Grappling with our Difficult Past: How Can Archivists Help?

Last fall, after the white supremacist march in Charlottesville, I wrote a post concerning memorials and monuments of oppression and how we, as archivists, could help communities grappling with these difficult issues. I also promised that the SAA Council’s Working Group on Diversity and Inclusion would begin working on a toolkit for archivists that would provide these kinds of resources for archivists working with their communities. This work is continuing, and if you have any resources you would like to share, please send it to Courtney Chartier, the Working Group chair.

This past month, I compiled some resources specifically on the topic of Memorials and Monuments of Oppression and thought I would share some of them here. The entire list should be available via the SAA website soon. I also hope we will be able to work with archives students to annotate these entries to provide further context for users.

As South African professor, activist, and artist Pitika Ntuli has said, “Monuments and memorials are vivid manifestations of a people’s heritage. They are a form of capturing history for generations to come. They instantly inform observers about where we have been, and what we achieved historically, culturally and politically. The need for monuments appears to be innate in human nature. This is evident from the many various markers that humans create.”

Although many of the resources I have found reflect the issue of Confederate memorials, there are also international examples that may prove helpful in confronting and documenting traumatic events, ranging from South Africa to Yugoslavia as well as contentious moments from our own past.

I have listed additional resources (sans annotation) further below. If you are interested in receiving the entire bibliography before it is available online, please contact me at president@archivists.org

Online Resources:

American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) Webinar: Grappling with Confederate Monuments and Iconography
Recorded in 2016, this free webinar recording includes AASLH’s Bob Beatty as he moderates a discussion with author and public historian Kevin Levin, Gordon Jones of the Atlanta History Center, and Dina Bailey of the Center for Civil and Human Rights to learn how those involved with history can respond to tragic events, such as the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

National Council on Public History, Special Virtual Issue of the Public Historian. Monuments, Memory, Politics and Our Publics
This volume contains several articles and essays ranging from the study of public history and memory, memorializing historic sites ranging from Manzanar, Horseshoe Bend, Fort Sumter, and examining issues relating to the architecture of racial segregation, the Holocaust, and the role of public art.

Organizations:

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience
The Coalition is the only international organization dedicated to historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives. Their focus is on documenting for the purposes of truth and justice, especially in war-torn countries. For more on this issue, please see the previous call for comments on Guiding Principles for Safe Havens for Archives at Risk

The Coalition also provides a Toolkit for Essential Engagement, Training and Coaching

Articles and Monographs:

Bonnell, Jennifer and Roger I. Simon. “‘Difficult’ Exhibitions and Intimate Encounters.”
This article provides a comparative analysis of two recent Swedish exhibitions: The Museum of World Culture’s No Name Fever: AIDS in the Age of Globalization; and Kulturen’s Surviving: Voices from Ravensbrück. The authors describe how these exhibitions “attempt to position their viewers in relation to violence and suffering of ‘others’ distant in time, place, or experience.”

Additional Resources

Selected Online Resources:

Confederate Monuments Syllabus: A Crowdsourcing Project About Confederate Monuments and Civil War Memory: From #NOLA to #Cville

History and Heritage, Memory and Memorialization: Confederate Monuments After Charlottesville: A Collection of Articles, Interviews, and Statements made by Historians

Labode, Modupe. Reconsideration of Memorials and Monuments, American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) (2016)

Southern Poverty Law Center: Teaching Hard History

Organizational Toolkits and Training:

History Relevance Toolkit

Selected Articles and Monographs:

Araujo, Ana Lucia, Editor. Politics of Memory: Making Slavery Visible in the Public Space. New York: Routledge, 2012.

Levinson, Sanford. Written in Stone: Public Monuments in Changing Societies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1998.

Linenthal, E. T. and T. Engelhardt, Editors. History Wars: the Enola Gay and Other Battles for the American Past. New York: Henry Holt, 1996.

Savage, Kirk. Monument Wars: Washington D.C., the National Mall, and the Transformation of the Memorial Landscape. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

Schwartz, Barry. “The Social Context of Commemoration: A Study in Collective Memory.” Social Forces. Vol. 61, No. 2 (December 1982): 374-402.

 

 

 

 

One response to “Grappling with our Difficult Past: How Can Archivists Help?

  1. Kathy Marquis

    I thought people might be interested in this post from the SAA SNAP Blog (https://snaproundtable.wordpress.com/2018/03/26/year-in-the-life-kara-flynn-part-3/#more-9466). Kara Flynn, is Special Collections Librarian at Augusta University in Georgia and this is part 3 of her posts in SNAP’s series “Year in the Life” of a new professional. She describes her work introducing undergraduate students studying Reconstruction and Jim Crow to working with primary sources – a great exposition on working with faculty to produce a truly useful class exercise. For this, she chose, “5 items from our collections: a 1920 speech from the Confederate Survivors Association records, the minutes of the Ladies Memorial Association that discussed the erection of the confederate monument in downtown Augusta, a few pages of the memoirs of Berry Benson, the man featured in Augusta’s confederate monument, a newspaper article from 1876 regarding the Hamburg Massacre across the river in South Carolina, and a treatise entitled Slavery and the Race Problem, written by William Henry Fleming and published in 1906.” I really appreciated her introducing students to the documents behind the placement of these monuments, as well as contemporary accounts which showed a range of opinions on race. It’s the perfect archival way to begin this discussion, with documents that spark a thoughtful discussion.

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