After the sad event of historian Howard Zinn’s passing earlier this year, I came across a speech he gave in 1970 to a gathering of professional archivists. In “Secrecy, Archives and the Public Interest”, Zinn acknowledged the seldom-recognized power archivists have to determine what kind of history is available to future researchers. Archivists make decisions about what and whose voices are represented in the publically-available historic record, as they decide what primary source collections have enough research value to warrant being kept by their institutions. As Zinn correctly observed, archival practice is biased towards famous, powerful and often wealthy people. The personal papers of a little-known individuals or organizations are generally considered not to have adequate research value to warrant the ongoing work and resources needed for their preservation and provision for their access. As a champion of the history of ordinary people and social movements, Zinn challenged archivists to adopt new practices such that archival preservation would no longer serve to protect the status quo and that a more diverse and representative history be available to researchers of tomorrow.
What does all this have to do with the history of the
While archivists and other information professionals can and should become aware of their biases and reframe their collection goals to capture a more diverse humanity and geography, it is the communities and ordinary people of the Klamath Basin who have the greatest ability to determine what parts of our present experience is made available for future researchers and citizens. And although the people of the
In his life, Howard Zinn worked to show us how rich the legacy of ordinary citizens can be and the importance of being able to access the “people’s history” to really understanding our collective past. I wonder what Zinn would think of a movement of under-documented communities proactively organizing to preserve their own histories? What if we, the people personally connected to the
I would love to know what you think. What do future generations need to know to understand the events, dynamics and communities of the