Sunday, August 24, 2014

From the Archives

Image of archives
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As I mentioned previously, I am currently curating a virtual exhibition on the history of diversity at my institution, Oakland University. Since last February, several colleagues and I have collaborated on this project. I focused on archival material: photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and other materials that represent the University's efforts to create a diverse and welcoming environment.

Before this project, I never considered archives "political". I simply thought of them as neutral and objective collections of items unique to a specific institution. But as I work on this exhibit, I realize that my personal biases and political preferences tend to "color" the direction of the exhibit. For instance, I tend to focus on the history of African Americans at Oakland University.

Image of African American Archives
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I rationalized this decision to the project manager by stating that much (if not most) of the diversity material I found seemed focused on this population.  This is not surprising. Oakland University is less than 6 miles northeast of Pontiac and about 35 mile northwest of Detroit, two areas with dense African American populations.  During its initial decade (1959-1969), Oakland University largely targeted this population for admissions and employment.

This is not to say that other demographics (sexual orientation, national origin, gender, etc) were ignored. Many documents in the archives demonstrate Oakland University's commitment to various types of diversity.  I have included numerous documents about these demographics to balance out the exhibition.

Nonetheless, I wonder if my personal identity politics "skewed" the exhibition. I frequently question my choices. Does the exhibition truly represent the University's diversity efforts or does it largely represent my interpretation of those efforts? Perhaps formally trained and experienced archivists ask themselves similar questions about their own projects.

Image 1.
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