How the ‘guerrilla archivists’ saved history – and are doing it again under Trump

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On Inauguration Day, a group of students, researchers and librarians gathered in a nondescript building on the north side of the University of California, Los Angeles campus, against a backdrop of pelting rain.

The group had organized in protest against the new U.S. administration. But, instead of marching and chanting, participants were there to learn how to “harvest,” “seed,” “scrape” and ultimately archive websites and data sets related to climate change.

The need for such work quickly became palpable. Within hours of Trump’s inauguration ceremony, official statements on anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change vanished from governmental websites, including and that of the Environmental Protection Agency. ...

The term “guerrilla” itself comes from the Spanish word for war. It implies irregular, impromptu tactics in a struggle against powerful forces.

Building archives has already been an integral part of social activism. This work challenges the dominant narratives of the past and makes us rethink how we preserve memories for the next generation.

For these activists, archival work is not a neutral act, but a form of political disruption. In Nazi Germany, for example, Franciscan monk H.L. Van Breda risked death to smuggle documents from the estate of Edmund Husserl, a Jewish philosopher and father of the phenomenological tradition, on a train from Freiburg to Berlin. The documents were held for three months in a safe at the Belgian embassy before traveling to the University of Louvain. They remain at the university archives today, enabling future access to these important philosophical works.

Similarly, Walter Benjamin handed over his magnum opus on Parisian culture, The Arcades Project, to Georges Bataille, archivist at the Bibliotéque Nationale in Paris during World War II. Bataille hid these documents in a restricted archive until after the war.

In the shadows of Nazi-occupied Europe, these archiving operations took the form of bold political work. They reacted to a regime that wanted to cleanse history entirely of scholarly Jewish voices.

In another example, the Mazer Lesbian Archive accumulated in a residence in the Altadena neighborhood of Los Angeles throughout the mid-1980s. Dedicated volunteers collected photographs, pamphlets, written correspondence, film projects, plays, poetry and everyday ephemera, from discarded envelopes to cocktail napkins. The archive serves as a testament to the vibrancy and viability of the decade’s largely invisible lesbian culture.

As Alycia Sellie at CUNY Graduate Center and her colleagues argued in a 2015 paper, community archives like the Mazer offer “local, autonomous spaces for alternative historical narratives and cultural identities to be created and preserved.” These collections often spring up independently of government or scholarly institutions. The creators, feeling politically marginalized, seek to create their own collective identity. ...

Read entire article at The Conversation

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