Using data gleaned from semistructured interviews with seventeen community archives founders, volunteers, and staff at twelve sites, this paper examines the relations and roles of community archives and archivists in social justice activism. Our research uncovered four findings on the politics of community archives. First, community-based archivists identify as activists, advocates, or community organizers, and this identification shapes their understandings of community archives work and the missions of community archives. Second, community-based archives offer substantial critiques of neutrality in their ethical orientations and thus present new ethical foundations for practice. Third, by activating their collections, community archives play significant roles within contemporary social movements including struggles for racial justice and against gentrification. Finally, community archives are at the forefront of the profession in their engagements with activists. Community archives have much to contribute to practice and scholarship on activism, outreach, and public engagement with the past.
“What We Do Crosses over to Activism”: The Politics and Practice of Community Archives
Marika Cifor is Consortium for Faculty Diversity postdoctoral fellow in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Bowdoin College. In 2017, she received her PhD. in information studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). She holds an MS in library and information science and an MA in history from Simmons College. Together with Anne J. Gilliland she is the guest co-editor of a special issue of Archival Science on “Affect and the Archive, Archives and Their Affects.” Her articles on archives, affect and emotion, and memory practices have appeared in American Archivist, Archival Science, Archivaria, Australian Feminist Studies, Library Trends, InterActions: UCLA Journal of Education and Information Studies, and Transgender Studies Quarterly.
Michelle Caswell, PhD, is assistant professor of archival studies in the Department of Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of the book Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (2014), as well as more than two dozen articles. In 2014, she edited a special double issue of Archival Science on archives and human rights and is currently co–guest editing a special issue of the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies on critical archival studies. She is also the cofounder of the South Asian American Digital Archive (http://www.saada.org), an online repository that documents and provides access to the diverse stories of South Asian Americans.
Alda Allina Migoni is a librarian in the Library of Congress’s South America section. She completed a dual masters in library and information science and in Latin American studies at the University of California, Los Angeles in 2016. Her professional interests include cultural heritage preservation, digital humanities, and reference services.
Noah Geraci is the digital assets metadata librarian at the University of California, Riverside. He received his MS in library and information science from the University of California, Los Angeles in June 2016 and has worked in a variety of community-based and mainstream archives.
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Marika Cifor, Michelle Caswell, Alda Allina Migoni, Noah Geraci; “What We Do Crosses over to Activism”: The Politics and Practice of Community Archives. The Public Historian 1 May 2018; 40 (2): 69–95. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/tph.2018.40.2.69
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