Digital Archives: Jarrett M. Drake Article on “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archive Repositories

Link to the article:

In the article “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archive Repositories by Jarrett M. Drake we find the concept of archives viewed through the lens of community based work and the Black Lives Matter movement. This article reflects briefly on Drake’s experiences with helping to implement a community based archive in Cleveland on the subject of police violence before moving on to the subject of traditional archive repositories and the Black Lives Matter movement. Drake explores what archives need to keep in mind before engaging in work centered around community activism and social justice movements, and he highlights the Black Lives Matter movement as a central point of the article.

First, Drake notes that two preconditions must be met before he thinks traditional archives should begin to take on work related to the Black Lives Matter movement. Drake tells his audience that they must confront their own institutions complicity in structural inequality and to build trust through allyship. This was something that I found interesting in that this is exactly what archives are now trying to do for all collections, and is part of the larger idea towards understanding how historians have been complicit in structural inequalities most often associated with the “academics in ivory towers”. It also points to problems that digital archives are currently facing when it comes to working with communities. I thought that one thing that was most interesting is that Drake is saying that these are things to consider for archives that are going to work with movements and communities such as Black Lives Matter, but he believes that independent community archives should take precedent over more centralized institutions. This brings up one question that I had on my mind as I read this: What does everyone think of the idea of limiting who can do what when it comes to archives?

To continue, two concepts that traditional archives must look into are, as Drake articulates, the location and language of the archive. On location one point that is similar to the Kimberly Christen article is that one must consider how do people access these archives in addition to physical location. I find this interesting as it is something that digital archives constantly struggle with as to how the public can access their archives with things like poverty, internet access, etc that are sometimes by-products of structural inequality. I also thought that the ideas of surveillance in a traditional archive were something that could be applied to digital archives in terms of user profiles, IP addresses, and user data ownership. Second, the language of the archive was interesting in that finding aids were part of the problem. Drake explains that the people who often work with and founded the material around Black Lives Matter are not the “cis-gendered white males” that traditional archives often cater towards. Rather, it was Black women who were members of the LGBTQA+ community and their stories are often in archives but not told by them. This relates to digital archives in how searching and cataloging are accomplished.

Finally, I wanted to explore Drakes idea of building trust through allyship and how this may relate to digital archives. Before going into this it would be useful to define what exactly an ally is so that we can see how traditional and digital archives may start working towards this process. Drake offers an definition by the Anti-Oppression Network which states that allyship is, “an active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person of privilege seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group of people…allyship is not an identity [but] a lifelong process of building relationships based on trust…allyship is not self-defined [but] must be recognized by the people we seek to ally ourselves with.“(Drake 2016). To this end, Drake insists that building these relationships and maintaining them is the only way that traditional archives can accurately and critically share material related to Black Lives Matter and in a certain sense the Black community at large. This made me think of how digital archives and how they might try and build these relationships with people and communities that they work with.

3 Replies to “Digital Archives: Jarrett M. Drake Article on “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archive Repositories”

  1. Very good perspective! I definitely agree on the points made by you and Drake. Most people do not know that the founding members of BLM movement were made by queer black women. I think the problem with archiving materials for diverse social groups is that its kept by the gatekeepers. Even though most groups want their material to be accessible they don’t have resource or ability to do so. Drake’s idea of allyship is definitely relevant here. I think as public historians we will have to listen to the stakeholders and come up with reasonable solutions that make these resources more accessible to the community. We have break down the idea of the ” ivory towers” and make archiving a community activity.

  2. As much as I love the idea of big archives with a lot of information for everyone to access, I also see the appeal of smaller community run archives. By having a more small scale approach, these archives can be more accessible and understandable for community organizations. I am wondering if there is a way for larger archives to share their own data relevant to a small community so that it can be put on a smaller archive.

  3. Great work on this Bryce!
    I also enjoyed learning more about Drake’s definition of allyship. One of my big takeaways was his discussion of funding and how that influecnes a organization’s mobility and bias. Funding is something I gave little thought to prior to this program but the more I learn about how it often defines what a instituion can do or how its run has given me new insight to how many museums and humanities resources operate. He mentions that money can create a quid pro quo situation within an archive or museum. “If record creators give money — i.e., they’re donating funds to the library or institution for the processing of their archives or for other reasons — that prompts librarians and archivists to accept archival materials that they otherwise wouldn’t but do so purely for the funding.” I found this point very interesting and definitely will be taking it with me into my future work.

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