Archives and Community Building

Something that has stuck with me from Memorial Mania was the idea that public art has a civic responsibility. I think that the same is true of public history, that it has a sense of stewardship, purpose, and service. I saw this in the Take Back the Archive mission statement, when they write that their purpose is to “establish a national model for college and university communities wishing to memorialize, historicize, interpret, confront, and end sexual violence on campus.” It’s clear that there is a specific purpose to this history, and the archive project is aware of its power to shape their community. The archive does not exist in a vacuum, but it can shape identities and actions.

It also seems that Rebecca Onion, in her article about a lot of history on Twitter, is saying that public history should offer connections. Onion takes issue with the fact that the pictures don’t include links and context. This to me means that history needs to be connected to a narrative in order to be of service to people or to a community. That’s why it’s important for Onion to curate a timeline, and that’s one of the reasons why in the Throwback Column for the college news I try to bring together several different articles from different times. What’s difficult is the urge to use the language of cause and effect, but I think that all you can do is present pieces of history and maybe have some questions, and let people make their own connections. I agree with Onion though that history can’t exist in a vacuum.

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