Recording of 'Archival Activism: Community-Centred Approaches to Archives’ available05 November 2020
Learn about the memory work of community archivists who are building freely accessible online collections documenting the stories of their communities and making decisions about how these stories should be collected, organised, and shared.
On 22 October 2020, the Digital Repository of Ireland (DRI) and National Archives, Ireland (NAI) hosted a collaborative online webinar titled ‘Archival Activism: Community-Centred Approaches to Archives’. DRI and NAI aimed to open up a conversation about how national memory institutions can offer their digital preservation skills and profession-based knowledge to support community-based archival initiatives and form equitable partnerships to foster more diverse cultural collections.
Dr Sharon Webb
Dr Sharon Webb, a digital humanities professor at the University of Sussex, chaired the event. Her introductory remarks highlighted the precarious nature of our shared cultural heritage, much of which would be undocumented without the voluntary labour of community archivists, like the founders of Black and Irish, who have taken the initiative to collect, curate, and share the stories of communities that are underrepresented in traditional memory institutions. Sharon raised the important point that social media can be used to amplify the voices of those on the periphery but that digital media is fragile and erasable, meaning that there is a significant threat of ‘double erasure from the historical record’. Digital technologies are not innately archival and require constant maintenance to ensure long-term accessibility: right now, this archival work is performed largely on a volunteer basis by activists like the founders of Black and Irish who are working to ensure that the stories of their community are accessible to all and they need to be supported so that their collections are preserved into the future. Sharon has written a blog post reflecting on the 'Archival Activism' event that further develops the themes of the webinar and looks at how the event ‘contributes to a growing body of literature, of research, and action that looks at community responses’.
Boni Odoemene spoke about Black and Irish, a social media community founded in June 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd and the amplification of global Black Lives Matter movements. Boni and his friends Leon Diop and Femi Bankole met over Zoom to talk about these global events and how they affected them as three young black men from Ireland. Boni related that they decided to create Black and Irish to highlight the successes and struggles of the Black Irish community after realising that ‘there doesn’t seem to be a platform, a microphone, where our black and mixed race community can actually showcase our stories’. They decided to ‘be the change they wanted to see’ and created Black and Irish as a platform for all generations of Black and Irish people to share their experiences of growing up in Ireland. Within an hour they had 1,000 followers and in less than six months have expanded the community to over 40,000 followers. Boni noted that ‘sharing stories is a uniquely Irish thing, as well as that, it’s a uniquely African thing’. This shared cultural heritage of storytelling is being used on Black and Irish to document a socially and historically important moment in 2020 as well as uncovering stories of Black Irish achievements from the past and recording people's hopes for the future.
Zakiya Collier, digital archivist at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, spoke about the value of social media platforms like Instagram as a means of connecting people and facilitating the development of accessible archives. Archives confer status and visibility and Zakiya noted the importance of being able to see yourself in the archive. She connected the work of Black and Irish to the archival legacy of Arturo Alfonso Schomburg (1874-1938), who responded to the assertion that ‘black people have no history’ with a concentrated effort to document the accomplishments of Africans on their own continent and in the diaspora – his collections later became the basis of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Like Schomburg, the founders of Black and Irish are collecting stories that counter narratives that do not reflect their experiences (such as the misconception highlighted by Boni that the growth of the Black Irish community is a recent development) by providing documentary evidence that Black Irish people have a long history of contributing to Irish culture and society.
Like Sharon, Zakiya raised the point that digital media has a precarious existence and that just as small physical collections, like that of Schomburg, were vulnerable to fire and theft, Instagram content is erasable and degenerative and active preservation methods are required to ensure long-term accessibility of the archival content. Zakiya co-authored 'Call to Action: Archiving State-Sanctioned Violence Against Black People' where she championed the belief that ‘Black memory workers should lead the documentation response’ when telling the stories of their own communities and that ‘Black memory workers should be supported and given the space and resources to do this work’. As Zakiya pointed out, Black and Irish have led the documentation response in collecting and sharing the stories of the Black Irish community on Instagram and they should be empowered to continue this work and supported with resources so that their collections are not lost.
National institutions can support the important work of community archivists by collaborating with care in order to develop equitable partnerships; for example, through sharing resources and profession-based expertise in order to help community archivists understand how to put a digital preservation plan in place so that digital content collected on social media platforms continues to be accessible into the future. One of the ways in which DRI supports the work of community archives is through the DRI Community Archive Scheme, which offers free DRI membership to low or no-income archives so that their collections can be preserved for long-term access.
We are grateful to our three speakers for sparking an important conversation about the self-curated archival practices developed by community archivists. We were delighted to attract an international audience of people eager to participate in the conversation around the ethical collection and preservation of community archives for this online event. We would like to thank all our attendees for their thoughtful questions and enthusiastic engagement using the interactive webinar features like the Q&A and chat function.
If you were unable to attend the live event, we encourage you to enjoy the recording. This recording will also be preserved for long-term access in the DRI repository.
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