Mini-Lesson for Unarchived
Mini-Lesson for Unarchived
Synopsis: In the new feature documentary Unarchived, co-directors Hayley Gray and Elad Tzadok highlight community archives across British Columbia to reveal some of what has been erased from the official record.
Local knowledge keepers are hand-fashioning a more inclusive history through family photos, newspaper articles and scratchy old VHS tapes. These different collections tell stories of people building connection through work, play, protest, family and tradition.
Through a collage of personal interviews, archival footage and deeply rooted memories, the past, present and future come together, fighting for a space where everyone is seen and everyone belongs. History is what we all make of it.
Educational Synopsis: Unarchived examines “traditional” archives in British Columbia, those rooted in European colonial practices upheld by government, academic and other settler institutions. Records preserved in such repositories centre and privilege the stories of the dominant culture, perpetuating the re-telling of biased histories. This film challenges typical archival practice and encourages the viewer to question what is not being told, to make space for diverse voices and to build capacity for alternative archives.
Keywords: Archives, records, history, identity, visibility, community
Overarching Question: Why is it important to see oneself in the historical record, and why should we interrogate the dominant historical narrative?
Activity 1: Silences and Gaps
This clip introduces the concept of “silences” or “gaps” in the historical record. Think of examples where this might be the case—i.e., where the common narrative of a particular time, place or event has been shaped by the existing records, which exclude certain people (for example, early settler governments were almost exclusively white, as non-white settlers were not allowed to vote; women’s history is difficult to research, and therefore to share, as women are often only recorded under their husband’s name and are not listed on legal documents, such as title deeds to land). How would our understanding of Canada be different if all people were given an equal voice in the historical record? What can we do to rectify these silences today?
In pairs or as individuals, create a fictional record that will give voice to a previously silenced individual or community. The record might be a personal textual record, like a letter or diary entry; it could be a formal government document, like an application for permanent residency; it could be ephemeral, like a poster for an event or a party invitation; etc. Consider all the possible ways people’s lives are documented, and be creative.
This activity encourages students to consider from whom and where information comes, and highlights the power and privilege of archives. Records are inherently biased; in order to understand a record, we must not only comprehend what it is—a photograph of an individual, for example, or a land ownership document—but who created the record and why. What was the creator trying to accomplish by taking the photograph, writing the journal, drafting the document or drawing the map? When the majority of archives are created by a small subset of the population, the historical narrative will be naturally biased toward their version of events.
Activity 2: Documenting for the Future
Watch Clip on Trans Archives: 10:54-14:20
Magnus talks about connecting with someone through the archives, his “trans-cestors,” with whom he feels more connected than to his biological ancestors.
Instructions for students: Choose a person in your life to interview, someone with whom you feel a connection and who is not a relative. Imagine yourself decades in the future—what information or stories will you want to remember about this person? Compose your questions in a way that will encourage your subject to share the information you are most interested in. Choose your preferred method of recording them, and be creative—film, audio recording, written transcript, photo journal, or other.
A simplified version of this activity would be to have the students interview another student.
Connecting to an individual through archives can be incredibly powerful, particularly for someone who has not always felt seen or represented in information or heritage spaces. Creating a record of a living mentor or respected individual can help fill in gaps in the archives, and potentially create a record that someone will connect with in the future.
Activity 3: Mapping the Past
Watch Clip about Cumberland: 37:08-42:02
In this clip, Dr. Lim demonstrates how the land can be a record of the people who once lived there. Divide the class into small groups and walk around the school’s neighbourhood. Invite the students to see the neighbourhood through fresh eyes: looking for clues about the way people lived in the community in the past. For example, one might see a fruit tree, indicating that an orchard was on the property. An abandoned gate or hedge provides evidence of previous property lines. Ask students to think about how the land was used 10, 50 or 100 years ago. Encourage them to take photographs and notes of evidence of human history in the area—plants, trees, pathways, structures including fences, bridges or buildings, etc.—as each object tells a story about the community. In the classroom, each group will create a map depicting the neighbourhood marking each record they found in the landscape.
Taking on the role of researcher and using the archival record they found in nature, the group then writes a description of their findings about the way this neighbourhood and its people lived.
The commonly accepted definition of a record or archives in Canada comes from the European tradition in which textual (written) documentation is privileged over all other formats. However, for many communities, intangible cultural heritage is of equal or greater importance than the written word. Intangible cultural heritage is manifested in many ways, including (among other ways) oral traditions and expressions, knowledge and practices concerning nature, and traditional craftsmanship. Expressions of these kinds are often apparent in nature and in our daily surroundings, rather than in an institutional repository. Often, we become so accustomed to seeing certain things every day that we don’t think about the stories they can tell.
