A Holistic Approach to Remembering

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Last month, I attended the annual Association of Canadian Archivists’ conference, held this year in Winnipeg. From the theme of "Community as Archives, Archives as Community," emerged creative redefinitions for and challenges to traditional concepts of archiving and archivists as shaped and suggested by a variety of stakeholder communities.

A significant number of talks focused on Aboriginal communities and archives, which was of particular interest to me since I had explored the topic for my archival degree at the University of Manitoba.  I also participated in an informal roundtable on the subject during the conference. 

Association of Canadian Archivists' conference

Through my studies, I examined the concept that Aboriginal models of archiving, knowledge systems and ways of remembering do not necessarily mirror non-Aboriginal models. While this does not mean that one model is better than the other, it does mean a more inclusive, respectful and holistic approach to remembering and, consequently, an expanded definition of archives. This is especially true when archival collections include materials from a variety of communities and perspectives, Aboriginal or not. 

An archivist’s primary duties include the acquisition, preservation and provision of access to records that tell a society’s history. These records are created by many sources, from organizations to communities to individuals. A holistic approach acknowledges that a society’s memories can be conveyed in a variety of forms, be it tangible or intangible. It recognises that preservation can mean maintaining a memory as an oral history or on the pages of a diary. It also respects that access can be restricted by legislative requirements or cultural protocols.

I joined the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) because of its organizational values of objectivity, innovation and inclusiveness, the foundation for all of the Museum’s activities in the exploration of human rights in Canada and beyond. Indeed, at the CMHR we are in a unique position to holistically share the story of human rights. We can accomplish this through carefully developed collections of primary and secondary source material that take on different formats and perspectives, and in turn, these collections support and are enriched by exhibits and their contents, and the work of numerous departments.  We can help to amplify voices, keep stories alive and encourage reflection and dialogue. 

While definitions for “archives” can vary from country to country, culture to culture, and even individual to individual, the desire to be recognised, remembered, and understood is universal, regardless of how the remembering is done. It crosses all cultural, religious, ethnic, racial and national boundaries. As I have begun to interact with potential donors of archival materials, I am constantly reminded of the interconnected and holistic aspects of memory and remembering. Sharing with me their stories and materials inevitably brings up other memories and stories, tearful or joyous. The willingness of people to trust me with their stories, collections and perspectives is a humbling experience. In turn, it will be an honour and a privilege for me to then share with the public a fuller picture of the human rights’ story.

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