This week I had the privilege of travelling to Thunder Bay to provide a public talk at the Thunder Bay Museum and speak with a Lakehead University archives class. Both talks focused on my work at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and the decades of work by the Shingwauk Survivor community.
As part of the “(re)Active Public History” Twitter mini-con hosted by the National Council on Public History I presented a presentation on the role of the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre as a place of community building and activism. The complete Twitter presentation is below.
The CLGA tour included an interesting discussion of the history of the organization – the early grassroots connection to Pink Triangle Press, police raids of archival collections, and the challenge of gaining recognition as an archive and as a non-profit organization. Jade Pichette, the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinate led the tour I was on and they did an excellent job of integrating stories of resilience, community history, and challenge into the tour.
It was also intriguing to see what the CLGA has done to cope with it’s location in a historic house and to work around challenges of space, lack of environmental controls, and accessibility. I love the fact that CLGA is also a community space and has partnered with other organizations to put on artistic performances in their space, allow meeting space to be used by community groups, and create other engagement opportunities within their space. Similarly, I was impressed by the movement to reach people where they are – and put CLGA collections in other visible community spaces through exhibitions and programming.
The tour also allowed for a peak at the range of material held by CLGA. The archive has an extensive archival collection but it also has a well developed library, poster collection, audio-visual holdings, portrait collection, vertical file/clippings collection, and a reading room. The range of the material in the archive also speaks to the ephemeral nature of much Queer* history, the event orientation nature of some community collections, and the value of saving community memories associated with mediums other than paper.
Personally, I was also really happy to see that the CLGA tour also started with introductions and provided participants a chance to express their preferred pronouns. The CLGA staff were also very active on Twitter throughout the AAO conference and encouraged folks to add their pronouns to their name tags.
Hey #aao17conf 1 way for us to be inclusive to trans folks is by writing our pronouns on our name tags she/her, he/him, they/them etc
The seemingly small change to adding pronouns to name tags can be huge and can go a long way to make begin to make conference spaces more welcoming for trans, non-binary, gender fluid, and other folks. This is something I would really like more organizations to take note of include in plans for upcoming events.
It discusses the idea that archives can disrupt social norms by collecting and archiving the work of those outside of mainstream society. The piece also dives into examples of Canadian archives who have made an effort to collect material relating to activist movements.
Rosethal argues that “queer public history projects can utilize cities as living laboratories for the exploration of the queer past” (p. 43). When discussing the history of urban environments and marginalized communities looking at places of past activism, past conflict, past meeting/social connection venues can be hugely powerful. Similarly community experiences of erasure of flourishing can frequently be tied to physical spaces. Rosethal uses the examples of the Make Roanoke Queer Again bar crawl and the Southwest Virginia LGBTQ+ History Project of examples of community history rooted in collecting, preserving, and sharing queer histories.
I loved this article’s emphasis on the idea of queer history being connected to physical spaces, geographic places, and as a lived history. In many communities queer history has gone undocumented and at times is seen as non-existent or as irrelevant. Grassroots activism and community based history initiatives are one of the many ways to document queer pasts and realities – and I think that acknowledging the diversity of queer* experiences and histories is something that is hugely important when creating local history narratives. Rosethal’s article is well worth the read if you’re at all interested in community based public history or queer history interpretation projects.
The Archives Association of Ontario’s Off The Recordopen access issue on archives and Indigenous issues was recently released. The issue includes a lot of great and insightful content including: three holdings profiles focusing on access to Indigenous-related materials and three feature pieces on various facets of the intersection of Indigenous communities and archives. Overall, it does an excellent job of showing some of diverse ways Indigenous people are represented in archives and how archives are handling discussions of reconciliation, access, and healing.
Full disclosure: the feature section includes a piece I wrote about my experience working at the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre and working in a community based archive. The cover also includes a photograph of the Shingwauk 1981 Reunion and one of the other features mentions the Archives of Ontario Family Ties 150 Exhibit and the SRSC content in that exhibit.
The recent issue of The Public Historianfeatured 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.