ARCH Participants Write, Part II

As part of the Princeton University Library’s inaugural Archives Research and Collaborative History (ARCH) Program, 12 undergraduates and two graduate students from five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) explored the connections among archives, historical narratives, and social justice at Mudd Library and Firestone Library from July 9 to July 13, 2018. They were asked to reflect on their experiences in writing. This post is the second in a short series of such reflections.

The Disappearing History of Xennials

By Michael Marie Thomas, Texas Southern University

I grew up a latchkey kid, meaning my parents worked and I came home to an empty house, but before you pull out the Kleenex, know that I was also the kid who enjoyed after school specials on television. I enjoyed Saturday morning cartoons, Saved by the Bell, cereal with real sugar, book fairs, and toys that could cause bodily harm. Basically, I enjoyed being a kid (R.I.P. Toys “R” Us). I also experienced the evolution of VCRs (R.I.P. Blockbuster), CDs (R.I.P. Borders Books and Music), cell phones (R.I.P. Motorola Razr Flip), and the internet (those who never experienced the sound of dial up internet: I really feel for you). Yet I am realizing that all these amazing things that I have grown up with are in danger of being lost to time.

Michael Marie Thomas, a student from Texas Southern University, at Mudd Library this summer. Photo by Shelley Szwast.

How is it that in this digital age there is a possibility that a generation who is largely ignored because we fall in a quasi-gap between Generation X and Millennials (profoundly (cue sarcasm) named “Xennials”) may have its history erased?  I say erased because the technology we grew up with has become obsolete. Think about it, when was the last time you used a floppy disk? When did you long on to your AOL account and listen to new CDs being released on Tuesday? When did you last use WORD PERFECT?  These were the questions being asked as I participated in the first ARCH program at Princeton. We explored how archivists work to ensure the records of the past are preserved for future generations. I soon realized that the future that existed in Back to the Future, Total Recall, and The Fifth Element was going to be missing a vital part of history: Xennials. We were the first group use technology in our personal lives.

Now we must deal with things like bit-rot and there are systems that seem impossible to crack due to the 5-4-3 rule (if you are lost, it’s okay; this is a new field). It can seem overwhelming, but there is hope. I’d like to end with hope just like the sitcoms of the late 80s and early-to-mid-90s (shout out to Boy Meets World and Blossom). Digital archiving is an in-demand field that is determined to save the legacy of Xennials. It wants to ensure that children will be able to experience the emotional rollercoaster that is “Oregon Trail” (please don’t let Jenny get smallpox). Yet digital archiving is unequivocally Xennial. It speaks to the optimism of this lost generation as it is a collaborative effort that require one to explore the past and learn from the current to create a new future. I mean, who really wants to live in a world where there are no Max Headroom commercials, Carmen Sandiego, and Reading Rainbow?  I know I don’t, and digital archiving is ensuring that no one ever will (now cue the sappy saxophone inspired instrumental music).

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By Jaslyn D. Barrow, Tougaloo College

Walter Cronkite once stated, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.” Our nation has lost so much interest in our past, and the stories that come with it. History and the archives are very important, even though it may seem boring and useless. As a history major, I have noticed that history ALWAYS repeats itself. For example, the use of concentration camps during WWII to house the Jews (and others) is becoming a part of American life now. The Trump administration is deporting immigrants, separating the parents from the kids, and housing them in camps. The difference now is that we have experienced this once before so we know how to approach the situation better, but if no one is in touch with the history, how can we help? Most people always say, “Well, that has nothing to do with me,” but they are completely wrong. We have to stay knowledgeable of our history to know what the future may hold for us. We should know how to react to the many situations of today because this is not the first time, and will not be the last time, these things happen.

Raegan Kelly Johnson and Jaslyn D. Barrow, both Tougaloo College students, at Mudd Library this summer. Photo by Shelley Szwast.

I never knew the job of an archivist was so difficult. What I initially thought was a one-person job is way deeper than that. Archivists need a team of people to make sure that information is accurate, stored properly, and displayed to the public properly. The archives play a major role because whenever we are unclear about something of the past, we can go and find original documents, videos, and other information. The archives help us to get a better glimpse of the past while being able to actually touch and feel some the pieces of the past. Being an archivist is very underrated, but it is such an amazing career, especially since it involves more than one type of archivist.

During the ARCH Program, we learned the many different duties of being an archivist. My favorite areas were processing and appraisal.  While practicing processing, we actually were allowed to put on the gloves and act as real archivists. We dealt with actual photos, x-rays, and documents from different time periods. And this helped us to see what needed to be kept and returned, which is the process of appraisal. I am truly a hoarder because I wanted to keep so much, but I know some things have to be eliminated. Processing and appraisal were the best parts for me. Archival research and the roles of an archivist are vital to the nation.

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