Community-driven Archives: Local Needs/Global Practices in Safeguarding Living Cultural Heritage

September 8 at 10:30 am - 2:30 pm EDT

Organized by: American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

brick red brochures laid out in a fan pattern with an open brochure laid underneath
The print Illustrated Guide to East Baltimore's Historic American Indian "Reservation" released in 2021, a community documentation and archiving initiative led by Ashley Minner Jones. Photo by Sean Scheidt.
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Community-driven Archives: Local Needs/Global Practices in Safeguarding Living Cultural Heritage

September 8 at 10:30 am 2:30 pm America/Washington D.C.

Hosted by the American Folklife Center, home to one of the oldest and largest ethnographic archives in the world, Community-driven Archives comprises two roundtable discussions, bringing together scholars and professionals to share and discuss examples of community-guided documentation and archival preservation work, foregrounding issues of ethics and equity, community self-representation and ownership, as well as access, from international perspectives.

Guiding questions include: What roles can archives play in uplifting and safeguarding people’s cultural knowledge, living traditions and expressions? And in what ways can cultural documentation, through to archival preservation and access processes, be community led?

Schedule and Panelist Presentations

The below information is in U.S. Eastern Time (GMT-4) and will be continually updated over the coming weeks. See also panelist bios below.

10:30am: Welcome and introduction to the American Folklife Center (AFC)

This introduction to the AFC will include an overview of the Community Collections Grants Program, as part of the Library of Congress Of the People: Widening the Path initiative, and as an example of national-level institutional support of community self-representation in cultural documentation and archival preservation – including collaborative metadata – processes.

Roundtable 1) 11:00am – 12:30pm: Documenting living traditions and the changing roles of archives: a global view

Moderator: Robert Baron, Goucher College

Fresh Air in Archives – New Directions for Community Engagement, Access and Glocal Interconnections

It’s a new day for archives with folklife collections. An overview of these new directions will introduce topics that may be explored in the presentations and roundtable discussions during this convening. They include co-curation of collections by source communities, access and ethical issues in the digital age, community generated metadata, repatriation, crowd sourced engagement with collections, online interactive platforms and archival issues relating to 2003 UNESCO Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. While the Convention has generated documentation of traditions on a unprecedented, worldwide scale, archiving is glaringly deficient in the implementation of the Convention. Archiving that incorporates community-driven approaches is imperative for safeguarding intangible cultural heritage (ICH) in tandem with its documentation, which possess both local and global (“glocal”) significance and resonance.

Shubha Chaudhuri, Associate Director General (Academic), Archives and Research Centre for Ethnomusicology, American Institute of Indian Studies

Anthony Seeger, Professor Emeritus UCLA and Curator Emeritus Smithsonian Institution

(Co-presenters) Communities and Archives: Trust, Flexibility, and Collaboration

Communities are not homogeneous and archives are not identical. Interest in archiving is usually actively pursued by only some members of a community. Engaging with different ideas about knowledge, heritage, and sound requires trust, flexibility, and often close personal interactions among participants. Using examples from several projects of the Archives and Research Center for Ethnomusicology in New Delhi, India, and an Indigenous community center archiving project of the Kĩsêdjê in Mato Grosso, Brazil, Chaudhuri and Seeger generalize from their experiences to discuss the challenges and rewards of collaborations between community archives and repositories of multiple collections and relationships.

Maryna Chernyavska, Digital Archivist, University of Alberta Archives, Libraries and Museums

Folklife Archives in the Archival Multiverse

This presentation will focus on the role of folklife archives in the preservation of and access to cultural heritage of communities. Folklife archives have been long established as sites for the preservation of traditional cultural expressions. They have a long history of documenting everyday life, local traditions, marginalized groups, women’s and children’s activities and views, and histories that have so often slipped between the cracks. Folklife archives enact cultural sensitivity, scholarly tradition of reflexivity, careful attention to ethics of fieldwork research, and treat the community being studied as primary creators of records. Drawing on examples of archives that are members of the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore, I will discuss how different folklife archives are engaging with their constituencies.

Andy Kolovos, Associate Director and Archivist, Vermont Folklife Center

Public Folklore, Collaborative Documentation and Ethnographic Archives

Using Vermont Folklife Center as a case study, this presentation explores the intersections between collaborative ethnographic research, preserving field research materials in archives, and ongoing engagement with individuals, communities and institutions represented in collections.

–30 minute break–

Roundtable 2) 1:00pm – 2:30pm: Community-driven Archives in Action: Approaches and Impacts

Moderator: Michelle Stefano, AFC – brief introduction to roundtable and panelists

Michelle Caswell, Professor, UCLA, Co-Director, UCLA Community Archives Lab

Community Archives and Liberatory Memory Work: The View from Los Angeles

As community-engagement becomes more explicitly named in archival work, it is important to clearly define key terms. Based on more than a decade of work at community archives in California, Caswell will posit some foundational concepts for community-engaged archival work, with a particular emphasis on how community archives intersect with power, identity, and the politics of liberatory memory work. She will conclude with some thoughts on how academic research can ethically engage community archives.

Ashley Minner Jones, Artist, Folklorist, Assistant Curator for History and Culture, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

Revisiting the Reservation of East Baltimore

In the mid-twentieth century, thousands of Lumbee and members of other tribal nations migrated to Baltimore City, seeking jobs and a better quality of life. They created a vibrant, urban, intertribal American Indian community and affectionately referred to it as their “reservation.” Today, most Baltimoreans are surprised to learn the reservation ever existed, but this is changing. Ashley Minner Jones will share some of the story of an intergenerational team’s process to reconstruct the reservation and reactivate heritage through oral history, archival research, mapping, walking, and the creation of a new collection.

Junious Brickhouse, Founder and Executive Director, Urban Artistry, Inc.

Harmonizing Heritage: My Time with Two Piedmont Blues Legends and the Codes that Define Us

“Harmonizing Heritage” offers an intimate exploration into the heart of Piedmont Blues, framed by profound experiences with National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellows John Dee Holeman and Phil “Harmonica” Wiggins. This presentation unveils the transformative journey of delving into the rich melodies and stories, while shining a light on moments that resonate profoundly and shape our understanding of learning, caring, and deep collaboration. Central to this narrative is the introduction of the “Collaborators Code,” a set of guiding principles instrumental to successful documentation and archival endeavors. By melding personal anecdotes with the timeless essence of blues music, the discussion underscores the criticality of preserving traditions while also fostering relationships that transcend mere collaboration. Join us in celebrating the intricate dance of history, music, and human connection at the crossroads of heritage and passion.

Patrick Maundu, Kenya Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, National Museums of Kenya – information forthcoming (Dr. Maundu is instrumental in facilitating the ongoing initiative, “Success Story of Promoting Traditional Foods and Safeguarding Traditional Foodways in Kenya,” as recognized by the UNESCO Register of Good Safeguarding Practices of the Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.)

The event is facilitated with support from the American Folklore Society and the International Society for Ethnology and Folklore.

Learn more on the AFC website

American Folklife Center, Library of Congress

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