I actually disagreed with Carter’s argument about the power of silences. She claims that silence, including the silences in the archive, can be a tool of resistance. Of course this is true in situations like that of slaves or soldiers who refuse to give crucial information, but in the case of history silence is deadly. It does matter if other people see things because they hold important meaning, even if one might want to keep them private while alive. For example, Emma Goldman’s very sexually charged letters to a variety of partners were left out of her autobiography because she had more political priorities, and these things were private, but in history these letters have revealed crucial dimensions of her life and politics. Silence can be good when you’re alive, but it is useless in death. People who donate personal papers realize this is true. It’s a foundational pillar of the archive.
I also really agreed with the analysis about saving community histories and chronicling our activism. I have been blogging for an organization in Philly in the Black Lives Matter movement for a while. I am thinking about how to save the blog in the future, now. This is also a huge issue because the internet is being taken over by corporations. We have to find ways to do things without using microsoft and others who might make our information inaccessible later.
When reading Filene’s article I was struck by an astounding omission; although he focused on “outsider” histories, including exhibits on the hidden history of slavery in New York, and similarly reenactments of slave escapes, he did not include the millions of activists, organizers, and free teachers who brought history to the masses. Free schools hold an important place in “public history” from their crucial role in the Freedom Summer efforts of SNCC, where they empowered local youth and the community, without degrees of PHDs, just a passion for people’s history, to “teach ins” at Occupy Wall Street. Indeed, struggles over social justice are where history gets played out most dramatically in public. Thus, people who teach, wether it is on one’s repressed racial history, (the Black Panther Party schools and even current ethnic studies programs) or repressed histories in general, like those of the labor wars, are the most public of historians. History is a weapon and a battleground, as activist historians like Howard Zinn know. Zinn brought people’s history to anyone and everyone with his accessible writing and creative and passionate revolutionary spirt, and was also a civil rights and anti-war organizer and campaigned for peace and justice until his death. I think A People’s History of the United States is a work of public history, even if Zinn had a tenuously held onto teaching position. His legacy is continued by people who post on tumblr about the history of slavery and colonialism, journalists who use history in their arguments for policy change like reparations, and the countless organizers who use history to build a more just future.