Xtreme Endnotes With An Archival Twist

Brown boxes on white background

Earlier this term I adapted Rozanne Panchasi’s “Xtreme Endnotes” activity for my introduction to archival studies class.  I used this activity as part of a discussion about the intersection of historical work, archival research, and the ways in which archives influence historical production.  This activity was also paired with readings and a lecture about how archives inform concepts of memory and how the work of historians and archivists intersects and differs.

The basics of Panchasi’s activity look like this:

  • Students are divided into groups with endnotes from a ‘hidden’ historical monographs
  • Without knowing the title, author, or having access to anything other than the notes students are asked to build an outline of the text and figure out what they can discover about the text, author, and topic
  • Each group then presents a profile of its hidden book to the class and open their package (drum rolls optional) to reveal the hidden book they examined. 
  • This exercise can be used as one way to teach about citation and the politics of citation practice.

What I changed:

  • I really wanted students to examine what type of primary sources the author used.
  • What archives did they visit? How are they citing archival materials?
  • What did the range of archival sources reveal about research practices, scope of research, and historical method?

This activity allowed for students to see some of the practical implications of archival access and allowed for a closer examination of how archives can be used to support historical research.  My archival studies class contains a number of students from outside of history, so I particularly wanted to draw attention to historical analysis as a way to talk about archives can shape historical knowledge.

There was a surprising amount of excitement and friendly competition around this activity, with groups vying to present the most detailed and accurate representation of their hidden book.  I didn’t even have to prompt the drum rolls, they just happened naturally.  When doing this activity one of the participating groups got the time period of their book right but based on the endnotes didn’t realize that the book was focused solely on experiences of women.  This allowed us to talk about reading against the grain of archival sources and ways that archivists and historians can work to illuminate historical voices that have been marginalized in archival records.

Overall, I think this exercise was a helpful way to get students thinking about how archives and historical practice intersect.  It also contributed to an interesting discussion of citation and research practices, and how one might even begin to narrow down what archival material to look at.  Plus, who doesn’t love drum rolls?

Photo: Leone Venter on Unsplash

Doing the work: Editing Wikipedia as an act of reconciliation

My latest piece, “Doing the work: Editing Wikipedia as an act of reconciliation“, written in collaboration with Danielle Robichaud is now up on On Archivy.  This piece developed out of an Archives Association of Ontario talk Danielle and I presented back in 2017 on “Collaborative archival practice: Rethinking outreach, access, and reconciliation using Wikipedia.”  The post looks at the how editing Wikipedia can be part of reconciliation efforts and includes tangible actions folks can take right now.

OER and Exploring Pressbooks

Cover of the Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.
Cover of the draft Healing and Reconciliation Through Education Pressbook.

I recently starting working with Pressbooks as a way to develop an Open Educational Resource (OER) about residential schools and the history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

For folks not familiar will Pressbooks, it is a publishing platform that you easily create ebook and print-ready files for printing physical books.  In Ontario, eCampus Ontario has a dedicated Pressbooks instance for folks at universities in the province who are looking to develop OER and open textbooks.   The platform is extremely user friendly, and if you’ve used WordPress you’ll find the navigation and content entry system very similar.  I love the idea of using digital tools to create accessible, open access material for students to use in the classroom.  I also think there is a ton of potential for archives to work with historians to provide primary source material for this type of project.

We’re still very much in the content development phase of this project; but it has been really interesting to think about ways to illustrate the unique history of the Shingwauk Indian Residential School site in connection to the larger residential school system.  This is a history that the Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre have been collecting and discussing for decades. It’s also a history that has become past of my daily work for the past eight years, either through archival practice or educational outreach programming. The development of OER content has the potential to deliver this history in new ways and to expand the reach of this important work.

I’m also really seeing the benefit of using a platform which supports collaboration.  I’ve been able to bring in a number of conspirators  co-authors to this project and we have been able to jointly develop content and design. I also like the flexibility a digital platform provides – hyperlinks, embedded audio-visual, and photographs are some of the obvious advantages.  In the case of our project we’re also embedding primary source material held by the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  It is allowing us to directly connect learns will archival records, archival photographs, and documents which are central to telling the history of the Shingwauk site.

