Archiving Social Protest – Question 2
Martha Briggs, Catherine Grandgeorge, Alison Hinderliter, Eric Gonzaba, Julie Herrada, Yvonne Ng, Joe Tropea
2What particular opportunities and challenges do social-protest archives face?
Collecting in the moment via crowdsourcing gives us the opportunity to broaden the historical record by documenting the voices of individuals we have missed in the past when we have waited for materials to arrive as part of historical collections. In addition, we believe that this type of collecting publicizes the Newberry Library’s modern collections and collecting priorities, and highlights its interest in the activities of everyday people and the contemporary world. The Chicago Protest Collection thus helps us correct a common misconception that the library’s collections consist entirely of old and rare books and manuscripts.Read this Response
The hyperpolarization of the current American electorate is widely seen as detrimental to the national interest, but it has also led to an impassioned and civically engaged citizenry. Excited and determined protestors crafted creative messages across signs, hats, and shirts that displayed their wide array of grievances about one of the most contentious elections in modern American history. Protestors walking down DC’s Constitution Avenue during the Women’s March snapped thousands of pictures of signs on their cell phones in an effort to remember their favorite punch lines in a never-ending sea of creative poster boards.Read this Response
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.Read this Response
The practical question of how to archive video comes up again and again from the grassroots groups that we train and collaborate with. People are amassing video but are unsure of how to save and manage it properly. There is opportunity for social-protest archives working and experimenting in this area to develop new and creative methodologies for archiving that suit grassroots contexts. The major challenge is that “social-protest” archives often live in small, underfunded organizations rather than in well-funded institutions. Even with new and innovative approaches, it remains difficult to find and sustain the labor and technological infrastructure needed to maintain a functioning archive.Read this Response
Perhaps the greatest opportunity the Preserve the Baltimore Uprising Archive has brought to MdHS is the ability to reach new people. With this comes the opportunity to truly democratize archiving, essentially telling more Marylanders that they are a part of history by including them in the collection and archiving process.Read this Response