Thursday, January 23, 2014

Creating the historical record?

There's an interesting truth about my work: I am literally deciding right now what people will believe about this university in the future. There are two distinct stories that could be told: one is that this is the lesser institution to the greater parent university. The one that is not as rigorous, not as prestigious, not as important (and that's not an untrue story, if you measure success in the usual way). The other story is that this is an institution that educates the students who aren't welcome elsewhere. The night student, the minority, the single parent, the non-cis. This second story is a difficult one to flesh out, because it necessitates a shift in thinking about what an important institution is, what achievement is, and what student success looks like. To keep a history that celebrates the non-conformers who make their own way within traditional structures...this is hard. It's worth it, but it's hard. Just finding the historical record for supporting such a narrative is hard enough. Then we must also PROVE its authenticity, because it will never be simply *given* legitimacy. 
I think this is the kind of work that I will find most meaningful as I continue this job. Finding those varied stories and making sure they are preserved. Showing that success can be different than the norm, and still be considered success. I'm not sure that archivists think of themselves as creating institutional identities by their choices, but in this case I think that it's inevitable, whether I were to consciously choose it or not.

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"Wicked people never have time for reading. It's one of the reasons for their wickedness." —Lemony Snicket, The Penultimate Peril.