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.

Friday Reading: #AHIndigenous Week

This week over at Active History guest editor Crystal Fraser put together an amazing line up of posts from Indigenous scholars in Canada.  For more information on the series as a whole check out Crystal’s “Politics and Personal Experience: An Editor’s Introduction to Indigenous Research in Canada.” Every post in this the series was worth reading and the week’s lineup included:

  • Monday, January 11 – Crystal Fraser, Editor’s Introduction; Leanne Simpson, “A Smudgier Dispossession is Still Dispossession”; Zoe Todd, “Conversations with my Father’s Paintings: Writing My Relations Back Into the Academy
  • Tuesday, January 12 – Claire Thomson, “Holding Our Lands and Places”; Daniel Sims, “Not That Kind of Indian”
  • Wednesday, January 13 – Adam Gaudry, “Paved with Good Intentions: Simply Requiring Indigenous Content is Not Enough”; Anna Huard, “A Wrench in the Medicine Wheel: The Price of Stolen Water on Indigenous Cultural Continuity”
  • Thursday, January 14 – Lianne Charlie, “Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow: The Next Generation of Yukon Indigenous Politics”; Norma Dunning, “Strengthening the Nunavut Educational System”
  • Friday, January 15 – Billy-Ray Belcourt, ” Political Depression in a Time of Reconciliation”; Mary Jane McCallum, Title Forthcoming

Archival Photo Books: A Century Of Progress

cover_1I recently received a copy of A Century of Progress: A Photographic Tour of the 1933-34 Chicago World FairThe book is a collection of archival photographs from the Chicago Tribune collections documenting the world’s fair held in Chicago from 1933-1934 to celebrate the city’s anniversary.

The fair was marketed as the Century of Progress Exposition and featured exhibitions on technological feats, and futuristic ideas.  It moved beyond an anniversary celebration of a single city and became an exhibition of hope and progress for the nation.  More than 48 million people visited the fair – a huge feat considering the event was held during the depression.

The book contains over 100 photographs drawn from hundreds of photographs held by the Tribune.  One of the points I found interesting was the inclusion of archival photographs that have been damaged — primary acetate negatives that fell victim the commonly occurring vinegar syndrome. As an archivist I was interested in inclusion of a note about the condition of the photographs in the About section and liked the fact they still included some of these imperfect images.  History is not perfect and neither are historical photographs, it’s important to show that reality.

The 136 paged book is filled with black and white photographs that show a range of perspectives on the fair — the construction of the fair site, the exhibition halls, and every day people interacting with exhibits. Some of the images are funny, some beautiful, and some unusual. Many of the captions accompanying the images include quotes from the Chicago Tribune from when the images were first taken.

I liked these bits of commentary but found myself wishing for notes about when the comments were published, the context, who wrote them etc.  I understand why this information wasn’t included – it would have cluttered the clean style of the book and potentially removed attention from the images. I also found myself wondering how the Tribune archive was organized, the book does not contain accession numbers – were items processed? How labour intensive was the search for these images? Concerns of an archivist that probably wouldn’t occur to the average reader.

The archive does have a virtual portal where it is possible to search some of the back issues and photo collections held by the newspaper.   The website is in the beta version so isn’t perfect but it would have been nice to see more of a link between the digital and this physical book.  A digital counterpart that includes map of the fairgrounds with geo-located photographs would help readers get a sense of the size of the exhibition and the layout of the space.

Having visited Chicago in the past few years and being interested in history broadly I found this an intriguing book.  I like the idea of getting archival photographs out to the public in a diverse range of mediums.  Be that via social media, digital archival databases, or coffee table books like this one.

Journal of Western Archives: Native American Archives Special Issue

The current issue of the Journal of Western Archives focuses on Native American Archives.  The articles are open access and on a range of topics including tribal archives, decolonizing archival practice, developing training opportunities for Indigenous archivists, and the challenges faced by archives holding contrived photographs of Indigenous people.

I’m still working my way through all the articles but Zachary R. Jones’ article, “Images of the Surreal: Contrived Photographs of Native American Indians in Archives and Suggested Best Practices“, is an excellent read for anyone interested in the complex nature of colonial photography.

Contested History and Multiple Chronologies

While  driving  being a passenger on the drive to London I finally finished reading through the August issue of The Public Historian.  A couple of the articles in this issue sparked some reflection on my historical practice, including Charles W. Romney‘s “New City Guides and Anachronic Public History” article.

Romney examined historical cities guides including the Cleveland Historical app, the Infinite City atlas, the book Map of Perceptions, and the Wildsam field guides. This examination looked at the ways in which each city guide uses multiple chronologies to tell the history of a place.  Romney makes a number of interesting points about contested chronologies that are applicable to many public history projects. His analysis is applicable to many historical narratives outside of city guides.

Most public history initiatives adhere to a single timeline or chronological framework.  This can commonly be seen in written narratives, museum exhibits, living museums, and preservation projects.  A single chronology often works well to deliver simplified narratives and can serve as an organizing idea.

However multiple chronologies have a place in some public history projects and can be beneficial to project looking to highlight a range of perspectives.  As Romney notes

multiple chronologies can enhance public that stress relationships between different developments and that connect events from different time periods.  Multiple chronologies also improve public projects showing uneven spatial and temporal shifts.

Fragmenting time and presenting multiple narratives that are intertwined can allow for a diversity of experience and voices to presented in a project.  When reading this article I was struck by how this approach would be particularly useful when discussing contested spaces and to bring forward the voices of marginalized groups.

