Archiving Social Protest – Question 4
Martha Briggs, Catherine Grandgeorge, Alison Hinderliter, Eric Gonzaba, Julie Herrada, Yvonne Ng, Joe Tropea
4What is the relationship between social protest and social-protest archiving?
Both social protest and social-protest archiving have a vested interest in the future, demonstrate a commitment to the efficacy of immediate action, and rely on the beliefs and commitments of many individuals. Social protest seeks to bring about or influence social and political change, and social-protest archiving works to preserve and document that process for the historical record. Marches and demonstrations happen in the moment, and to be effective, social-protest collecting must also occur in the moment. In addition, both rely on the beliefs, commitments, and actions of many individuals. It takes a crowd to make an effective demonstration, and it takes a crowd to take the next step and create a grassroots social-protest archive.Read this Response
I’m a historian at heart, and I’m fascinated by the work we do as historians. Is there such a thing as apolitical history? For decades, those who see history as either an objective or a subjective field have debated this question. As for myself, I firmly believe that no historian is perfectly objective. Historians are political beings. Fun fact: everyone is a political being. When a Supreme Court nominee tells a Senate committee that he is not influenced by politics when reaching a decision, it is, in the words of a former vice president, a bunch of malarkey. The fact that we are all political beings means that it is unrealistic to expect historians to produce totally impartial historical narratives. But this does not mean we should not be true to our sources and strive to represent multiple points of view in our accounts.Read this Response
Some would say that there is no relationship, that there are those who make revolution and those who document the revolution. Others might say that the documentation doesn’t matter, that social-protest material was relevant in the moment it was created or used for its intended purpose, but that any efforts to preserve it are wasted. On the other hand, there are many social-justice activists with archivist sensibilities who collect and preserve the evidence of their activities, who appreciate and recognize the historic value of them, and who believe the artifact will continue to have use through the future, for those who wish to remember the past and learn from it. Even the existence of the tangible artifact, for those who see it (and not just a digital version of it) and even touch it, to realize that it has passed through many hands from its creation to its dissemination is itself a teachable moment.Read this Response
I think each one informs the other. I’d like to think we’ve mostly done away with the myth of archival neutrality and accepted that archives and the choices we make as archivists (in terms of selection, arrangement, description, providing access, etc.) are inherently political, whether we are challenging or reinforcing the status quo. So, in their decision-making processes, archives can perhaps look to social-movement principles—such as inclusion and diversity, social justice, and equity—for guidance.Read this Response
This question seems to imply that protest and archiving are strictly black and white activities, when in fact there’s so much gray area in between. I am not certain there necessarily must be a relationship between social protest and social-protest archiving. There have been a lot of social protests that have produced materials that do not live in archives. However, when there is an attempt to build a relationship between protesters and archivists, it’s difficult to see a downside. When the first meetings to develop the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising Archive were planned, we put out a public call for submissions and reached out to select organizations such as Baltimore Bloc and Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, who are known locally as activists, to join us. At the very least, we wanted them to be aware of our efforts.Read this Response