I would love to hear what other public history and Canadian history folks are doing with Pressbooks, OER software, and open textbook development. What are you working on? What resources do you wish existed to support your students? 

Project Funding News

Five people doing fist bumps.

I’ve been fortunate to be part of a number of projects that have recently received funding news.  I am very excited about all of this work, much of which involves community, engagement, and cross-cultural learning methods.

  • The TRC-TF was recently awarded at SSHRC Insight Grant for “Establishing a framework for reconciliation action and awareness within the Canadian archival system”  this funding will allow the TRC-TF to expand our outreach to Indigenous communities, Indigenous archivists, and Indigenous knowledge holders across Canada.
  • Skylee-Storm Hogan and I were recently the recipients of of an Inspirit Foundation ChangeUp Grant.  These grants are focused on building opportunities for people aged 18-34 to develop programming designed to shift attitudes within their communities.  Our project is focused on building space for dialogue about reconciliation, issues of inter-generational trauma, and residential schools.  We’ll be sharing lots of this work on social media as the project progresses.
  • The “Documenting early residential schools” project led by Thomas Peace in partnership with the Woodland Cultural Centre, Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre, and the Anglican Diocese of Huron recently received funding through the SSHRC partnership engage grant program.  I’m thrilled to be a co-applicant on this project which will allow for the digitization, transcription, and discovery of records related to the early history of the Mohawk Institute and the Shingwauk Indian Residential School.  This project also has a significant education component, involving a group of students from Huron University College working with materials from the Shingwauk and Mohawk Schools.
  • Activehistory.ca was one of the supporting partners of Carolyn Podruchny’s “Aandse: Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing and the Transformation of University-based Knowledge Creation and Transfer.”  partnership development grant, which received $200,000 from SSHRC.

None of the above projects would have been possible without the fantastic colleagues and collaborators I’ve met through Active History and the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre.  I am constantly grateful for the numerous meaningful collaborations that I get to participate in.

Photo credit: rawpixel 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.

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? 

Photo credit: Jared Erondu on Unsplash

Annual Reports of the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes

Our Indian Homes Annual Report cover page

I’ve recently been working with a batch of annual reports from the Shingwauk and Wawanosh Homes from 1877-1915.  The first part of these reports have been digitized, OCR’d and are now available to download as PDFs.   We’re still working with the reports from 1899-1915, but hope to have those available to the public by the end of the month.

Working with these reports has once again highlighted the challenges of working with colonial records, especially those which relate to historical trauma.  The annual reports in question were written by the school principals and they also contain statements written by the Bishop of the Diocese of Algoma.  They represent a very particular view of the residential school system, that of an Anglican missionary and organizations who were deeply invested in the assimilation of Indigenous communities.

The reports also offer photographs as snapshots of residential school life.  There are a number of images that repeatedly appear in the annual reports, often showing students working or in school uniforms to highlight the ‘success’ of the residential school system.  The annual reports included these photographs as evidence but also as a means of soliciting support for the residential schools.  The photographs, as well as items made by student at Shingwauk/Wawanosh, were listed as for sale in every annual report.

The use of student labour to sustain residential schools is well documented. The nuanced way in which schools packaged the images of the students for profit is something that is still being explored in the archival and historical profession.  In the case of the Shingwauk/Wawanosh Homes the student photographs were often paired with letters ‘written’ by students.  I put written in quotes because it is clear that these letters were form letters, that the students were instructed (or forced) to write. The letters talk about how good life at Shingwauk is, the great things the students were learning, and how much they liked school.  They are all similar in structure and tone, making the rote nature of the letters clear.

These letters were hard to work through as an archivist. They are a very vivid reminder of how little choice residential school students had. When combined with posed photographs these letters serve as a window into the assimilation and harm inflicted by residential school.

