Archival Activism

 “Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and the access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.”

– Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression (University of Chicago Press, 1996, p.4).

Archivists and other professional record keepers are an interesting bunch. Widely regarded as quiet people who are respectful of authority and rules, the stereotypes usually have us laboring away in basements, always dusty, and probably wearing a cardigan. Not typically courageous, and unlikely activists. However, both the archivist/record keeper [1] “type” and the work itself are, in reality, a lot more interesting. We have a unique view of the world of information – the 21st century’s most important currency – and our work is inherently political. In many of the jobs we do, we have agency or at least influence in matters of policy, record keeping systems design, the retention and findability of records, and records access. These are not trivial matters, in politico-social terms. Records – in all their forms –  enable and leave traces of what governments, corporations, and individuals do. They can be created in order to repress or to free, to nurture or to attack. They can be shared in order to heal, or withheld in order to deceive. Records and record-keeping support affect myriad aspects of the lives of individuals and can influence the direction of a whole society. Continue reading