Note: This presentation was one of three Keynote Addresses delivered at ICHORA 2020.
Marisa Elena Duarte’s (Arizona State University) poetic keynote, “Meditations on the Screen: How the Archives Around Us Remind Us Who We Are,” addresses the many complex issues that arise with the ease with which digital information is accessed on a myriad of electronic devices today. Many of these issues become even more complex during a pandemic that has limited our face-to-face interaction with people, making electronic devices the most common way of interacting with the world around us. After relating a personal experience of an ancestral visit, Duarte states, “This experience made me cognizant of the domination of screen time in our current historical moment and how it is so demanding of the present, it seems like the only way to recover information these days is with immediacy and with digital interfaces.”
Duarte then examines the human element of archives which preserve stories of our lives and the lives of our kin. This digital log that we add to every day reveals the archivist’s social power as they contemplate digitizing bodies of knowledge that catalyzes kinship networks among the descendants of that knowledge. “We need stories, not items in a catalog, to regenerate our belonging to each other as a people. Thus, the powerful archive is but a shadow of the sanctity of relationships among us.” She asks if the domination of the screen during COVID-19 has revealed to us how digital records create new ways of grasping the world and what records we should be preserving to tell our story for history. She then outlines instances of social injustice regarding record keeping and asks archivists to advocate for better laws and practices based on the principles of civil liberties.
Archivists must practice a culture of humility to ensure all histories of every race and gender are represented. Duarte asks how we can make the archive a reflection of the sanctity and dignity of relationships among us.
Curator (21st Century Mormon and Western Manuscripts) and Assistant Librarian, Brigham Young University