Archives Moment: #EmpoweringArchives – Archives Week 2021

This year’s Archives Week theme of #EmpoweringArchives refers to one of the key functions of archives. In order to understand the main themes addressed in the video above, it is important to look at the work that takes places in the archives and what archives do.

Archives are institutions that collect original records and facilitate research. We are responsible for collection and preservation of important records that range from everyday events in society from private citizens and groups to government records that record important decisions in our community. All of these records can be crucial for citizens to have access to so that they can make important decisions both in their personal lives and be able to hold our governments accountable.

It is for this reason that all citizens must remember that your records are important as well. All Albertans have stories to tell, and these stories add context to our shared memory in history. One of the prime examples is the current Covid-19 pandemic. During this historic event, it is important that we capture the records of regular citizens, and as well as the records created by organized institutions such as the government, so that all experiences and decision making procedures are captured.

The Musée Héritage Museum put out a call to all St. Albertans to share their pandemic experiences with us online, so that we may add your voices to our archives. Traditionally, archives have had the voices of the most influential and the ones in power. So we want to make sure we have a balanced approach to our collection and bring light to all voices. Thus, we encourage all people to continue to share your pandemic experiences online with us so that we can add your stories to our archives.

We work to capture different voices and perspectives as well as collecting different types of records. Often when people say records they think of written or typed records on paper. But the concept of a record is much more encompassing. Written records are certainly a valid form of our memory to maintain, but so are photographs, maps, audiovisual materials, pictographs, totem poles, art and oral histories.

Art, pictographs, and oral histories are considered by some people as unreliable or not authoritative. But we have to remember that this way of thinking is very much a colonial way of thinking that has plagued many archives in how they collect materials. Different cultures have different forms of records, and they are all valid within their respective cultures to record their memory. All records can be flawed with misinformation or inaccuracies, and by no means are written records always 100% accurate to the absolute truth. Thus oral histories, art, other types of records should not be judged in a different way from written records.

When it comes to important issues that can empower citizens, such as social justice, we should be not be limiting ourselves in what we perceive to be a record. We have to make sure to be more inclusive of how different cultures save their history and memories. Excluding different types of records, such as oral histories, could lead to blocking social justice and redress because we can’t seem to find records within the post-colonial way of thinking. Also, we as archival institutions have to be more open to access so that the records that we do have can be used in a positive light to help people redress the past.

It is for all of these reasons we believe the archives holds the key for many people to become empowered. But it does take people to actively help us to share your records and stories with us. Your records will be resources for you and for generations to come. To learn more about how you can contribute to our archives, please contact archives@artsandheritage.ca or call 780-459-1528.