Historical Archives Once Silenced Marginalized Voices. Now Pandemic Archivists Want Them to Be Heard.

Historians in the News
tags: archives, public history, LGBTQ history

In early April, Carolyn Evans watched from her mom’s couch as gay activists in Arizona reimagined their annual parade, dance party, and organizing event as a series of virtual meetups, lectures, and performances.

It was among the first online gay-pride festivals of the Covid-19 era, a private experience of joy and camaraderie. In the future, it may influence how scholars write the history of this period of mass disruption.

Evans is an Arizona State University graduate student who studies the history of Phoenix’s LGBT community. She’s also a lesbian who volunteers for gay-rights causes. She says gay people feel uniquely isolated now, cut off not only from physical spaces that affirm their identity but, in some cases, quarantined with people hostile to that identity.

How, Evans wondered, could phenomena like the virtual pride event — a community caring for its members in isolation — be preserved for history?

Many scholars are asking similar questions.

Historical archives often distort the past, magnifying privileged voices and silencing others. So historians and archivists are mobilizing social media and other technologies to build new archives that capture how diverse Americans are experiencing this moment.

As they scramble to gather the pandemic’s digital ephemera — emails, tweets, Reddit threads, Zoom memes — they’re groping for the right balance between preserving history and protecting privacy.

The collections that emerge from that tension will shape the questions that future scholars, students, and citizens can answer when they seek to understand this pandemic. How was the outbreak felt differently across lines of race, class, gender, and geography? How did it change higher education? How can the decisions Americans are making today inform their response to the next pandemic?

Read entire article at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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