Teaching: Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives

Row of lit matches

As part of my Introduction to Archival Studies course I introduced the fantastic Identifying & Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives poster created by Michelle Caswell’s Archives, Records, and Memory Class in 2016.  Full details about Caswell’s practices for teaching about white supremacy in archives can be seen in her 2017 Library Quarterly article.  Likewise, the step-by-step instructions for her group exercise for teaching about white privilege are tremendously helpful for anyone looking to engage in a similar activity in their classroom.

I used this poster as a way in reinforce some of the conversations we had been having in class about inherent bias in archival systems and the relationship between archives and colonialism.  We read through the each of the privileges and actions identified in the areas of archival description, appraisal, access/use, professional life, and education.  I then asked students to reflect on what we had been learning about Indigenous knowledge keeping, Indigenous content in community archives vs. Indigenous content in Western archives, and the Canadian archival profession’s relationship with Indigenous peoples.  After individual and small group reflection students were asked to come up with new actions specific to the Indigenous/settler context which exists in the land currently known as Canada.

The dialogue inspired the poster included reflections on the need for Indigenous community driven archival practices, support for Indigenous language archival description, and the need for flexible access to archives based on Indigenous needs.  Discussion also focused on ways to dismantle barriers to archival access and possibilities for building better professional relationships.  We also talked about the potential of community based archival education opportunities and how access to education directly impacts the archival profession.

For me, this exercise was a way to build on the readings and lecture material students were engaged in about archives and colonialism.  The student response was positive with many of the students wanting to know more about the origins of the poster and looking to further their own understanding of the topic.

For folks interested in learning more about the importance of teaching social justice in the archival classroom here are some additional resources:

Photo credit: Jamie Street on Unsplash

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