Monday, February 15, 2010

Documenting the American Ideal: Reflections on Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice

This week, I am reading Archives Power: Memory, Accountability and Social Justice, thanks to the suggestion of a colleague who has created a blog for archivists to discuss the tome's meaning to our profession. I am about one-quarter of the way through the book and am most struck by chapter 2: "Documenting American Society" and the ideas it presents that are pertinent to my forthcoming book on community documentation.

American society is built upon documentation, which supports freedom and democracy. Randall C. Jimerson, author of "Archives Power," discusses the history of American archives arising from an interest in developing nationalism. Our early documents support the ideals we purported for the development of our nation. We established repositories to house the papers that were most dear to this thinking, encasing them in shrines to ourselves and our way of life.

My book, with the working title Documenting Communities: Historical Records Collaboration for Museums, Libraries, Archives and Other Cultural Heritage Institutions, argues that pride in who we are and our ideals exists on a smaller scale, in American towns and cities. We need to preserve our local heritage to encapsulate the personal stories upon which our nationalism rests. Stories of every family within every community build what we now know as national history. We no longer rely on ideals of elitism -- the documents of the powerful telling the story of who we are. The lives of the "common man," the documents of his local representative governments, his family's every day actions, and his small businesses must be preserved to reflect a more accurate history of what America is and who Americans are.

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