Respectful descriptions of marginalised groups in Archives

Members of our collections team also attended the workshop on describing and managing racially insensitive archives earlier this year, along with Jass Thethi – a colleague (And good friend) of ours over at the John Rylands Library.

In this blog post, Jass uses two concrete examples to explore how archivists might approach potentially insensitive catalogue descriptions and documentation, without ‘white-washing’ history.

John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

Items within special collections can date back hundreds of years, so it’s no surprise that within these materials it is possible to find outdated or problematic attitudes and language. I am currently researching potential ways to manage this.

In May 2018 I attended ‘Protocols for describing and managing racially insensitive archives,’ a workshop facilitated by Arike Oke and Simon Demissie, from the Wellcome Library,  based on the Master’s Dissertation by Alicia Chilcott. This workshop explored the racial insensitivity in archival descriptions and potential solutions.

In June 2018 I attended ‘Museum Remix,’ a workshop facilitated by Museum Detox at the University of Cambridge. Here, we explored how the use of insensitive descriptions in record keeping can bleed into online catalogues and exhibitions. This spreads misinformation by misrepresenting marginalised groups: an injustice to the educational value of archives and the communities surrounding them.

This blog post will focus on how…

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Thank you Carly!

By Hannah

Last week we said farewell and good luck to our Collections Documentation Assistant Carly Morel. Carly joined the Resource Centre team in 2015 and made a big impact during her time with us. She bravely tackled our backlog of uncatalogued physical archive material, creating in the region of 18 new collections and working in some capacity on countless others, with enthusiasm and sensitivity.

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We couldn’t find a good picture of Carly at work, so here she is on holiday! Source: Carly Morel

She has the capacity to be interested in just about anything and to dig out the most obscure and revealing aspects of a collection. Many a time she’d lean over and say ‘Hey Hannah, listen to this’, read something out of the letter / pamphlet / report she was cataloguing, then launch into an analysis of what it means for Trump’s America / Brexit Britain / the Mediterranean migrant crisis, or whatever was happening at the time. All of which made her a great archivist and lots of fun to share an office with.

But perhaps her biggest impact has been on our digital archive work. Carly also works in the digital technologies team at the University of Manchester Library and her expertise in digital preservation came at the just the right time. The nature of our collections means that much of it is born digital, and thanks to Carly we now have polices and procedures to properly care for this material.

Bending the Rules: Archiving the Manchester BME Communities collection

Our freelance archivist Heather Roberts has been working her magic on our large, and until now slightly unwieldy, Manchester Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Communities collection. Here she reflects on the process and reveals some of the thinking behind her work:

Arranging the Manchester BME Communities collection was an interesting adventure in flexing the rules. As well as deciding what to keep and what not to keep, organising the remaining material was a bit tricky.

the picture shows a row of archive files with colourful papers sticking out of the sides. the label reads 'refugees and immigration'

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