from the latest & best authorities. By John Melish, 1818. The Newberry.

Launch of Historical Reminiscents

White circle on blue background with text reading "Historical Reminiscents Podcast"

The Historical Reminiscents podcast is dedicated to discussing public history and archival practice. Created and produced by Krista McCracken this weekly podcast discusses archival impulses, shares insight into the world of public historians, and tackles historical interpretations in Canada. Find Historical Reminiscents on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play.

Historical Reminiscents is live for all of your listening enjoyment!  This will be a weekly podcast with new episodes appearing every Thursday. However, to start things off I’ve uploaded a number of episodes so folks can get a feel for the format and content.

Episode 01: Digitization, Decolonization and Archival Access
In this episode of Historical Reminiscents Krista McCracken talks about why digitization is not always the answer when thinking about decolonizing archives.  She addresses the challenges of intellectual property rights, community concepts of ownership, and access.

Mentioned in this episode:
“Learning to Listen: Archival Sound Records and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property” by Allison Mills

Episode 02: Being an Active History Editor
In this episode of Historical Reminiscents Krista McCracken talks about her role as one of the members of the Activehistory.ca editorial collective. She discusses how the site’s editorial collective works, how folks end up writing for the site, and what type of work an editor actually does.

Mentioned in this episode:
Active History Website
About Active History page with details about the editors.

Episode 03: Snow, Heritage Sites and Walking Tours
Winter is coming…or depending on where you live it is already here in full force. In this episode of Historical Reminiscents Krista McCracken talks through some of the challenges of doing outdoor historical interpretation in the winter. Bring on the snow, alternative tour strategies, and multi-media approaches.

Episode 04: The Intersecting Worlds of Public History and Archives
Public History and archives, oh my! In this episode of Historical Reminiscents Krista McCracken discusses the intersection of public history and archives. She talks about common goals between the two fields and highlights the overlapping skill sets of the professions.

Mentioned in this episode:
Tweet by Myron Groover that partially inspired this topic.

Episode 05: Demystifying Archival Labour – Acquisitions and Appraisal 
This episode introduces a mini-series of podcast episodes on “Demystifying Archival Labour.” This mini-series will talk openly and frankly about the work that takes place in archives and provide resources for teaching about archival practice. This first episode dives into acquisitions and appraisal work.

Mentioned in this episode:
Archives Theme Week on Active History
-Sara Janes, “Archives Constructed and Incomplete”
-Roger Gillis, What makes for an archives? A look at the core archival functions

Have strong historical feels? Interested in being a guest on an upcoming podcast episode? Contact me at krista.mccracken[at]gmail.com or on twitter @kristamccracken.

Digital Community Archives: South Asian American Digital Archive

The recent issue of The Public Historian featured an article, “Seeing Yourself in History: Community Archives and the Fight Against Symbolic Annihilation”, by Michelle Caswell.  The article looks at the development of the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) and the role the archive has played in preserving the marginalized history of the South Asian American community.

South Asian American history was not being collected by repositories and the history was being left undocumented.  The SAADA was established as a grassroots effort to change the profound archival silence around the South Asian community.  The SAADA is an excellent example of a community rallying together to preserve its own history and using digitization to increase awareness and access to material.

Caswell argues that “community-based archives serve as an alternative venue for communities to make collective decisions about what is of enduring value to them and to control the means through which stories about their past are constructed.”  Community archives have the potential to empower communities, reunite communities with their past, and create a shared history.  Like many grassroots archives the SAADA was created in a response to the omission of the ‘official’ historical record.  The South Asian community did not see themselves in popular history or in more formal repositories — sparking the creation of their own community archive.

SAADA is also engaging in the documentation of community knowledge.  The project facilitates shared authority and participatory archival description, allowing community members to describe the content held by the archive.  This practice acknowledges the importance of community knowledge and works toward integrating that knowledge into the archival record. This integration highlights the truly community governed nature of this archive and serves as an excellent example of a marginalized people creating their own archival voice and preserving their history in a way that they sit fit.

Caswell’s article on the SAADA is an example of a community archive that has much success. The first six years of operation saw 1800 digitized records being created and the collection being used by educators, community members, and researchers.  The digital only model of the archive is interesting.  The SAADA has on public space and it’s collections are purely digital.  The original items remain with larger repositories or the community members who own them. The access created by the emphasis on digitization is great.  But I wonder about the long term preservation of the community based materials and helping community members preserve those original documents.

Reverb14: Art Installations and Archives

In 2010 I participated in #reverb10. This year I plan on participating in #reverb14 as a way to get my writing habits back on track. The first prompt is Where did you start 2014? Give us some background on this year.

