MINDS @ UW-Madison

Dismantling Oppressive Power Structures in the Archive

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Dennis, Katie
Apr 28, 2016
This poster is a visual representation of a paper examining ways in which communities of color are impacted by abuse of power by the record creator in official records collected by archival institutions. I propose that archivists must more closely examine not only the content of the records in their control, but the power structure under which the records were created and whether or not any community-created documentation of the record producing activity exists. I argue that by asking a series of questions about the record (About whom was this record created? By whom? What activity produced it? And who benefits from the records preservation?) archivists can find gaps in their collections. Most often the gaps can be filled with community created documentation from the community these official records are about. I use two examples to illustrate the impact incomplete or manipulated "documentary heritage" can have on communities of color. I compare the Dawes Rolls of the Creek Nation created by the US Government while enforcing the General Allotment Act of 1887 and the official records documenting fatal police shootings of African Americans today. While comparing these records, I pose the aforementioned questions and identify ways the power structure under which these records were created are problematic if the official record is the only record that survives in the archive. I then identify non-traditional ways in which archives empower communities to create their own records and ways in which archives can give these records equal importance to official records.
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