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Archival Activism: Emerging Forms, Local Applications


In this essay the authors provide a summary history of archival activism, starting with the seminal 1970 speech by radical historian Howard Zinn in which he argued for archivists to rid themselves of notions of “neutrality”, and actively engage in socially meaningful work. The authors identify four different forms of archival activism: community archives; socially conscious work within government-funded and other “mainstream” archives (for example, by promoting institutional transparency and accountability); research-based activism (retracing radical or suppressed histories); and socially conscious work by institutionally-independent archivists. They describe several examples of local practical applications of archival activism, such as the work of the Southern California Library in South Los Angeles; the development of the National Chavez Center Archives; independent archivists providing assistance to migrant fieldworkers in the United States in safeguarding and identifying records documenting their immigration status and employment history; and the recent rediscovery of records of the Women’s Antifascist Front of Yugoslavia by independent researchers and its feminist reinterpretation.

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