Devor Wilson – Question 3
3If there is a value in radical archives, archival practice, or archival content, what is it and how do you achieve and maintain it? If not, why not?
Professor of Sociology, Founder and Academic Director of the Transgender Archives – University of Victoria
Director of Special Collections and University Archivist – University of Victoria
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 At the Transgender Archives we believe in the social good of preserving the records and publications of leading transgender activists, researchers, and thought leaders. These materials provide primary source material for the production of new, and possibly more radical, histories; and they preserve historical information and evidence for a new generation of activists, community members, and researchers. By undertaking this work, we support a broader understanding of trans* people, their struggles, and their accomplishments.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The archival practices and goals we have adopted that might be considered radical include providing for trans*-community input regarding acquisitions, description, preservation, and outreach, although these consultative activities are still in their early stages. Some of our archival content might also be seen as radical; our holdings contain non-record material, including ephemera and realia such as drag/nightclub matchbooks, t-shirts, flyers, and buttons; sexually explicit material; and records of persons or organizations that have been declined by other repositories. These activities contribute to a documentation strategy that aims to represent the diversity and long history of trans* communities, providing, in general, a more diverse documentation of society.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 A documentation strategy is not radical in and of itself because it is a recognized archival practice, understood as a collaboration between archives, records creators, and users (see Society of American Archivists Glossary, http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms/d/documentation-strategy). However, the way in which a documentation strategy is implemented may be radical—specifically, in our case, by increasing the extent to which non-traditional users and trans* community members are sought out as collaborators.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 It can be argued that while archival institutions can and do reproduce societal power structures that ignore the lives of marginalized people, archivists and archival practices may exist along a continuum of activism. We at the Transgender Archives are committed to this work because of our concern for the preservation of histories and evidence, which we see as a societal good. Perhaps the most practically challenging aspect of archival radicalism is the question of what constitutes radical archival content. To maintain the value of a radical approach to archival collections, archival acquisitions, and the published materials that link to or accompany them, archives need to continue to be responsive to the gaps or silences in their collections. One of the difficulties lies in the challenge of staying current with rapidly moving radical movements, communities, and individuals. As the social and political center continually shifts vis-à-vis the margin, without constant vigilance and mindful collecting, what was once a radical archives risks being left holding once-radical-and-now-normative collections. One way that we deal with this is by forging links with radical communities who value seeing their histories preserved in collaboration with a formal archival institution.