Chronicling Resistance while Cloistered: Overcoming Erasure, Omission, and Alienation in the Archive

Mariam I. Williams


This paper examines the ways the Philadelphia-based Chronicling Resistance project is breaking down or reinforcing the silencing of historically marginalized populations in the archives and the ways the shuttering of archives during the coronavirus pandemic has affected those populations’ access to and relationship with archival material. Initiated by the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) in 2018, Chronicling Resistance has had two chief aims: to amplify stories of resistance in the archives and to help collect and preserve stories of today’s acts of resistance. The global pandemic hit shortly after the project entered a pilot phase (February 2020) in which three individuals who identify as black and as cultural organizers began working as nontraditional archival research fellows in PACSCL institutions. The researchers were frustrated by the loss of physicality and increased dependence upon archival theory’s social hierarchies in online searches. In virtual group discussions about their research practice, they expressed concerns about the increased policing effect that public health precautions like restricted access to special collections may have on black and brown people. Their perseverance through the pilot phase, however, also offers an opportunity for archivists and special collections librarians trying to find improvisational, creative solutions to a public health and public history crisis.

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