Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Speaking Up for Heritage

Earlier this week someone asked me why I first became interested in archives and what I like about my job.  I responded with my fairly standard response about my background in public history and how I really like that my place of employment focuses on engaging communities through archival material and placing an emphasis on sharing and education.

The follow-up question to this initial probe is what got me thinking.  The person asked how my personal emphasis on public engagement might influence by views on the recent Library and Archives Canada (LAC) code of conduct fiasco (see here and here for some background on the recent controversy) and the general perception that archives operate as gatekeepers.  My response was predictably focused on the need for balance of accessibility, protection of personal/organization privacy and free speech. 

I use twitter and this blog to talk about a variety of  public history focused topics.  Many of these topics are inspired by or indirectly related to work I'm doing.  Similarly, a lot of my more formal writing and conference presentations have been based on the projects I've been fortunate enough to work on as an employee or volunteer. I can't imagine not being able use these digital and physical spaces of collaboration, sharing, and  expression. 

Countless groups of people have been marginalized by official histories, their stories left out of archival records, and their voices silenced in historical narratives.  History projects of all shapes and sizes have the potential to help marginalized groups have their stories told.  New historical narratives can be created that include a myriad of voices and perspectives.  Silencing the caretakers of historical records can have the impact of silencing the historical records themselves.  Education, outreach, and promotion of new scholarship are essential to making history accessible.

If you haven't already heard it last week Jian Ghomehi's opening essay on Q focused on the LAC code of conduct and he hit the nail right on the head, "...the management of information and memory and artifact is a vocation and maybe a passion that extends naturally beyond their confines of their work day to their communities, their families, to schools..."  History isn't confined to neat little boxes and discussions of history shouldn't be limited to what is arbitrarily deemed acceptable.

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