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Archives and Special Collections: Silence and Bias in Archives

Archival Silences

Archival silences refer to the erasure of archives, and histories of marginalized communities within traditional archival holdings. Institutional archives often collect histories of those in power and we must acknowledge that these holdings reflect the narratives of predominantly white creators. Assuming that collecting institutions are neutral does not benefit the groups who have been systematically left out of archival collections.

We are working on countering the bias in our collection in order to accurately represent the communities we serve. We are actively seeking material that prioritizes diverse sources and partnering with creators and researchers from underrepresented communities to address the archival gaps within our holdings.

 

For more information on strategies to confront biases in collections watch the following virtual panel discussion by the University of Arkansas Libraries:

Ethical stewardship and access to material are other important aspects of acquiring and sharing collections. For more information on the topic, explore these online resources:

Language in Archival Descriptions

Cataloging and archival description can also contribute to silencing under-documented groups in archives. Decisions on terminology can directly affect how records are accessed and discovered. 

The team at Ryerson Archives & Special Collections is addressing this issue by reviewing records that reflect under-represented communities in our collections to update outdated archival descriptions and include vocabulary that is used by the corresponding groups to describe themselves. Visit our website for more information about this initiative or to suggest a correction for our online catalogue.

We believe maintaining accurate description of records that affect underrepresented groups, enhancing discoverability and allowing ethical access for culturally sensitive materials aligns with the the Association of Canadian Archivists Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action, Ryerson University's Academic Plan and values of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

Dominique Luster's 2018 presentation "Archives have the Power to Boost Marginalized Voices" outlines how experiences from marginalized communities are often left out of archives, and when they are included the archival descriptions do not reflect how communities describe themselves.

Watch Luster's video presentation below  for more information on racially conscious culturally competent archival theory.

Creative Commons License

This guide has been created by the Ryerson University Library and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution International 4.0 License unless otherwise marked.

Creative Commons Attribution License