My year started with a lot of thinking about digital preservation, digitization, and community archives. The beginning of 2014 was also marked by me working to organize the Why The Caged Bird Sings: Here I Am exhibition by Cheryl L’Hirondelle.

This past year was filled with great experiences working with Indigenous artists, thinkers, and researcher focused on residential schools. My organizational and planning skills were put to the test as I managed multiple projects and helped bring a handful of art installations to fruition. I had very limited experience with art installations prior to this year, so there was a definite hands on learning curve.

I also reconnected with archival work that had been put on the back burner. Introducing work study students to archival work reminded me of the importance of ongoing learning and the love I have for archival practice.

Ontario Open Data

The Province of Ontario has announced that it in the process of making government data open by default.  This is part of Ontario’s larger Open Government initiative that focuses on open data, open engagement, and open government more generally.  

Since November 2012 the Ontario government has been publishing statistics in the open data catalogue.  So far 170 data sets have been placed online.  This includes statistics on marriage registrations, farmers markers, water wells, flu shot clinics, woodland caribou and a wide range of other interesting topics.  The data already online is a huge boon to researchers and is available in a variety of formats depending on the type of data and the original collection method. 

In addition to the open data calalogue Ontario has created a data inventory.  Which describes more than 1,000 data sets.  The inventory is designed to allow the public to vote on which data sets are the most popular as a means of prioritizing the order in which data sets are made accessible. 

Digital Libraries and National Digitization Programmes: How Does Canada Compare?

My most recent post, Digital Libraries and National Digitization Programmes, can be seen over on ActiveHistory.ca.  The post looks at digitization initiatives in the United States, Norway, and the United Kingdom in comparison to recent efforts by Library and Archives Canada to begin a large scale digitization project.

Archival Digitization and The Struggle to Create Useful Digital Reproductions

My most recent post, “Archival Digitization and The Struggle to Create Useful Digital Reproductions” can be seen over on the Activehistory.ca site.  The post focuses on the way that digitization has changed traditional archival research, common problems with digital archival surrogates, and efforts archives are making to improve digitization. 

Creating Archival Professional Development Workshops

Over the course of the spring and summer my work is holding weekly events focused on library and archives professional development, training, and themes.  The sessions will be open current staff, university faculty, and local professionals. 


As part of this series a colleague and I are going to be facilitating three sessions focusing on archives.  Our library/archives staff is primarily made up of personnel with significantly more library than archival experience.  We hope our sessions will help library staff, other departments, and community members understand a bit more about archival practice.  Our sessions will focus on the basics of archival organization and preservation, community based heritage projects, and how to establish a successful digitization program. 

So, what makes a good professional development workshop? How do you gear your programing to suit a wide ranging audience who hold a variety of skill sets? What have been some of your best workshop experiences? Some of the aspects I particularly value in workshops include:

  • Hands on learning. In this particular instance incorporating hands on experiences could be done with preservation techniques, numbering files, scanning items, and creating metadata.
  • I also like having resources available after the workshop.  Be that an email with links to projects mentioned, a PowerPoint presentation, or additional resources for participants to look at.
  • Specific examples of successes, failures, and work-arounds.   Theory is all well and good, but at a workshop I prefer to learn about actual best practices and implementation that is in progress.
  • Being able to ask questions throughout the workshop if in an informal setting or having ample time at the end to ask questions about the material.  

What do you think are essential components of archival (or any other) professional development sessions? 

Newsletters: Outreach and Memory

I’ve been thinking a lot about organizational newsletters recently.  These thoughts were mainly spurred by having spent the better part of two days digitizing early copies of the Algoma Missionary News.  Like many newsletters the Algoma Missionary News contains information about new appointments, events, holidays, and staff/client interaction. 

More significantly, the Algoma Missionary also contains information from all around the Anglican Diocese of Algoma and was mailed throughout the region.  This newsletter was started in the mid 1870s and was one of the first cross-region communications. Even in the 1800s, newsletters acted as community outreach tools and allowed organizations to share upcoming events and past accomplishments. The early issues of the Algoma Missionary are now great records of early missionary work in the Algoma region.

Paper based mailed out newsletters are on the decline.  But, many heritage organizations utilize email campaigns and e-newsletters. These emails can be used to alert patrons of upcoming events, new donations, heritage risks, and organization accomplishments.  The use of email also makes these newsletters relatively inexpensive to create and send out.  Additionally, newsletters also have the ability to help fill out corporate histories.  Newsletters often contain staff names and event listings, which can help when building institutional memory.

Does your organization have a newsletter? Do you receive any heritage newsletters?