Historical Trauma and Self Care

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Energy.  What gave you energy this year? What took away your energy?

Recently on twitter a few historians were discussing the personal impacts of working on projects involving historical trauma.  Working on emotionally charged historical topics can be emotionally draining.  In the past four years while being actively engaged with residential school archives and survivors I have seen and experienced the toll of working with archives relating to historical trauma. 


Archival material relating to residential schools can be triggering and cause emotional distress.  The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives is overseen by the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association (CSAA) and this group of survivors is actively involved in the management of the archives.  The CSAA also serve as health support for the staff, researchers, survivors, and community members who use the archives.  

 Having this type of health support available to visitors has been invaluable.  I’ve seen people from all walks of life be emotionally touched by residential schools. Having built in mental health supports is essential in creating safe spaces to discuss historical trauma. It is also important to teach front line archival staff how they can support visitors who may be triggered by material they are viewing.  Creating a supportive environment for viewing material relating to historical trauma needs include training staff to spot emotional distress and how to provide assistance when needed.
 
I’ve been lucky to be part of a workplace and community that is supportive of self-care.  The emotional impact of working on topics related to historical trauma is something that isn’t often discussed amongst historians, archivists, and other heritage professionals.  But talking about the toll of working with emotionally draining material is crucial.  Personally, I’ve found taking a step back from the material, focusing on the importance of truth telling and the positive impact of connecting communities with their past helpful.



Closure of Smith Museum of Stained Glass

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Revised Prompt: What heritage sites have you discovered this year that you love? Tell us all about them, and why you love them. 

One of my favourite trips this year was to Chicago and included a number of heritage sites.  The built heritage in Chicago is beautiful and I enjoyed learning about how the city developed and the mixture of architecture styles that developed as a result of continuous development after devastating fires in the city.

One of the smallest heritage sites I visited this year was the Smith Museum of Strained Glass Windows in Chicago.  This unique site featured over 150 stained glass windows many of which were originally housed in buildings in Chicago.  I found the contrast of the beautiful old stained glass with the modern, tourist location on Navy Pier particularly striking.

When looking up the link for this post I discovered that in October 2014, two months after my visit, the Smith Museum closed and the stained glass was all boxed up and removed from Navy Pier.  The Pier is undergoing renovations and ‘needed’ the museum space for planned new attractions.  At this point the collection of stained glass does not have a home. There are tentative plans to have some of the works exhibited in public spaces, but no signs of a dedicated space for the entire collection.  The Smith Museum was unique in its location and was the largest exhibition of stained glass in North America, its closure is a huge loss to the heritage and stained glass art community.

Ongoing Challenges: Paper Writing and Committee Work

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Challenges.  What did you wrestle with in 2014?  What did you learn?  What challenges do you foresee in 2015?

This past year I wrestled with how to turn down great projects that I simply didn’t have time to do justice to. In 2015 I foresee a few new challenges including:

  • Finalizing a paper on sports images and residential school archives.  This was one of the few projects I took on part way through 2014, as it draws directly on a lot of the work I’ve done with the Rev Father William Maurice fonds in the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  
  • I’m continuing to be part of a couple of public history committees and part of a conference organizing committee. There will be lots of planning and implementation work in the next year relating to those commitments.
  • I will be returning to work in June 2015 after taking seven months off as maternity leave.  This will be another huge life/work adjustment. 

Archival Community

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Prompt: Ah ha moment: Did you have an “ah ha” moment this year? Was it a big one? Or just a small enlightenment?

I changed roles in late 2013 to move from an archives technician position to a researcher/curator role.  I have enjoyed the new challenges that the researcher/curator job brought and the new relationships I was able to build with local and national art communities.  However, this year I realized that though I enjoy project management and working on community inspired art projects I was missing the time I had previously spent immersed in archives. 

This ah ha moment inspired me to reconnect with the archival world.  Presenting at this year’s Archives Association of Ontario conference, participating in SNAP Roundtable twitter chats, and reconnecting with archival literature helped return me to the archival sphere. Living in a very small city that does not have a wealth of heritage professionals has made me more aware of the need to build supportive professional networks and communities.  Many of the people I consider colleagues and who I turn to for advice live miles away and work in a range of different public history and archival settings.  

Transformation

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: One word. What one word could describe your 2014?

Transformative. I learned a lot this past year and made a number of significant life changes. This year has been the year of new experiences, new skills, and learning moments. Some of the most transformative moments include:

  • Participating in Walking With Our Sisters Sault Ste Marie
  • Beginning to learn to play the hammered dulcimer and learning more about traditional music
  • Reevaluating my historical tour skills and taking new approaches to teaching others about residential schools
  • Acting as a thesis supervisor
  • Becoming a parent

A year of change both professionally and personally.

