Session 1: Perspectives on Archives and Human Rights

Moderator: Jamie Lee (University of Arizona)
Social Justice and Information Research: The Growing Focus on Social Justice in Archival Research and Library Research, and What They Can Teach Each Other / Paul T. Jaeger (University of Maryland) 

The central roles of information, information professionals, cultural heritage institutions, and information research in fostering and advancing social justice have recently begun to receive significantly increasing attention. Within the past year, Archival Science, Library Quarterly, Library Trends, and Advances in Librarianship have all published or announced forthcoming special issues or volumes devoted to the topic of social justice, and social justice was the theme of the 2015 ALISE conference.

Part of this increased focus on social justice in information research ties to the overall trend of more organizations, professions, and governments viewing information as a social justice issue with vast array of roles that the Internet and related technologies play in the everyday lives of many individuals around the world. As information access, literacy, and inclusion now are necessary for education, employment, and civic participation in many places, the nature of information as an issue of social justice has begun increasingly evident.

Information research is, quite appropriately, extraordinarily well positioned to research the roles of information, information professionals, and cultural heritage institutions in social justice. The archival research has primarily focused on the roles of archives in documenting and preserving materials related to social justice issues or the role of archival collections in addressing a social justice problem in a specific community. In library research, the research has generally studies the ways in which public, academic, and school libraries promote social justice in their communities or the ways in which library skills and collections can support the social justice work of other organizations.

These parallel and growing bodies of research study related kinds of initiatives driven by shared beliefs in the power of information professionals and cultural heritage institutions to promote justice. Yet, thus far, few connections have been made between the social justice work of archives and the social justice work of libraries. To hopefully encourage such dialogue, this presentation will consider the definitions of and approaches to social justice employed by archives and by libraries, explore the ways in which archival research and library research each approach issues of social justice, and propose ways in which the two streams of research can learn from and build upon one another to craft a larger scholarly narrative about the impact of cultural heritage institutions on social justice.

Rights in Records: the Implementation Challenge / Sue McKemmish (Monash University)

In our AERI 2014 paper, Anne Gilliland and I reflected on our engagement in research in Australia and the states emerging out of the former Yugoslavia relating to the role of recordkeeping and archiving in human rights and social justice contexts, and in post-conflict societies. We described how this research has led us to re-think participatory archiving. Based on our research findings, a review of relevant critical literature in archival studies, and our own immersive experiences over many years as archival and recordkeeping researchers, and as educators and practitioners, we presented an integrated set of rights in records that acknowledge and respect the interests of the different agents who are involved or implicated in records and recordkeeping processes. We also presented the set of guiding principles that informed the development of the suite of rights. Our focus in the 2014 paper was on conceptualising a radically different archival culture and practice. We acknowledged that fully implementing this suite of rights and its guiding principles in the context of current mainstream archival culture and practice would be highly challenging if not impossible as it would be dependent upon the transformation of professional culture, priorities and practices. However some of the rights are more immediately achievable and their implementation in the short-term would contribute to the long-term transformation of practice. This presentation will propose long- and short-term action agendas with reference to local and global contexts. It will explore both long-term transformative actions and more immediate approaches to partial implementation of the suite of rights in participatory archives. It will also explore how the guiding principles might be used to re-structure existing archives along more participatory lines.

Collections that Counter Symbolic Annihilation: Uncovering the Affective Impact of Community Archives / Michelle Caswell (UCLA)

Although there has been much work published that assumes that independent community archives have an important impact on communities, little research has been done to empirically assess this impact. This research paper will report on the results of a series of qualitative interviews with South Asian American academics regarding their affective responses to the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA), an independent nonprofit community-based organization that operates the website www.saadigitalarchive.org.

Previous research has adapted the concept of “symbolic annihilation” from feminist communications scholarship to fit archival studies. In the field of communications, “symbolic annihilation” denotes how strong women characters are absent, grossly under-represented, maligned, or trivialized by mainstream television programming, news outlets, and magazine coverage. The concept has since been taken up to describe how marginalized groups are misrepresented or absent in a variety of symbolic contexts, from media to museums to tours of historic sites. In archival studies, symbolic annihilation denotes how members of marginalized communities feel regarding the absence or misrepresentation of their communities in archival collection policies, in descriptive tools, and/ or in collections themselves. The proposed study will further explore this concept in archival studies by empirically assessing how members of one particular ethnic community affectively respond to both absences and misrepresentations in mainstream repositories and attempts to counter such absences and misrepresentations through independent identity-based community archives.

While the proposed research is currently in its initial stages, it aims to both provide empirical data about the affective impact of community archives on community members and further develop theoretical concepts regarding silences, symbolic annihilation, and representation in archival studies.