Take Action: Creating a Personal Archive
Instructions for students: Start creating your own personal archive. Bearing in mind that archives are composed of records, and a record is any form of documented information. Your file can be made up of one medium or a mixture of textual, photographic, cartographic, and audiovisual media. This could be either a digital folder or a physical object such as a file folder or shoebox.
Personal records are created and accumulated organically, and often relate to an interest or an activity. Consider something in your life that you would naturally document, for example, a relationship might be captured in letters/emails/instant messages and shared photographs, or involvement in an organization might be captured in membership documents, reports, event posters and more.
Feel free to personalize your archive. Compile it in a way that makes sense and feels natural to you—the creator’s use and “original order” of the records is one of the things that makes personal archives unique and authentic.
Finally, review your file and consider what a researcher would learn about you from the records you have created. Is the version of yourself represented in the records an authentic perspective of who you are? Reflect on how this activity impacts the way you think about others through the lens of the historical record.
Extension Activity: Exploring Intangible Cultural Heritage
Share a few examples from UNESCO’s repository of Intangible Cultural Heritage with the students.
Then invite them to work in small groups and select one that they’d like to do a deeper dive into. This could lead to them doing class presentations on these practices.
Find an accompanying field trip guide here.
Archives are the documentary by-product of human activity retained for their long-term value.
They are contemporary records created by individuals and organizations as they go about their business and therefore provide a direct window on past events. They can come in a wide range of formats, including written, photographic, moving image, sound, digital and analogue. Archives are held by public and private institutions and individuals around the world.
Archives are also the physical repositories (the buildings) in which these records are stored.
A person responsible for preserving records in all formats and making them accessible to the public, either in person in a reading room or using copies shared virtually.
The records creator is the person (or persons) who created a record that ultimately becomes part of an archive. The creator could be an individual, a family, an organization or an office. For example, the creator could be a photographer who donated all their photographs to an archival repository. The creator could also be a paper mill that, upon its closure, donated all its records to an archival repository. The total collection of records made or received by a creator is called a fonds.
The entire collection of records originating from the same creator.
Original order is the order in which the creator of the records kept them. Maintaining the original order can help researchers understand how and why the records were created and kept. For example, if an individual kept letters from a particular friend in the same file as a collection of concert tickets, the researcher might speculate that the creator attended the concerts with the person who wrote the letters. If an office kept receipts for building supplies in a file of architectural drawings for a new addition to the office, the researcher might assume that the building supplies were for the construction of the addition.
A record is any recorded information. Records come in a range of formats and can be experienced using different senses—records can be read, seen, heard and watched.
A researcher or user of the archives is any person seeking access to the records held in an archive. The researcher or user reads, views or otherwise accesses the records, and is free to interpret as they like the evidence the records provide. The researcher might access the records by physically visiting the archives and getting help from an archivist or other information professional, or they might access digital copies of the archives online.
An attitude or assumption shaped by experience and based on learned associations.
Intangible Cultural Heritage:
Intangible cultural heritage is the practices, representations, expressions, knowledge, skills—as well as the instruments, objects, artefacts and cultural spaces associated therewith—that communities, groups and, in some cases, individuals recognize as part of their cultural heritage. This intangible cultural heritage, transmitted from generation to generation, is constantly recreated by communities and groups in response to their environment, their interaction with nature and their history. It provides them with a sense of identity and continuity, thus promoting respect for cultural diversity and human creativity.
Intangible cultural heritage is manifested in the following ways:
- Oral traditions and expressions, including language as a vehicle of the intangible cultural heritage;
- Performing art;
- Social practices, rituals and festive events;
- Knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe;
- Traditional craftsmanship.
- UNESCO’s page on Intangible Cultural Heritage: https://ich.unesco.org/en/home
- Encyclopedia of Archival Science. Luciana Duranti and Patricia C. Franks, eds. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015.
Genevieve Weber is an archivist and heritage professional in Victoria, BC. Over the past 15 years she has worked in a number of archives and cultural institutions, with a focus on outreach, public programming and Indigenous information sovereignty. Her position as an instructor in the Continuing Studies department at the University of Victoria provides her the opportunity to engage with learners of diverse and interesting backgrounds, and to gain new perspectives based on their experiences.
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