Writing Matters

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: On writing: Chances are, if you’re participating in #reverb it’s because you like writing.  Or at least want to like writing.  Writing is like a muscle.  Use it or lose it.  What do you do every day to hone your craft?  Or, what would you like to do each day to contribute to your writing?

This prompt speaks to why I am participating in #reveb14 this year. I wanted to encourage myself to get back to writing on a regular basis.  When I’m practicing good writing habits I try to write a little bit every day — even if it’s just a couple hundred words in a blog post that never sees the light of day. Quality matters, but so does getting words down on the page.  Really bad first drafts are okay.  They can foster insight and you need to start somewhere. 

I’ve also found that I tend to be most productive when I’m able to write in the morning.  My creative and analytical juices tend to work much better in the earlier part of the day.  When working on longer pieces I like to be able to take time away from the writing and come back to it a day or two later. 

In the past few months I’ve also taken to writing more using pen and paper.  This old school writing has been mostly personal or creative projects.  The ease of being able to open a simple notebook and start writing has been great.  I find I often fall victim to being distracted by the internet or email when I sit down at my computer to write.  Removing distractions and setting time goals for writing has been helpful.

Order Through Processing

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Small Pleasures: What small pleasures did you discover this year? 

Part way through this year I reconnected with some of the archival work I love.  My role as a Researcher/Curator meant that I was spending less time focused on archival practice.  Reconnecting and spending a few days accessioning and physically processing a collection reminded me how much I enjoy archival work.

I love the sense of accomplishment that comes with seeing order brought to a jumble of papers. I find physical processing oddly relaxing, perhaps it’s the organizational side of me rejoicing at the rules of processing and description.  Knowing that the work I do makes material accessible and discoverable online is a huge motivator. It’s rewarding to see archives actively being used and researchers engaging with the material that was previously an unorganized box of papers.

Volunteering and Service Projects

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: The Plank: It has been said that you must learn to take care of yourself before you can be effective at taking care of others.  How did you take care of yourself in 2014?  How will you take care of yourself in 2015?

One of the most rewarding personal things I’ve done this year is to continue being engaged in projects that matter to me.  Taking on extra projects outside of work might seem counter intuitive to self care.  But working on history projects that are intellectually challenging and interesting is something I greatly enjoy. I find engagement in this type of project rewarding and something that helps lift my mood.

Projects I’ve continued to be a part of this year:

  • Volunteering with the Multicultural History Society of Ontario‘s digital archive project.  This project has focused on making oral history interviews conducted by the MHSO accessible online.  It’s been great to be able to volunteer with this meaningful project from a distance and be able to help out with interview transcription, research/writing of biographies, and indexing of interviews.
  • Serving on the membership committee of the National Council of Public History.  NCPH is a great organization that I’ve enjoyed contributing to.  Serving on the membership committee has allowed me to become more engaged in the organization and connect with a number of public historians from both Canada and the United States.  
  • Active History Website.  I’ve continued to be a co-editor at Active History.  I’ve been involved with this project for a number of years now and it is something I have continued to enjoy participating in.  The site promotes the dissemination of historical knowledge and often focuses on the intersection of history and everyday events.

Everyday Heroes

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Hero: Who was your hero this year? Tell us why. What makes a hero in your eyes?

 The residential school survivors I have had the opportunity to work with over the past few years are a constant source of inspiration.  Many of these individuals are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s yet they continue to be advocates for awareness around the legacy of residential schools.

They were founding members of the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and have promoted education and healing around residential schools since the mid 1970s. Many of these elders routinely speak about their residential school experience to indigenous and non indigenous audiences.  For students of all ages this can be a powerful learning experience and is often the thing that makes them realize the lasting impact of residential schools.

These kind and generous people are heroes in my mind. They have worked tirelessly for years to raise awareness about residential schools and many have worked to promote healing within their own communities. I only hope I have nearly as much energy when I’m their age. 

Community and Student Supervision

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Victory Laps: What was your biggest accomplishment this year? 

I was fortunate to be part of many great projects this year.  Being part of the effort to bring Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) to Sault Ste Marie was a humbling and amazing experience.  WWOS is a commemorative art installation honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.  The project is community and ceremony driven.  It was inspiring to see so many people in Sault Ste Marie work together on the project and so many people visit the installation.  I learned a lot during this project and had the privilege of working with a great group of community volunteers.

This past year I also had the opportunity to supervise a fourth year undergraduate history thesis.  The student’s thesis focused on the early years of the Shingwauk Residential School.  Acting as a supervisor was an extremely rewarding experience.  The sense of community amongst the supervisors and thesis students was inspiring and allowed for many a good historical debate. 

Being able to see a student work their way through an idea, background research, archival research, and the writing of a thesis was a unique experience that I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of. Having the chance to talk about writing strategies, research methods, and archival research with people who are just as enthusiastic about history is always a great thing.