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Disquiet in the archives: archivists make tough calls with far-reaching consequences – they deserve our support

The Conversation: “Right now, for technological, ethical and political reasons, the world’s archivists are suddenly very busy. Advances in digital imaging and communications are feeding an already intense interest in provenance, authorship and material culture. Two recent discoveries – a woman’s name scratched in the margins of an 8th-century manuscript, and John Milton’s annotations in a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio held in the Free Library of Philadelphia – are examples of how new tools are revealing new evidence, and how distant scholars are making fascinating connections. At the same time, and even more importantly, the holdings of archives, libraries and museums – “memory institutions” – are being scrutinised as the world grapples with legacies of racism, imperialism, slavery and oppression. Some of the holdings speak to heinous episodes and indefensible values. And some of them were flat-out stolen. The so called “post-truth” era is a third cause of the burst of archival activity. Politicians and activists, mostly from the political right, have attacked facts and science. Archives have come under pressure to rewrite history, or have done so on their own initiative. The decision of the US National Archives to obscure anti-Trump slogans in a 2017 image of the Women’s March is a case in point…”

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