National Archives at NCPH

The final session I attended on Thursday at NCPH was “Competing Narratives, Competing Needs: The Roles and Responsibilities of a National Archive and its Audiences.”  The panel was comprised of staff from Library and Archives Canada (LAC) including: Rebecca Giesbrecht, Jenna Murdock Smith, Jennifer Wilhelm and Katherine Comber as facilitator. 

Giesbrecht began the session by comparing display practices and national concern surrounding Canada’s founding documents with that of the United States.  I wrote about my views on this drastic national difference in 2012 when I made a visit to the NARA in Washington, D.C.  Giesbrecht’s presentation provided a framework of national identity to examine the treatment of ‘founding documents’ by archival bodies and provided insight into LAC’s past and current preservation practices for founding documents.

Following Giesbrecht, Wilhelm discussed the role documents held at LAC have played in relation to the Indian Residential Schools legacy.  Wilhelm also spent considerable time explaining the creation bias and archival bias that impacts the IRS documents held by LAC.  How LAC describes IRS photographs and documents is linked to archival standards, which often results in titles of records reflecting the Euro-centric views of their creators.  Wilhelm also mentioned Project Naming a LAC program designed to identify Inuit in photographs of Canada’s north and LAC’s participation in past Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) national events.

The panel concluded with Jenna Murdock Smith looking at the changing archival policies surrounding documents relating to the Japanese Canadian Redress Secretariat.  The Japanese Canadian Redress was the first instance of an individual compensation process being created in Canada to address historical wrongs.  Smith’s presentation focused on the archival apprasial of case files relating to the Redress.  Early on these case files were considered not of archival value for LAC and slated for destruction, even though these case files contained massive amounts of individual and potentially relevant information.  Smith described the challenges of attempting to find a new home for these records and the ultimate the decision to keep the case files because of a technology failure that lost related information.

This was an interesting panel.  It was great to see staff from LAC engaging with the public history community and sharing their experiences documenting Canada’s ‘official’ past. 

Speaking Up for Heritage

Earlier this week someone asked me why I first became interested in archives and what I like about my job.  I responded with my fairly standard response about my background in public history and how I really like that my place of employment focuses on engaging communities through archival material and placing an emphasis on sharing and education.

The follow-up question to this initial probe is what got me thinking.  The person asked how my personal emphasis on public engagement might influence by views on the recent Library and Archives Canada (LAC) code of conduct fiasco (see here and here for some background on the recent controversy) and the general perception that archives operate as gatekeepers.  My response was predictably focused on the need for balance of accessibility, protection of personal/organization privacy and free speech. 

I use twitter and this blog to talk about a variety of  public history focused topics.  Many of these topics are inspired by or indirectly related to work I’m doing.  Similarly, a lot of my more formal writing and conference presentations have been based on the projects I’ve been fortunate enough to work on as an employee or volunteer. I can’t imagine not being able use these digital and physical spaces of collaboration, sharing, and  expression. 

Countless groups of people have been marginalized by official histories, their stories left out of archival records, and their voices silenced in historical narratives.  History projects of all shapes and sizes have the potential to help marginalized groups have their stories told.  New historical narratives can be created that include a myriad of voices and perspectives.  Silencing the caretakers of historical records can have the impact of silencing the historical records themselves.  Education, outreach, and promotion of new scholarship are essential to making history accessible.

If you haven’t already heard it last week Jian Ghomehi’s opening essay on Q focused on the LAC code of conduct and he hit the nail right on the head, “…the management of information and memory and artifact is a vocation and maybe a passion that extends naturally beyond their confines of their work day to their communities, their families, to schools…”  History isn’t confined to neat little boxes and discussions of history shouldn’t be limited to what is arbitrarily deemed acceptable.

Listen Up: Public History the Audio Way

On weekly basis I spend an excessive amount of time in a car (over 10 hours a week).  One of the few upsides of this car time is my listening to talk radio, podcasts, and audio books. Some of the great public history oriented listening material I’ve taken in lately includes:

  • In Their Shoes on CBC’s Ideas program.  This particular Ideas episode focuses on Katherine Govier’s ESL work with immigrant women, and her work on the Shoe Project.   The Shoe Project is a  Bata Shoe Museum exhibit focuses on the shoes that brought immigrants to Canada.
  • NPR’s Fresh Air interview with Craig Timberg.  Timberg is the co-author of the book Tinderbox: How The West Fueled The AIDS Epidemic”  The interview examines the history of AIDS, the impact of colonialism and AIDS in Africa,and recent trends in preventative programs.
  • A recent interview on CBC’s Spark with David McCandless, which focuses on information design.  The interview provides an interesting look at big data and data visualization.
  • Library and Archives Canada recently announced a new podcast series, “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” The first podcast in the series focuses on Project Naming, an initiative to identify persons in photographs of Canada’s North.

Christmas in the Archives

Archival institutions across Canada (and the world) often contain some ephemeral material.  Some of my  favourite types of ephemera are postcards and greeting cards.  Given the approaching holiday, here’s a glimpse at holiday themed ephemera.

This item is from the  Kenneth Rowe fonds held by Library and Archives Canada.  This fonds contains a number of scrapbooks and folios with printed material – including the Christmas cards seen to the left. These Canadian Christmas cards are dated

circa 1877-1878.

A Christmas postcard sent to Reg Sherwood by Ada Broderick in 1908.  This postcard is part of the collection held by the Burlington Public Library.  The library’s collection is searchable on OurOntario.

A Christmas card from Superior Paul C. O’Connor of the  Society of Jesus of St. Mary’s Mission at Akulurak, Alaska to Assistant Director Charles G. Burdick of the Civilian Conservation Corps’ Alaska Region, circa December 20, 1938.

Held by the National Archives and Records Administration, and part of the Records of the Forest Service, 1870-2008 group.