The Pedagogy of the Archive as Intervention

We are in a critical moment because many materials from the colonial and imperial archive are being digitized. I therefore propose a session to talk about if and how we can avoid reproducing the colonial structure of existing historical archival materials as they are migrated into digital archives. Further, I would like to discuss how to integrate this question into the classroom and to use as an example an assignment that I developed with colleagues in Caribbean studies and librarians at UF. In this assignment, students analyze a historical photograph which has minimal metadata, place it in its historical context, analyze its existing metadata and make suggestions for enhancing that metadata in ways that would counter the limitations, particularly the colonial assumptions, implicit in the existing metadata. Students analyzed photographs from the Panama Canal Museum Collection, which might well be described as an imperial archive as it contains the materials collected by the white US employees of the US Canal Commission. Many of these photographs document the construction of the canal and in so doing include images of Afro-Caribbean workers; however, the workers are rarely mentioned. Students added subject headings and notes to the catalog record to identify the Afro-Caribbean workers and explain the context of their labor. Students have found this assignment rewarding because they see that their work can change how the subjects in the photographs are defined. The photographs were listed under construction (“The Gatun Locks,” “Widening the Pavement in Panama City,” etc.); with new subject headings and notes, they can be found by researchers looking for race, labor, and Afro-Caribbeans in Panama. The Students have all signed permissions for their work to be included in the dLOC/UFDC catalog records and their work will be included in the UFDC metadata where relevant.

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About rosenber

Leah Rosenberg is associate professor of English at the University of Florida and author of Nationalism and the Formation of Caribbean Literature (2007). She is currently a fellow at the National Humanities Center, where is working on a book about the influence of tourism on Caribbean literature. She serves on the academic advisory board for the Digital Library of the Caribbean ( ).

2 Responses to The Pedagogy of the Archive as Intervention

  1. Great session to help us explore uses of DH projects, the development of critical skills for engaging with DH, and DH as pedagogy. Cheers, Leah! My question: how can inquiries into the archive be participatory in such a way as to engage the ‘colonial’ creators of the archive as well and employing spaces for their reflexivity too?

  2. 2nding what Sophia said. Depending on who is in the room, we could go waaaay deep into how the structures of metadata fail/support the imperialism of archives. I’d be really interested also in broadening this topic to think about how it applies to many archives, archival practices, the purposes and limitations of the “digital archive”, etc. etc. Great topic!

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