Diving Below The Surface

My first two blog posts were about mapping the surfaces of my work in archives. New Year ’s Day seems as good a time as any to start diving below that surface.

2015 was the year I started having lots of conversations with other archivists and historians about the long term psychological impact of working with certain records. A vocabulary started to emerge and terms like Secondary Emotional Trauma and Vicarious Trauma began to pepper these conversations. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to has a story. A project they have worked on or an individual’s story that continues to resonate long after work with the records has finished.

Sometimes the links are less clear and the triggers less easy to identify.

These conversations are encouraging for me. It feels like there is some tacit agreement that as a profession we need to get better at identifying and developing strategies around these issues.

In a public lecture at Monash University in September Ann Gilliand talked about the need for an engaged archival profession. One that will make conscious interventions to preserve written heritage.  For this vision to be manifested (and I would like to help that happen) then these interventions might require being within communities at vulnerable, dangerous and traumatic times. The records that are generated, that will need to be preserved, will also be raw and potentially traumatising.

Many of us currently work with records that contain evidence of past trauma and historic abuse. How do we acknowledge the emotional impact of ongoing exposure to these records? How do we support each other as part of our professional practice? How do we build training into our institutions and university courses?

These questions seem intrusive even as I write them. There is a reluctance to allow these thoughts to disrupt our analytical and process based methodologies.

Building a robust community of practice means we need to talk about the risk involved in working with these communities and these materials. From that conversation some solid guidelines need to emerge. We can respond with courage and foresight to the challenges issued by but I fear the scaffolding needs some strengthening before that is a safe place to work.

We need;

  • Training and educational materials written for archives ( and GLAMR) professionals.
  • Conversations within our professional bodies and organisations that recognise Vicarious Trauma as a risk.
  • Quantitative research that can be used to inform and influence change

Here are some links worth reading;

Mike Jones wrote about trauma informed practice in his blog Context Junky.

Some excellent notes from a session on Secondary Trauma & Self Care for Archivists from the MARAC Roanoke ‘unconference’. ( Thanks to Samantha Winn for these)

Mentioned in the notes but worth repeating here; The Unexpected Emotional Impact of Archiving

The lecture by Ann Gilliland was blogged about by Ross Harvey and hosted by Jaye Weatherburn http://jayeweatherburn.com/

Tim Sherratt  wrote about archives of emotion here and issued his own call to action.

I will continue adding to this list and please let me know if you come across any others.  For now, thanks and take care.





About Michaela Hart

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