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Toward an archival reckoning

Publication Date
September 19, 2022
Ashley D. Farmer
Author Affiliation
Former Postdoctoral Fellow
American Historical Review

What would it mean for historians and archivists to not just curate and write about the past but also confront it? To address how the disciplining structures of the archive and the profession entrench inequality even as we attempt to be inclusive, attend to the ways in which erasure is an integral part of professional standards, and acknowledge how repositories replicate oppression? How do we reckon with the unsavory origin stories of archives on which we base our social justice histories or the individualism embedded in preserving collaboratively constructed artifacts?

Such questions are daunting yet vital. There are many who are thoughtfully interrogating these challenging and complex concerns. One such group is the Blackivists—a collective of trained Black archivists who prioritize Black cultural heritage preservation and memory work.

This collective works with individuals and communities to increase access to historical materials and address the labor practices and relationships around “creation, care, description and access” to archives. “Toward an Archival Reckoning” is a coauthored, collaborative project that foregrounds the Blackivists’ work in three parts: a conversation with members about the challenges and possibilities of the profession and archiving, a case study on the Blackivists’ collaboration with the Chicago-based collective Honey Pot Performance, and a call to action for guidance on how to address some of the pressing issues in archiving and historical preservation today.

Serious engagement in questions of preservation, memorialization, and repair means interrogating the full scope of our preservation practices, educating ourselves on existing efforts, and considering how we can materially and constructively support and amplify those already engaged in this work. There is no one way to address the oppressive practices and procedures that have often come to define historical preservation and research. However, the conversation, case study, and call to action that follow offer an opening to rethink and reimagine how curation can lead to creative and communal historical creation.