The fourth challenge in the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” brings the focus to each of you: Why are you an archivist?
In past months, the calls to action for the “Year of Living Dangerously for Archives” have focused on the value that others find in archives. Now it’s time to talk about the value WE see in what we do. Whether you came into this profession intentionally, by way of a related profession, or by some unforeseen path, there’s a reason why you’ve decided to stay or to pursue a degree. Please take a few minutes (now!) to think about why you’re an archivist–and share that with us. http://www2.archivists.org/living-dangerously/why-i-am-an-archivist
I firmly believe in not asking people to do something I would not be willing to do myself, so let me start this conversation by telling you why I am an archivist. Mine is just one perspective, one answer for one person. I look forward to hearing your stories.
During my sophomore seminar for history majors at Michigan State University, my amazing professor, Dr. William J. Brazill, Jr., challenged us to read R.G. Collingwood’s The Idea of History. I was immediately and irrevocably hooked by Collingwood’s assertion that to study history, one must view it through the context and perspective of those who were living the events. Shortly thereafter I started a part-time job at the State of Michigan’s Archives. What an amazing opportunity it afforded me to work with the documents that in fact provided just those perspectives. Through the inspired leadership of Geneva Kebler Wiskemann there, and later Dr. Philip P. Mason who led the Wayne State University archival administration graduate program, my encounters with archival records brought to fruition the opportunity to explore context and historical perspective.
In particular, as a proud member of a “blue-collar” family in Detroit, working with government records gave me an incredible experience with, as Carl Sandburg termed us, “The People Yes”—not the famous politicians or literate, privileged men and women of the 19th or 20th century, but those whose experiences are the foundation and substance of this democracy. For me, archives are the opportunity to give voice to Dick Nichols, a copper miner in the Keweenaw Peninsula; Dana Chase, a fosterchild plowing fields in the Maumee Valley; Isabel González who migrated from Puerto Rico through Ellis Island; or Ada Grace Fellers, a farm wife turning 50 pounds of flour into home-made noodles. Their voices are real and compelling. Being able to help bring their experiences, perspectives, and contributions forward is for me an essential responsibility and unparalleled opportunity.
That leads to the other reason I am an archivist—because, as I’ve said in other forums, archives change lives. Encounters with the real experiences and actions of people from whatever position, life condition, or perspective can change minds, provide comfort, foster a sense of belonging; it can change the course of public policy, educate and inform the body politic; or it can simply share an amazingly good story. Whatever the scope or nature of the result, archives make a difference. It is an honor to be able to share the incomparable gift of archives with others.
That’s why I am an archivist. What’s your story?