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Community Archiving

A tool for transgenerational learning
Last update: Mar 20, 2022

Ethics of Archiving

There are many official government archives throughout the world. Unfortunately, many of these were made to uphold systems of oppression as imperial archives in service of expanding empires and state power. Community archives are attempts to challenge the tradition of archival work by allowing marginalized communities to preserve and share their own history on their own terms. A type of community archives are liberatory archives that can allow individuals to feel as if they belong within a wider community with a rich and long history as well as believe in a hopeful future in which that community can thrive. Overall, community archives can be a tool to challenge the dominant narrative and boost marginalized voices.

Community archives can also reduce the erasure of collective knowledge whether due to arrest, assassination, exile, or the eventual death of community leaders by saving and passing down information across generations. Specific to the university context, student activist leaders are constantly leaving their communities when they graduate, which disrupts collective memory on an accelerated level. Since the dominant narrative will continually be taught in schools and in the dominant culture, community archives can be essential for ensuring that information is passed down within marginalized communities.

One set of guiding principles from a community archive project include centering the needs of a diverse set of communities, demystifying institutional archives for communities to create their own collections, supporting and resourcing the work of partnered communities, and sharing other insights about archives for a variety of community needs.

Overview of Archival Steps

Archiving is a cultural process, and the many steps we can take in archiving vary based on the context. Some basic archival steps in how to process collections offered by the Society of American Archivists.

Processing is the activity during which the archivists take control over the collection. In processing, good archivist practice is to practice provenance to organize collections - respect the person or organizationโ€™s approach. They determine the contents and the organizational scheme of the collection. The four distinct activities undertaken during Processing are:

  • Appraisal: This activity is arguably the most important and the hardest function in processing. Its purpose is to determine what to keep and what to discard as a part of the collection, and is based on our archiveโ€™s capacity and our interest to preserve the materials in the long-term.
  • Arrangement is the activity of organizing the components of a collection into a systematic and understandable whole. The principle of provenance suggests keeping the original order if it exists.
  • Description has for the purpose the creation of an inventory and guide to the collection, as well as finding aid - whatever additional information about the collection we decide is important to convey.
  • Preservation is a variety of activities we can do in order to slow down deterioration and protect materials in the collection from further damage.

How we approach processing may vary depending on the type of material weโ€™re interested in archiving. At the moment Activist Handbook is researching how to make digital communal archives. If youโ€™re interested in writing about archiving different kind of materials you can submit a suggestion for a topic via this link.

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