If you are working on an art project and it would help to view archival photographs, historical documents, artifacts, etc. for visual reference or for inspiration, try these tips!
Try searching digital archive and _______ to find online archives! Remember that while a lot of websites might call themselves an "archive" most of them are just a collection of links or materials they took from elsewhere. Try to find one with an actual archivist and collection development policy, so you know who is doing the collecting and how.
You should always pay attention to who created the archive. For example there are a lot of American Indian archives, but most are photographs that white men took housed in an archive run by a non-native organization. When researching underrepresented peoples, make sure you are including their perspectives, not just the perspectives of outside scholars. For example, this archive about the Plateau Peoples was created at Washington State University, however all materials were chosen and curated by tribal representatives who include traditional knowledge and cultural narratives in the records: https://plateauportal.libraries.wsu.edu/
Library of Congress Digital Collections
The Library of Congress is the nation's oldest federal cultural institution,
and it serves as the research arm of Congress. It is also the largest library in the world.
Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938
Civil Rights History Project
LGBTQ+ Politics and Political Candidates Web Archive
Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan Government Web Archive
Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape
The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the nation's record keeper.
Of all documents and materials created in the course of business conducted by the
United States Federal government, only 1% - 3% are so important for legal or historical
reasons that they are kept by us forever.
South Asian American Digital Archive
Each of the archives below has an access policy on their website, telling you how to make an appointment to visit. They also have digital collections you can browse online.
Cambridge Public Library: The Cambridge Room Archive
Historic Cambridge Newspapers
Videos from the 1983-1987 Multicultural Project for Communication and Education
Photographic collections like Olive Pierce's portraits of African American men living in a halfway house on Linnean Street
Radcliffe College Archives
It's Complicated: 375 Years of Women at Harvard
Browse a list of notable artists and read their papers
Women's Educational and Industrial Union Records
Angela Davis: Freed by the People
Peabody Museum Archive
Digital Image Collection
Photographic Collections including The Nineteenth-Century Indian Delegation to Washington D.C., Expeditions to Honduras, China, and Mongolia, and Fieldwork with Marsh Arabs in Iraq
Mount Auburn Cemetery Records & Archive
Photographs and illustrations of cemetery horticulture and monuments
Some artists don't use materials from archives in their work, but will use the principals of archival practice. For example, archives are crucial in preserving a record of information, people, and places so that they are remembered for future generations, and these artists are trying to do the same with their work.
“Our digital documents are far more fragile than paper, in fact, the record of the entire present period of history is in jeopardy.”
-Clay Shirky, media scholar and author
“Digital data lasts forever, or five years, whichever comes first,”
-RAND Corporation computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg in a 1995 Scientific American article.
Some archivists believe that archives should be neutral places, not responsible for social justice. Others, like Mario Ramirez in the article linked below, are exploring how archival practice "reinforces unequal power structures and the manufacturing of distorted histories" and how striving for neutrality is really an inability to think critically about race.
“The full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences—is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely.” -Ta-Nehisi Coates
Choosing what to archive and what not to archive can be a high-stakes decision. Should you archive materials that are blatantly racist? Who deserves to be remembered? What if you create an archive of people in a certain ethnic group and that information is used in the future to round up those people and commit atrocities against them? The articles and videos below explore how archivists grapple with these questions every day.