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 fifth in a short series of such reflections.
Stepping Outside the STEM Box
By Genevieve Airyanne Antoine, Tuskegee University
From my awkward middle school days to my considerably less awkward years in college, one academic gospel has been preached to me. “STEM is the future. STEM is the new wave. Don’t want a job? Choose a major that ISN’T STEM.” Sound familiar? I am sure you can relate. Fear of the future, fear of failure, and fear of my own ambitions drove me to accept this as fact. In my junior year of high school, I committed myself to take the path of a scientist. I present myself now as undergrad-level chemist and physicist. Of course, I am proud of my accomplishments. Two degrees later, however, I wonder why the current professional and academic climates have turned such a blind eye to the humanities?Enter me, young Miss Antoine, at the Mudd Library of Princeton University surrounded by a history that is louder than our class discussions. Previous to this experience, I had never stepped foot into an archival library or ever considered what they can do for me. Our week was spent discussing topics like provenance, social justice, archival neutrality, and why we have shifted importance from the documents who remind us of who we are. Archives are the building blocks of history. Archives have dynamic personalities, and those personalities can change depending on who is the keeper. Archives can create a mirage of the truth as well as bust down false narratives of history. They have everyday importance to every profession a person might hold.
Archives can even inform the work of scientists like myself. Biotropica, Science, and Royal Society are just a few of the archives disposable to those who answer the queries of the world. Every time we look up a publication, we use finding aids that are archival trademarks. Scientists are constantly looking to the discoveries of the past to find the answers of the future. Archives hold the documents of the lives and discoveries of the most influential ground-breakers. For that, we should thank them.
I have spent 5 years preaching the gospel to myself, truly believing that science, technology, engineering, and math were the only gateways to a good future. Spending this week at Mudd has showed me there is more beyond the scope of using my “left-brain” (this is a myth by the way), and that archives are a vital part to how we tell our stories and make decisions. So let’s celebrate them. Maybe after that, we can talk about the importance of ALL other humanities. I know, I know. Baby steps.
By Faith Renee Schwartz-Ewing, Texas Southern University
During my time at Princeton University as an ARCH participant, I had several different feelings and emotions. I can begin by just talking about the campus grounds and all of the resources and tools that were afforded to those that attended there. The campus was very serene, peaceful, and a beautiful place to walk around. The campus sits in an area that is very quaint. I was able to take a good look at the area as the other scholars and I participated in a scavenger hunt (which our team won 😊).
In class session at Mudd Library, I was most intrigued by the hands-on aspect of the archives. We had to do lots of readings about provenance, documents, born-digital materials, and a few other aspects of archiving. I enjoyed seeing these items in the flesh and discussing things with the archivists because it gave me a better understanding of all the information that I had read before arriving to the campus. One article we read during our application process asked the question, Should HBCUs Archive the African American Story? As I listened to the information and looked around the Princeton University campus, I kept thinking about this very question. I could not help it. I’ve learned that there is a level of humanity and sensitivity that is associated with archiving. I’ve also learned that the preservation of materials is also very important to archiving. I believe that the ability to preserve archives is something that is a given. Archivists understand the level of care and delicacy that goes into handling the materials—but the connection to African American materials in my opinion would not be there. I feel that HBCUs and other places in the black communities are the best places to tell the story of African Americans. I came to this conclusion because I realized that if you don’t know and truly understand the history of Black America, then you can not effectively tell the story. It will come of as disconnected and insincere. There has to be a level of passion and realness to what is being shown and represented and after this week, I am convinced that only HBCUs and African American communities can do that for themselves: no one else, no place else.