Recap: SAA 2018’s “Guide to Navigation in Perilous Times: Journeys Through Archival History and Historiography” panel

Society of American Archivists,  Archival History Section Meeting,Washington, D.C., August 16, 2018

At the Archival History Section Meeting, the panel discussed critical issues of justice, equity, and political reform as they related to the use of archives and the employment of archivists in twentieth century America.  Over forty attendees listened to current Chair, Dr. Alex H. Poole of Drexel University, and Dr. Ciaran B. Trace of The University of Texas at Austin, discuss their recent research on archival history and historiography as moderated by Ashley Stevens, an AHS Steering Committee member (2017-2018).

Archival History News co-editor Dr. Eric C. Stoykovich gave an update on the first year launch of the newsletter. He noted that the over 1,500 individual visitors who perused the website in the past year have hailed from at least 49 countries, making it a far more global SAA newsletter. He thanked the nine external authors — Nora Blackman, Katherine Fisher, Patricia Franks, Derek Kane O’Leary, Dennis Meissner, Sebastian Modrow, Anne Turkos, Sarah Osorio, and Tammy Woodward – who contributed articles, book reviews, institutional histories, and fond remembrances during the past twelve months. Finally, he challenged readers of AHN to become writers or reviewers in the coming year.

2018-2019 Archival History News team:
Intern Natalie Worsham and co-editors Eric Stoykovich and Nathan Saunders.

Dr. Kelly A. Kolar, Chair for 2017-2018, presented the inaugural Archival History Article Award to Patricia Kennedy Grimsted for her chapter “Pan-European Displaced Archives in the Russian Federation: Still Prisoners of War on the 70th Anniversary of V-E Day” from Displaced Archives edited by James Lowry. The Archival History Article Award rewards and encourages an article of superior excellence in the field of archival history. Grimsted was not able to attend the meeting, but she sent remarks, which were read by Kolar. Grimsted explained that, “Russia’s failure to return the ‘displaced archives’ to the countries of provenance, and the lengthy negotiations for those that were returned, have been one of the thorniest elements in foreign relations for the newly established Russian Federation.”[1]

Historians Lawrence Dunbar Reddick, Helen G. Edmonds, and John Hope Franklin. Photos courtesy of Alex Poole.

The panel and discussion, “Guide to Navigation in Perilous Times: Journeys Through Archival History and Historiography,” began with a presentation by Dr. Alex H. Poole on his recent publications on diversity and inclusivity in the archival realm. He discussed several examples of the ways in which minority groups were discouraged from using some archives. Poole discussed segregation in the Jim Crow era, which made it more difficult for African American scholars to access archives, particularly those in the southern states.[2] He also recounted the life and legacy of Harold T. Pinkett, who was the first professionally-trained African American archivist. He worked at the National Archives from 1942 to 1979.[3] Poole discussed his upcoming article “’Be Damned Pushy at Times’: The Committee on the Status of Women and Feminism in the Archival Profession, 1972-1998,” which will be published in the 2018 Fall/Winter issue of The American Archivist. In it, he argues that the SAA’s Committee on the Status of Women (COSW) and the Women’s Caucus helped to make SAA a more equitable membership organization for women by the end of the twentieth century. Finally, he mentioned the efforts by activist-archivists, especially members of the Lesbian and Gay Archives Roundtable, to promote LGBT rights.

Dr. Ciaran B. Trace discussed her recent works, which examine the history of reform, particularly ushered in during 1890s to the 1930s (the duly-named Progressive Era). She explained that partnerships between private organizations, public institutions, and government bodies sought to bring about economic and social change. She studied 4-H recordkeeping from 1900 to the 1920s to illustrate the ways in which the organization of agricultural information reinforced a wider literacy.[4] Focusing on the state of Georgia, Trace discussed the changes administrative reform brought to State Archives from 1921-1923.[5] She argued that such “reforms” were pursued with political ends in mind, some of which challenged the survival of state archival agencies.

Page from diary written for 4-H school project, dealing with Jersey cattle breeding.
Photo courtesy of Ciaran Trace.

Both Poole and Trace urged archivists to undertake the task of archival history and its importance to the profession to study its own past.[6] As guides to and keepers of history, archivists must study all the past eras of the profession – including the centuries of proto-professional work – in order to better understand the current position of archives and archivists in the United States and the world. The past is prologue even in “perilous times.”

— Natalie Worsham, SAA editorial intern, Archival History News

(left to right) Ciaran B. Trace, Alex Poole, and Kelly Kolar

[1] See here for Grimsted’s full remarks.

[2] Alex H. Poole, “The Strange Career of Jim Crow Archives: Race, Space, and History in the Mid-Twentieth Century American South,” The American Archivist 77, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2014):  23–63, Another article by Poole, “‘Could my dark hands break through the dark shadow?” Gender, Jim Crow, and Librarianship during the Long Freedom Struggle, 1935-1955,” will be published in The Library Quarterly 88, no. 4.

[3] Poole, “Harold T. Pinkett and the Lonely Crusade of African American Archivists in the Twentieth Century,” The American Archivist 80, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017): 296-335,; Poole, “Pinkett’s Charges: Recruiting, Retaining, and Mentoring Archivists of Color in the Twenty-First Century,”  The American Archivist 80, no. 1 (Spring/Summer 2017): 103-134,

[4] Ciaran B. Trace, “Information in Everyday Life: Boys’ and Girls’ Agricultural Clubs as Sponsors of Literacy, 1900–1920,” Information & Culture 49, no. 3 (2014): 265–293,

[5] Trace, “Sweeping out the Capitol: The State Archives and the Politics of Administration in Georgia, 1921–1923,” The American Archivist 80, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017): 373-406,

[6] After the presentations, there was a vibrant discussion with questions posed by the audience members to the panel.


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