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Art & Design Research

Digital Archives

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
https://www.loc.gov/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.

Highlights include:
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

National Archives
https://www.archives.gov/
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.

Highlights include:
Featured Documents Relating to Americans with Disabilities
Veterans' Service Records
American Indian Records in the National Archive
Nazi War Crimes Interagency Working Group

Local Archives

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.

Peabody Museum Archive
https://www.peabody.harvard.edu/archives

Highlights include:
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

Artists & Archives

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.  

  • Nadiya Nacorda "I'm creating a physical archive of a black story, a story of people of color"
    Nadiya Imani Loyisa Ntlabati Nacorda is a Blasian artist, photographer and Taurus currently living and working in Syracuse, NY. She was born in Detroit, MI to a Filipinx immigrant father and a Xhosa mother. Throughout the year, she travels around the country photographing her immediate family, as well as her family abroad. Her work heavily draws from notions of intimacy, affection, family, displacement, secrecy, and generational trauma within the context of Black and POC immigrant-American family life.
  • lauren woods "American Monument"
    Sometimes information is a matter of public record, like some police records, but isn't readily available. Artists can use a Freedom of Information Act request to gain access to public information that isn't published online.

Why Do We Need Archives?

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. 

Are Archives Neutral?

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.