Flinn on archival activism

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Andrew Flinn on archival activism

  • archival activism: encourages archivists and heritage workers to engage more fully with external activities and all sections of society, seeking to better reflect diversity in the archive


  • archiving as an activist practice: associated with a political agenda aiming at social transformation and challenging discirimination


  • his study sought to examine the motivation, form, challenges and impacts of community led archiving activity in the UK, largely by studying aspects of African, Asian and other minority heritages


  • used ethnographic participatory approach: observation and interviews.


  • his research in context: post WW II, change in historical practices - focus on stories traditionally ignored or tossed to the margins of mainstream histories. how to find these stories and how should they be written? historians and archivists engaged in finding new sources which would make the uncovering of these stories possible.


  • flinn, stuart hall and paul gilroy look to post-identity, post-national societies, stressing notions of identification that are multiple, fluid and every changing (always becoming) in relation to the past, present...leaving behind fixed and reified identity formations. (me- postmodern and continuum)


  • studied 4 community archives in the UK - they operate outside of the mainstream, reproach and challenge the mainstream. **wants to know what impact they have on those who engage with them, and how they intersect and revise individual/collective memory**


  • the term "community archives" in the UK is disputed..."community" is itself fluid/ambiguous, lacking clear definition, and can be used dismissively and reductively as an euphanism  for the "other" in terms of ethnicity, sexual orientation etc. governments may use the term one way, others in their own discourse, another way...depends who is naming/talking about the community.


  • the archive part of this is also source of debate by traditional archivists who question if the term 'archive' is appropriate to describe personal and community collections.


  • to flinn, community archives = broad, non-prescriptive, inclusive based upon self-identification by the participants - motivation behind and ownership of archival activity rests with the community. interested in political independent archives/community projects which are empowering and transformative: act of telling one's own history as a social and collective process (rather than having the story told (or not) by someone else)


  • perhaps the potential for empowerment does not apply to all community history and archive projects,just as it does not apply to all independent politically motivated archives, but evidence suggests that the best of these, the most thoughtful, rigorous and critically reflexive (critical exploration done by the group/community exploring areas of difficulty/histories that may challenge the community) both local and class-based and those more obviously tied to an agenda of political transformation and anti-discrimination are capable of profoundly influencing and changing lives of those who are involved with them.


  • celebrated histories and recoveries of stories only goes so far (important though, every voice is important), need to tease out dominant narratives which ignore and misrepresent people


  • exclusions and silences can also be found in community narratives - an example is the lack of the black gay experience in the black's community and the gay community's public histories - so Black LGBT archive ruckus! was formed.


  • further - when informed by a clear political agenda and perspective, the capturing of oral histories and community memories can be used to empower the community in challenging the narratives that are falsely representing them and may be used against them. (Isle of Dogs, Cardiff Butetown)


  • and, not just about preserving memories of communities threatened by change and dislocation, but  to be part of collective and collaborative strategies that might help a community resist or mitigate changes


  • independent archives 1. they are resources to correct imbalances and absences in mainstream educational provisions 2. recover histories 3. a space/energy that can help communities resist/mitigate unwanted changes 4. can empower a community in challenging narratives falsely representing them


  • challenges: how to sustain these archives, there is good and bad with partnerships and collaborations - but if partnerships/collaborations are of interest, the sharing of skills and expertise from both ends is best (community - subject knowledge/new materials..institution - preservation, storage, digitization etc...) Just must be equitable!