This session looks at how we make transitions work for us rather than becoming moments of failure in archival and digital history work. Donors and communities rarely share the same expectations of a relationship with an institutional partner as an archivist, a scholar or project designer. After the project starts, we start to see that the words we use actually mean different things. “Preserve” can equate to a sense that an artifact will be permanently displayed. “Create access” can suggest that physical objects should be loaned out for community events. Donors may interpret deviation from their own perspectives to be a betrayal of the promise to “tell the story” of a community.
These mismatches are teaching moments, even opportunities for reconciliation between social groups in a community, as well as between community people and those of heritage institutions. Professionals and scholars engaged in documentary projects with non-academics who help us to preserve, create access to and tell the stories of a community’s past need to be resilient enough for handling difficult discussions with our partners. Only through those conversations can we find agreement about our common vocabulary and how to put it into practice.
Bring your stories of how your projects have earned trust or missed opportunities because critical connections were not made, as well as what you have learned about deciding when to sunset or dramatically revise a community project. What conversations and skills can make that an honorable process?
Proposed by Haven Hawley, who has experience working in a community museum and with ethnic archives, and who is currently chair of Special and Area Studies Collections at UF.