Addressing a gathering of archival professionals in 1970, Howard Zinn asserted that archives are “biased towards the important and powerful people of the society, tending to ignore the impotent and obscure: we learn most about the rich, not the poor; the successful, not the failures; the old, not the young; the politically active, not the politically alienated; men, not women; white, not black; free people rather than prisoners; civilians rather than soldiers; officers rather than enlisted men” (Zinn 1977: 21). While these observations may have been received as an indictment when he delivered this speech, our growing awareness of archival biases has catalyzed a great deal of archival activism. Indeed, those of us who champion archives of oppressed communities can rightfully claim that things have certainly improved in the decades since Zinn’s address. Yet his overarching point remains no less profound: leveraging the power of archives is not “the politicization of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft” (20).
By K. J. Rawson and Aaron Devor, 2015