Thursday, June 12, 2014

Starting a conversation: Racism and naming conventions in archives.

Apologies for this bare bones site.
The idea is simply to provide links to archives which are doing work to provide a bridge between source communities and archives, and links to First Nations archivists and others for protocols.
Please make additions to what we have so far discovered. See contact at bottom

Some of the issues we are concerned with are:
  • Naming conventions for materials. What to do when the original title is overtly racist or sexist or homophobic. There is very little written about this in archives professional literature as of 2014.
  • Digital repatriation. Also, what about the exponential interest in digital availability of visual materials. Does this not require more thought regarding exposure of peoples who had no power to refuse photography and filming at the time the pictures were taken?
  • The rights of people to refuse the dissemination of their ancestors likenesses.
Regard or consider the following disclaimers made by archivists working with scientific racism based materials and unfortunately named historical materials. Some archivists have added a field to their cataloging record when need be.

Here are some examples:
  1. The title of this item was derived from the original object's creator and does not reflect the view of the archives. We apologize for offense taken by the title provided.
  2. Another: "Cultural Sensitivity Warning: Please also be aware that archival principles dictate that the original titles given to photographs must be used when cataloguing these images. It is regretted that many of these original titles may cause offence. These are a reflection of past practices only, and do not reflect the attitudes of the State Library of Western Australia."
  3.  Another :"This image depicts African Americans in a stereotyped fashion that may be offensive to many viewers; the University of Louisville and the University Archives & Records Center does not endorse the content of, or expression carried by, these images"

Some of the most useful sites to consult are:

 American sites:
First Nation Circle of Archivists Protocols.
In particular for the purposes of this posting, consider the naming section. It asks archivists to "Inform patrons at the request of the community, of potential offensive content prior to use by adding a notice to descriptive tools or items" and "Work with community representatives to revisit indexing terminology, (and) add explanations of derogatory words to original titles"

Australian sites:
NSW Australian Archives: Protocols for staff in Working with Indigenous People

State Library of Western Australia.  Specifically relates to photos and film.

 AIATSIS This is a general disclaimer that heads an entire site. Makes sense if most of the archive is based on source community materials

South Australian Museum (ditto the above)

"Users should also be aware that some records document research into people and cultures using a scientific research model dating from the first half of the twentieth century, and depicts people as research subjects in ways which may today be considered offensive. Some records contain terms and annotations that reflect the author's attitude or that of the period in which the item was written, and may be considered inappropriate today in some circumstances."

New Zealand sites:

Articles of interest: Radical cataloging

Suggested by Emily Drabinski:

There is an upcoming paper by Anne Gilliland at UCLA on the topic of racist titles in archives. 

Contact me please with your further thoughts and links.