These records made me physically uncomfortable. But I was also reminded of their importance. The student lists included in the annual reports are some of the records we have of students at Shingwauk from 1900-1910. This scant evidence also speaks to challenges of the colonial record keeping system, the lack of material created from student perspectives, and the need to develop narratives using a range of historical sources.

As archivists and historians we need to talk about the emotional toll of working with records relating to historical trauma. We need to acknowledge the emotional and intellectual space it takes to process this material. We also need to think about how we are presenting this material to communities and the general public.  The need for health support within archives can be very real and something that needs to be fought for in the age of ever shrinking budgets.

Historical Reminiscents EP 07: Demystifying Archival Labour – Description

New podcast episode!

In part three of the mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I tackle the work of archival description and talk about the intellectual work goes into descriptive practices. I also discuss my favourite strategies for teaching about description and the inherent challenges of describing records using RAD.  Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:

Digital POWRR Institute Reflections

Long lines of white light on a dark background

Last week I attended the inaugural Digital POWRR Institute in Naperville, IL.  Since 2012, the Preserving digital Objects With Restricted Resources (Digital POWRR) project has been trying to breakdown digital preservation barriers to a wider range of information professionals.  Building on their past workshop model, the POWRR Institutes are designed to provide hands-on learning experiences, are offered free of charge as a way of breaking down cost barriers, and include sessions with digital preservation practitioners.

The two-day Institute in Naperville was fantastic.  It included a theoretical introduction to digital preservation, covered some of the big challenges of getting started with digital preservation, and included a whole lot of ‘playing with all the things’ opportunities where we had a chance to actually test digital preservation tools.  Hands-on workshops included an introduction to the workflow tools (including the open source tools: DataAccessioner, Bagger, and Fixity), web archiving, Archivematica, digital storage, and recovering outdated media.

The Institute was designed in the cohort model – it included 30 participants, but we were then broken into smaller cohort groups with similar backgrounds.  For example, a number of the members of my group came from small post-secondary backgrounds.  The cohort model allowed you to get to know others at the workshop on a more personal level and also allowed participants the opportunity to learn from each other.  The community skill building mentality that was fostered by the cohorts is something I wish more conferences would attempt.

For me the highlight of the Institute was the POWRR Plan that we created while attending.  Each participant was asked to survey their current digital preservation level and come up with a pilot project for moving digital preservation processes forward.  The pilot project was then used to build goals and action items associated with 3, 6, and 12 month milestones.  The Plan included tangible outcomes, small setups towards better digital preservation, and realistic goals.  Each Institute participant also had the opportunity to talk one-on-one with an instructor and develop their plan within that consultation framework.

I love the POWRR Plan idea. I often come away from workshops full of enthusiasm and ideas but unsure of how to apply them to my day-to-day work.  The POWRR Plan helped solidify steps I can make towards better digital preservation strategies and left me with something to reflect on once I returned home.  I am hopeful that in the coming months I can make solid headway on my pilot project and goals.

I would recommend this workshop to anyone with digital preservation responsibilities in a small archive or library, particularly if they have a limited budget or a limited staff.  Four additional Institutes will be offered in 2018 and 2019 and applications for the second Institute are now available online.

Photo credit: Photo by Joshua Sortino on Unsplash

Historical Reminiscents EP 06: Demystifying Archival Labour – Arrangement

New podcast episode!

In part two of the mini-series on “Demystifying Archival Labour” I tackle the work of archival arrangement and talk about how archives are organized, archival arrangement principles and how to teach about arrangement in the classroom. I also discuss the idea of alternative arrangements as a means of shifting away from colonial perspectives.  Missed part one of this series? Listen to it here.

Mentioned in this episode:
How Do Archivists Organize Collections?
Dalhousie LibGuide: Differences Between Archives and Libraries
-Dalhouse LibGuide: How is Archival Material Organized?
-Kimberly Christen, “Tribal Archives, Traditional Knowledge, and Local Contexts: Why the “s” Matters”