Friday, 26 February 2016

Article Review: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention

Title: Radical Archives and the New Cycles of Contention
Author: Kimberly Springer
Publication: Viewpoint Magazine (online), Issue 5: Social Reproduction, October 31, 2015.

This article has a very clear focus on the importance of the preservation of digital archives for activist groups, but I think that there is much content to be applied to historically marginalized groups, in this context, survival itself is a form of activism. I appreciate the way that Springer consistently writes in a way that de-mystifies the archives; these are meeting minutes, poster designs, manifesto drafts, not just boxes on a shelf. The safe custody of these items comes down to the issue of trust; do we trust Facebook and Instagram to keep our materials safe forever? Is the University of X any more trustworthy than these social media platforms? What are the chances that valuable content will become too expensive to access, be trashed, or misplaced in an anonymous archive?  Until groups have a reason to believe otherwise, it would be in their best interest to learn how to maintain their own materials.

She also makes note of the value of self determination when it comes the official documentation of an organization, especially when archivists are on the fence of  whether they will be active agents or passive collectors in their work; activist papers can easily be lost in the shuffle. I would recommend reading the article to learn more about how Springer's scholarly interest in black feminism led her to FBI files as the documents of record, barring a few individuals who kept sparse archives under the bed or in the attic. The writer wants this to be a cautionary tale for budding social movements and digital platforms, don't rely exclusively on outside entities to keep your records safe. She concludes with some very tangible tips on preserving various file formats, as well as using migration and repetition to protect against damage or theft.

For the big question of why all of this matters, Springer sprinkles gems throughout the paper and ends with a chart that I will attempt to paraphrase:

- Archives help us to shape and document our reality
- We do it to provide points of reference for ourselves (to remember), the next generation (to not have    to re-invent the wheel), and the historians (to get closer to the truth)
- Holding the evidence of certain historic events is a form of power
- Ensure transparency
- Generate discussion
- Enable direct action
- Define our own movements
- Provides content for classrooms, workshops, and ongoing mobilization
- Past movements can be a source of inspiration  

You would think that an article like this would be shunned by an archival curator of a major manuscript collection, but I beg to differ. People need to be informed and empowered about the strength and value of their experience. Records do not have to live in a large institution to be important, but they do need their creators to understand that they are important for any meaningful action to protect them can be initiated.