Access Denied

Reading Swarthmore’s “Black Liberation 1969 Archive” as well as Princeton’s ASAP initiative reminded me of a session that I attended during the Community Day of Learning about archiving activism and the parameters as well as boundaries around archiving that type of history.

Bryn Mawr as a college did not officially commission its own archival collection until 1980. This means that students and other members of the College were relied upon to keep track of the documentation of their own histories before then (and this continues in part today), with only scattered record keeping at the College to assist them. This has lead to archives, like Bryn Mawr’s, where the majority of it is filled with materials from wealthy, White alumnae who have historically constituted a part of the College identity but aren’t the complete and total narrative of the community.

Activist materials aren’t featured more prominently in archives for various reasons related to the aforementioned explanation. In the case of Bryn Mawr and many other current archival spaces, the apparatus for preservation wasn’t in place before a certain date. Going off of that, most archival spaces have not been created with activism in mind and have therefore not reached out to activists or other purveyors of activist culture. For Bryn Mawr, activism wasn’t considered central to the identity of the College at the time it began seriously collecting materials by those who were organizing that collection.

The ability to craft narrative within an archival space is important but what do you do when that space was not created with you or your interests in mind and is run by someone who continues to perpetuate that way of thinking? That is the question that activist culture has to deal with.

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