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 sixth in a short series of such reflections.
By Kimberly Monroe, Howard University
It has been said that archives are where memory is preserved and history is made. Archives have the ability to connect the past with the present and future, while still maintaining the character and originality it possesses. The Princeton University Archives, Research, and Collaborative History Program (ARCH) allowed students from HBCUs the opportunity to learn more about archiving as a profession and to explore the various collections at Princeton.
The week focused on many of the skills needed in the archiving world including digitization and preservation. In fact, one of the biggest highlights was the tour of the Conservation lab. We were amazed to see something completely destroyed brought back to its original form.
Another critical moment during the program was the discussion about the preservation of Africana archives throughout the world. The question of whether Princeton or other Ivy League institutions should be the ideal spaces for Africana archives was the central theme in one of the early morning sessions. A few made references that Princeton and other predominantly white institutions were the ideal spaces for Africana or African Americans archival materials. However, majority shared sentiments that HBCUs and Black institutions were the best places to house and preserve our history. I agree with this wholeheartedly.
A highlight for me was touring the campus of Princeton. I loved the arches that were at every turn and the unique architecture that gives the campus a colonial feel. Morrison Hall, named after Howard alumna Toni Morrison, was pleasant site, especially since we had seen many of Morrison’s archives while in Firestone Library. Unfortunately, I had to correct a curator at the Princeton University Art Museum when we were shown a portrait of Rosa Parks labeled “Untitled” and described as “anonymous.”
This incident was a prime example of why there is a critical need for Black historians, curators, and archivists throughout the world but mainly in white spaces. Often times Black history is housed at white institutions that have no clue of the significance behind what they are keeping.
Freedom, Black Power, and liberation are just a few of the social justice terms shared to erase the neutrality of whiteness in the archives. Specific ethnic groups and minorities are mostly left out of the historical records and are often not preserved as best as other collections. There was a consensual agreement throughout the week that archives are not neutral and we are only in the beginning stages of seeing equality within them.
My time spent at Princeton was definitely helpful in identifying the need for diversity and inclusion within the profession but also throughout the campus. I reflected on the experience and strongly feel that there needs to be a decolonization of archives from the staff, language, and the archival material as a whole. I like to call this decolonization process the revolution of archives. As an African Diaspora scholar, I recognize the importance of Africana narratives being told correctly. This is why the conversation on social justice and critiques of archival practices is vital to the progression of archives in the world.
Furthermore, the Princeton ARCH program was an appreciated extension of my academic journey to revolutionizing the archives and museums in white spaces. I am confident that we can achieve the revolution by hiring underrepresented persons, having inclusive language, and by creating more programs like ARCH. Using terms that positively reflect minority communities is one step in challenging the system of white supremacy that currently exists in archives. The first step is recognizing that white supremacy does in fact exist and sincerely making efforts to changing and challenging this faux superiority.
Princeton and Archiving from My Point of View
By Antionette E. Douglas, Texas Southern University
From the very first morning that we entered Mudd Library there was an overwhelming welcoming spirit present. Every day the receptionist, Bilqees Sayed, greeted us with her wonderful smile. What a comforting way to start the morning. Also, she was very gracious to accept all of the packages that were delivered on my behalf.
Dan Linke and his wonderful team were kind, warm, and extremely willing to answer whatever questions that came their way. The hospitality shown lacked nothing at all, those of us from HBCU’s appreciated the high level of hospitality shown to us. Each session got better, you could tell by the atmosphere of the room; everyone was captivated by the information and the participation from everyone was at 100%.
Academically speaking, the rich history of the African American journey goes beyond colorful and dips into very intriguing and complicated bits of information. To document the African American journey from the 1500s-1800s and then deep into our tumultuous history in the United States alone is an undertaking to say the least. During the week of the ARCH program, we studied articles that reviewed the archiving practices of Dunbar Rowland who used a German/European style of archiving and set the bedrock for a very extensive archival record. It has been made very clear that the background of the people backing Mr. Rowland (the elite white community) allowed for the record to be completely devoid of diversity, devoid of African American history specifically in the Mississippi record. I believe that the full scope of archiving is still to be realized on both sides of the coin, history that was voided and skewed history that was included.
Beyond the academic, what moved me this week was our history as African Americans as it relates directly to Princeton University. As African Americans we have had a presence at one of the most elite University’s as far back as the 1800s. To fast forward to 2018, I found it to be very interesting that my peers were intimidated by the “Ivy League” factor of the Princeton campus. On a couple of occasions I was able to articulate and encourage the need to walk about with heads lifted high and confident, because we African Americans were the stepping stones of Princeton, the workers, the builders, the cooks, the backbone of maintenance, and all of this is according to documented archival history. The College of New Jersey (Princeton) has a rich
history showing we received masters degrees and participated in the majority of the curriculum that was being offered at the time as permitted. We learned that sometimes classes with African American students in them were boycotted by some white students who were from families attached to supporters of the Confederacy. History reveals, and it was refreshing to learn, that African Americans are solidly a part of such a stellar institution.
Additionally, the program helped me connect with other students from a wide range of
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). I was able to talk about the benefit of going to a HBCU as it relates to giving back, and what HBCUs have to offer that is typically overlooked. Ironically, it was being a part of the top 30 HBCUs that gave us the opportunity and privilege to participate in the ARCH program.
Overall, the ARCH program was unique, rich, and packed with amazing archival records. The instructors reflected their dedication and passion towards history and the profession of archiving. As mentioned at the outset, Princeton’s hospitality to us visitors was top notch. Lastly, the side trip to the Smithsonian really sealed the deal. The Smithsonian tour of the black history museum was sobering and incredible.
I want to sincerely thank Dan Linke, Sara Logue, and Valencia Johnson for being authentic and sharing all of Princeton’s amazing historical documents with me and with the many other participants.