INF 7835: Community Archives

Credits: 3

Prerequisite(s): Permission of instructor

Offered every other Winter semester (rotates with INF 7830 – Community Engagement)

Course description

In recent years, the work of community archivists has gained visibility and with it voice and power. Grassroots and community-based archives projects—such as the Interference Archive, the South Asian American Digital Archive, and A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland—carry critical impact that is hard to ignore. Projects like the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum are the result of personal collecting to document a community; others, like the Lesbian Herstory Archives, represent the efforts of a community to document itself. Community-based archives projects can be seen as examples of self- determination by historically disenfranchised communities to identify and preserve records that document the complexities of their community histories. These projects locate the power to preserve and shape history, heritage, and memory in communities themselves. The narratives that emerge from those efforts challenge and enrich how we all understand the past and the present.

In this class we will consider the history, politics, challenges, and possibilities of community archives. Through lectures, readings, discussion, projects, and critical engagement with community archives projects students will develop an understanding of community-based archives.

Course objectives

Questions guiding the course inquiry:

  • What is a community? What is an archive? What are community-based archives?
  • What kinds of hidden meanings do terms like “memory” and “heritage” carry with them?
  • What kinds of tools do community-based archivists use to document their lives/histories and the lives and histories of others?
  • What is the role of the archivist from outside the community? How do they prepare to work with that community? What are the potential pitfalls?
  • How do community-based archival practices challenge traditional or dominant approaches to archival practice? What kinds of approaches might traditional repositories borrow from community-based efforts? Can these communities of practice work together? Should they even try?
  • In what ways might one argue that archives invent (or remake) identity, community, and language categories?
  • How can a community sustain its archives project?

Learning outcomes

By the end of the course students will be able to:

  • Analyze major issues in community-based archiving, with a specific focus on the role(s) of LIS professionals who support that work.
  • Develop skills to identify and evaluate specific areas of the professional agenda in LIS as they relate to engagement with community-based archives projects. These include custody and ownership, ethics, preservation, the socio-cultural role of archival practice and community documentation.
  • Acquire cultural competency awareness, knowledge, and skills
  • Critically engage the historical contexts and political economy of issues associated with and faced by community archives and archivists.
  • Understand the landscape of community-based archiving by working closely with a broad selection of communities, librarians, archivists, and other LIS practitioners who focus on community archives.

Course methodology

Course format and method may include some or all: Lectures, readings, class discussions, paper and proposal writing, oral presentations and guest speaker(s)

Bases for evaluation of student performance

  1.  Course participation
  2. Weekly discussion posts
  3. Case study essay
  4. Research paper and peer review