Herrada – Question 2
2What particular opportunities and challenges do social-protest archives face?
Curator of the Joseph A. Labadie Collection, Special Collections – University of Michigan
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Despite the vast quantities of evidentiary materials that are generated in our culture, the value that is placed on archives and the work of archivists in general has never been high. This public perception has been an even greater challenge for social- protest archives, due to the ephemeral nature of the documentation itself, the tendency on the part of the media, the government and the general public not to take seriously the arguments and criticisms of protesters and activists, and the consistent backlog of unprocessed and therefore inaccessible materials in archives. This is changing, however, as a result of new technologies that provide an increase in accessibility, for example, through digitization projects and social media. In addition, a general rise in educational levels, as well as more recent attention paid to those who have stories to tell, has led to an increase in awareness. Furthermore, the past few decades have seen changes in historiographic practice, which now focuses much more on the study of social and cultural history. In other words, there is a higher value placed on documenting “history from below” or “people’s history” than there has been in the past.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Another challenge is that papers and artifacts saved by activists may be in fragile condition. They are rarely stored in archival-quality containers, or even sound and secure ones. They may have been physically moved many times, been stored in unstable temperature and humidity environments such as attics and garages, been trampled, squashed, spilled upon, flooded, tossed around, squirreled away, hidden, forgotten, subject to secondhand smoke, or even discarded and rescued. Salvaging the remains of some collections has been particularly challenging, and in some cases impossible. The fact that some do still exist in good condition is a miracle.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Preservation, storage, and access are problems for any archive, but social-protest archives face particular challenges regarding born-digital materials. Almost all contemporary social movements are largely documented through the internet, which is an inherently unstable medium. Without a strong infrastructure and a long-term financial commitment to the upkeep of and ability to provide access to the materials, which most people cannot provide, most of this documentation will be lost.