Highlighting the Humane

Reflecting on the readings for this week, the point that kept coming up in my mind as I was reading the articles was how utterly humane the writers discussion was underlined.  This was surprising by omission in the sense that it was something I had missed before their discussion.  When thinking of an archive or a collection or a museum, the concept of humanness somehow didn’t cross my mind.  Being aware of the horrors of slavery, I hadn’t thought of the point that an archive could perpetuate them.  Reading Johnson’s Markup Bodies I became very aware of questions that need to be addressed while coming into contact with an archive.  Questions of data stability, of data usage, and, of course, objectivity- something I was aware of previously.  Data as Johnson states, ‘… has been central to the architecture of slavery studies and digital humanistic study.” Taking into account that data is not neutral allows me to have a critical take on what I’m looking at, very similar to the last set of readings which involved mapping.  Neither can be taken as is. Even taking first hand experiential testimony can have a slanted point of view.  Johnson notes, “ … an exploration of the world of the enslaved from their own perspective- served to further obscure the social and political realities of black diasporic life under slavery.” The tradition of data as ‘given’ or neutral has continued for quite a long time. Even up until recently, the concept of humanizing- I think of Drucker here- data is still resisted as Johnson mentions regarding the conference at the College of William and Mary.  Her aim is to contextualize the data and to bring it home so to speak.  To open up the database and allow it to be used by the community for the community’s well-being whether to remember, to pass on, or to help heal. It is this idea of it being a tool to heal that resonated with me and where I saw the archive being used by people, normal people rather than academics.  Real world application to help real world hurts. Rather than just having numbers which can take away a sliver of humanity and obfuscate reality, we have a tool to do the converse of that.  

The September 11 Digital Archive also showed healing as a component of its purpose. Brier and Brown showed tremendous insight in their approach towards the archive when they had an epiphany of being archivist-historians, the updated version of a historian- historian 2.0. Working very rapidly to collect as much input from as many sources as possible was an excellent idea to record things which were fresh in people’s minds.  Creating webs by reaching out to other communities, whether ones with different languages, different locations, different geographies, was an enlightened approach. Giving ordinary people an input into the archive and allowing them to be represented gives people the opening to view/use the archive to remember, to heal.  This is a major reason it’s one of the most visited sites.  

Christen and Anderson articulate the view of an archive being a place to ‘decolonize processes’ as a ‘slow archive’ where data is preserved but more importantly where ‘we have to keep pushing forward to save the culture.’ By ‘pushing forward’ we can find solace in the wrongs of the past and, again, heal. A slow archive is, as others have noted, a place to pick up life experiences, oral stories, and in view of the Mukurtu CMS to have real healing whether recognizing tribal traditions or respecting tribal customs or allowing ‘temporal sovereignty.’ A slow archive is a recognition of the relationship between the archive and what the community needs.  

This enlightened view of an archive is seen in different places.  One such place is Pan Dulce: Breaking Bread with the Past. In creating the archive, Cotera not only created an archive but a template for others to use to tailor the archive to their unique purpose.  For her, creating a feminist Chicana archive and the basic template for others to use consisted of 5 principles:

  1. Research grounded in a specific topic. For her own, it was Feminist Chicana History.
  2. Participants are co-creators and retain intellectual rights to their input.
  3. Relies on relationships of reciprocity, vulnerability and researcher reflexivity.
  4. Places lived experience at the center.
  5. Provides a potential space for healing.

Healing, again. So, from the readings, the insight that I come back to over and over again is of use, of use to heal.  How powerful is that?! They are not places to only be academic, nor are they places to be dissected and analyzed, but places to learn and to heal, an active place to be pro-active.  A place where one can ‘keep pushing forward.”

In essence, an archive must not just record data, but bear witness, and be a place to help heal.