The (Mis)Archive project began as a curricular project that was generated from my growing interest in archives.
It began back in 2020 when I came across an article on the Library of Congress’s blog by Wendi Maloney (2020) entitled “How Will We Remember COVID-19?”. Maloney described how the Library of Congress was collecting photographs documenting public places during the COVID19 pandemic by Camilo José Vergara as a way to remember and document this unique time. According to Maloney (2020), the Library of Congress uses various methods of acquisition to carry out their mission to document the ever-changing world. The Library of Congress’s site claims it is the largest library in the world and is estimated to be adding 10,000 new items to its collection every day (Library of Congress). According to Sasha Dowdy (2020), another blog writer for the Library of Congress, the act of collecting and preserving documentation of an event is vital because:
Documenting our lives is how we can find solace in shared experiences, reflect and process emotions, remember the people who share our lives, and express hope for a lighter future. If we don’t record where we are right now, who will? If we forget what we wore, what we ate, and what we saw on the street outside of our windows, who will retrieve those memories?
The challenge for any staff tasked with running an archive or collection is determining what is collected, preserved, and documented. Joe Puccio, the Library of Congress’s collection development officer, said the mission of the library staff is to “determine what’s the most important material to acquire and what a researcher in a hundred years will need to see from what is being produced today” (Maloney, 2020). Initially when I read this article, I wondered why Vergara’s photographs were being collected instead of mine, or my middle school students? Was it more true or authentic or capture what COVID was like better than ours?
My questioning at first was not too serious, but as I reflected further, I began to really ponder why and who made the decision to collect Vergara’s photos. I noticed there were words or statements that made it clear that collecting is a choice and is not neutral. With this ability to choose there was an immense power and influence. Take Puccio’s comment, he uses words like “determine”, “most important”, and “what will need to be seen”. How does one determine what to collect? What is deemed to be most important? Whose history gets represented and who does not? Along this line, the subjective nature is not just in what is collected but how it is presented and accessed by the public. Any archival institution is faced with the same challenge of determining what is collected, how it is preserved, and how it is presented. The process is not neutral, as Maloney and others show, but is full of subjectivity.
(Mis)Archive invites participants to engage with archives as sites of knowledge and learning, to question and examine the practices of collecting and preserving, and consider what these sites offer educationally, artistically, and politically. The next section will give a more in depth look at archives, after which, I share the curricular framework I used to create a series of ideas for how to artistically engage with archives.