Diversifying the Digital Historical Record: Kelly Figueroa-Ray Presents PLT Archive at New York Conference

On Community Archives Integration in a National Digital Platform

This past October PLT Contributor Kelly Figueroa-Ray represented the Project on Lived Theology at Forum Four of the Diversifying The Digital Historical Record initiative in New York City to speak about PLT’s Civil Rights as Theological Drama digital and paper archive. This conference brought together community and academic archivists, librarians, and other professionals who archive. The overwhelming majority of the presenters were women and more than half of the presenters and attendees were people of color. This is notable in that many academic conferences continue to struggle with diversity in their panels and presentations, even when discussing the topic of diversity.

Diversifying the Digital Historical Record, Kelly Figueroa-Ray, Civil Rights as Theological Drama

The Digital Historical Record initiative hosted a total of four forums that were held in different cities around the country. The topic of each form focused “on community archives integration in a National Digital Platform and the potential impact for representation of diverse communities in our digital cultural heritage.” The four forums were:

The Civil Rights as Theological Drama was featured in the first panel of Forum Four, entitled “Lest We Forget”: Community Archives, Civil Rights and Social Justice.” Other community archives featured in this panel included the Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, Joseph A. Labadie Collection, Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives, and the Interference Archive. Each presenter shared the content and purpose of their project along with the struggles faced with sustainability and the challenges of moving into digital formats. One of the main issues brought up in Figueroa-Ray’s presentation was the difficulty posed by copyright issues when posting digital content and the challenges of reaching audiences who are interested in the digital content that is offered. This last issue promoted discussion with other conference participants from the library community and other national digital collection projects about how to connect community archives to wider audiences through their systems. This possibility offers some hope for reaching wider audiences, but also brought up fears on the part of community archivists of giving up aspects of control over the archives themselves. Other issues of sustainability of community archives include lack of funding and resources need to gather documents, preserve them, and digitize them.

Other topics at the forum dealt with the relationship of the Academy with Community Archives and whether or not adding a digital component to community archives was a good investment or not. Overall, the forum brought together a number of people passionate about ensuring that the information available in the digital age is representative of the wider, diverse community that makes up our society. In tension with this desire was a caution from members of the community who were present that were against having their local knowledge exploited by outside organizations with little or no local relationships.

The website for Diversifying The Digital Historical Record includes resources from Forums 1-3, here. The videos from Forum Four along with a white paper “summarizing the conversations and proposing future directions for community archives continued development and collaboration with national digital initiatives” should be available soon.

Kelly Figueroa-Ray is a doctoral candidate in the program of comparative scripture, interpretation and practice in the department of religious studies at the University of Virginia. Her focus is the relationship between scripture and theology as it is lived out in particular communities with a particular interest in multicultural Christian ministries.

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