The obvious example in my work is residential school buildings that are now used by mainstream organizations.  These spaces have multiple narratives to tell and many are still evolving as living history spaces.

In some cases collective memory is contested.  Presenting a timeline of  a contested space might involve imposing an unaccepted chronology on a project.  There may be better ways to display history for this type of project than using a chronological order.  Multiple chronologies, unstable and changing chronologies, and contested timelines all have a place in public history.  It’s up to public history professionals to think critically about the best ways to interpret and present historical narratives.

Introduction to Archives

As my last post indicated I’ve been thinking a lot about archival instruction and introducing students and other new users to archives.  As part of this process I’ve been gathering resources that explain how archives are organized, introduce the basic of archival processing, and explain different aspects of archival theory.

Some of the best resources I’ve come across so far include:

  • How do Archivists Organize Collections?” by Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA). A clearly written introduction to how archives are organized.  This post touches on physical processing, the concept of fonds, and how archives are different from libraries.  PAMA has also written excellent posts on what archivists do and on what it’s like to visit the archives.
  • Archives Association of British Columbia Archivist’s Toolkit. The toolkit provides resources for archivists on a range of archival topics including basic archival principals, uses of archives, and a range of outreach topics.
  • Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology created by the Society of American Archivists. The glossary contains more than 2,000 entries on a wide range of archival terms.  I’ve used this resource when creating presentations to help explain terminology specific to archives.
  • About records, archives and the profession” by the International Council on Archives.  A primer on archives and archivists.  My favourite line of this piece is “archives are for life and for living.”
  • Animating the Archives video series by Tate Gallery.  The series explores the different facets and uses of archives. A number of the videos explore art based archives and the relevancy of archives to artistic and research practices.
  • Archives Association of Ontario Introduction to Archives Youtube series. Includes presentations on using archives, describing archives, arranging archives, and wikipedia for archivists.

What resources do you turn to when teaching about archives?

Reading Archivists

As a means of professional development and enjoyment I regularly read archival and public history publications.  This often comes in the form of reading The American Archivist or The Public Historian but sometimes also includes other journals and the occasional book.

I like love reading and find that it often inspires me to consider by own work and evaluate new approaches to my public history and archival practice.  I think it’s important to discuss what you read and one of the things I missed most after finishing my MA was the ease of access to people who wanted to talk critically about academic readings.

I felt like I needed a book club for archivists or public historians.  With that in mind I was delighted to find the online reading group “Reading Archivists” which aims to bring archivists together to read and learn more about the archival profession in the United States.  Readings for the group are introduced and analyzed on a group blog and then a discussion leader also organizes a twitter chat focused on the readings.

Virtual reading groups are a great idea and help great a sense of community for those working in smaller organizations or alone.  Has anyone else had success with starting up a virtual or physical reading group?

 

Devil in Deerskins: Anahareo and Indigenous Writing

I recently read Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl the autobiography of Anahareo (1906-1985).  Anahareo was a Mohawk environmentalist, writer, and activist.  She is perhaps most well known for her marriage to Grey Owl, also known as Archie Belaney, the internationally acclaimed author who claimed to be of Scottish and Apache descent, but who’s roots as an Englishman were revealed after his death.

The original version of Devil in Deerskins was published in 1972.  The University of Manitoba Press republished Anahareo’s autobiography in 2014 as part of it’s First Voices First Texts series.  This series aims to republish critical editions of books by important under-recognized Indigenous authors and place these texts within their cultural contexts.  The republished version of Devil in Deerskins was edited and includes an afterword by Sophie McCall.  The critical comments by McCall add value to the discussion of Anahareo as an important historical figure in her own right and the republishing aims to introduce a new generation to Anahareo and Grey Owl.

McCall’s afterward rightly points out how Anahareo has most often been defined by her relationship with Grey Owl and at times has been “overlooked as an Indigenous writer because of her family’s history of displacement and relocation.” McCall’s close examination of Devil in Deerskins highlights the depth of Anahareo’s Mohawk heritage and the influence it had on her way of life and writing.  This is brought out through a discussion of Anahareo’s relationship with her Grandmother, her beading, her use of traditional medicine, and the use of oral history to impart traditional knowledge.

Prior to reading this book I knew very little about Anahareo other than her relationship with Grey Owl.  Anahareo is far more than the supporting figure that history has whitewashed her into.  She received the Order of Nature from the International League of Animal Rights in 1979 and in 1983 received the Order of Canada.  Her contributions to environmental, social, and animal rights go far beyond her relationship with Grey Owl and she was one of the first Indigenous women to publish a full length memoir in Canada.  Her autobiography is well worth a read if you are interested in early environmentalism or indigenous literature.

Anahareo’s use of place in her life narrative and her ability to recreate landscapes inspired me to look up some of the locations she mentioned in her autobiography. The cabin which Anahareo describes in her memoir as the spot Grey Owl picked to settle and begin creating a beaver sanctuary in 1931 still exists in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. The main cabin known as Beaver Lodge was built on the shoreline of Ajawaan Lake with a beaver lodge integrated into the design.  A larger cabin for Anahareo, her daughter Shirley Dawn, and visitors was nearby in 1932.   The Parks Canada description of the Cabin focuses largely on Grey Owl with just one or two mentions of Anahareo.  I would be interested to know what interpretive materials are at the site itself and how they depict Anahareo.