Native Land Digital

by Grace Millet

Native Land Digital, also referred to as simply Native Land, is a digital database and map that contains information about indigenous peoples’ lands throughout the world. Started and led by indigenous activists from around the globe, Native Land does its best to create a comprehensive map of territories that are or once were solely occupied by native peoples.

The mission of Native Land is stated on their “About/Why It Matters” page: “Native Land Digital strives to create and foster conversations about the history of colonialism, Indigenous ways of knowing, and settler-Indigenous relations, through educational resources such as our map and Territory Acknowledgement Guide. We strive to…develop a platform where Indigenous communities can represent themselves and their histories on their own terms. […] Native Land Digital creates spaces where non-Indigenous people can be invited and challenged to learn more about the lands they inhabit, the history of those lands, and how to actively be part of a better future going forward together.” The goal of Native Land is twofold: to provide information to indigenous peoples and to further the understanding of colonialism’s effects on indigenous peoples for non-indigenous individuals who might want to learn more.

There is an enthusiastic focus on outreach by crowdsourcing information and asking community members for their knowledge as soon as one opens the website. A popup appears, acknowledging that the map beyond it is not perfect and asking for input from those who find discrepancies or errors. This simple statement reaffirms their mission to allow indigenous communities to tell their own stories. There is also an acknowledgement that the land boundaries represented on the map do not necessarily reflect legal territory boundaries at this time—the history of indigenous territories is fraught and deeply complex and cannot simply be presented on a map, interactive or static. Native Land’s effort to document these land boundaries is noble but also humbled by such recognition. The team at work behind the scenes seem driven by their mission statement and understand that they are not working to tell the story on behalf of indigenous peoples; rather, they are working diligently to facilitate the ownership of this history by indigenous peoples themselves. This community-centered outreach is necessary to tell fuller, truer stories about those who may have otherwise been left behind by history and to allow them to more accurately fill in the gaps of the narratives that have already been recorded.

The flagship project of Native Land is the interactive map on their homepage, which documents the entire globe, including arctic and Antarctic land masses. This colorful map that highlights different indigenous territories and their overlapping boundaries allows users to zoom in and out, enter their address for more information about the land their home is on, and, once those territories are clicked, offers information about the tribes and native peoples who once lived there with hyperlinks to current information about these groups. The map is dynamic, and it lets users engage in research that empowers them to continue on to learn more about who used to live where they live, as well as what other tribal lands surround those territories. It begins conversations about indigenous groups in the area that the user might not have been aware of before their search, tribes they had never heard of, or tribal presence that is much more deeply rooted than a user might have thought. And, beyond this revelatory information, Native Land’s map can provide information not just about those indigenous peoples’ histories and current circumstances, but also a way for those who have descended from settlers to attempt to pay personal reparations to the tribes who have an ancestral claim to the land on which the user currently lives and from which they benefit.

I discovered Native Land a few years ago and have used it to look into paying reparations to local indigenous peoples and to learn more about those who used to live where I grew up. Since happening upon the website, I have checked back every year around Thanksgiving and have watched it continue to grow with more information, more colorful territories popping up on the map, and a wider breadth of knowledge about the world outside of North and South America. To my delight, there have been other resources added to the website, such as growing territories, languages, and treaties lists; the expansion of the site into the mobile app environment to facilitate further outreach; and a teacher’s guide to help educators start conversations about colonialism and indigenous peoples’ treatment with their students. These resources consolidate information on the history of indigenous peoples and the effects of colonialism, as well as the sheer magnitude of the diversity between indigenous peoples; they allow users to understand that the phrases “indigenous peoples” or “native peoples” encompass a multitude of different cultures, rather than a single type of individual within a larger cultural group. These resources—especially the mobile app and the teacher’s guide—also allow for easy sharing of this information, whether it be by word of mouth between friends or in a classroom.

Overall, Native Land is an excellent example of a community-focused database for the cultural heritage of many groups that have, since the recent past, not been acknowledged or was thought to have been at risk of historical erasure. With a strong connection to their mission and a leadership composed of indigenous activists and allies, I can see them continuing to grow and updating their resources to keep their users well-informed about the valuable cultures of the peoples they document.


*Please note that all hyperlinks connect to their corresponding pages at and are present for the reader’s convenience.

The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project

by Kai Uchida

Project Website:

Digital Materials Repository:


Organized in 2012 by Gordon H. Chang and Shelly Fisher Fishkin, The Chinese Railroad Workers in North America Project is a project organized by scholars at Stanford University and several other schools across the United States, Canada, and China. It is a collective effort by the Asian American Studies community to render visible the stories, histories, and working conditions of Chinese immigrant workers who are primarily responsible for the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Spanning more than 2,000 miles, the Transcontinental Railroad (constructed between 1863-1869) connected the rapidly growing American West to the rest of the developing United States and radically transformed the American industrial economy. The project is broad in scope and includes a scholarly initiative to enrich the historiography of the Chinese Railroad Worker history and Chinese-American histories. There are two prominently featured initiatives that speak to the restorative advocacy work that the project sought to do. The first is the oral history virtual exhibit, and the second is the reconstructed interactive and virtual tour of notable construction sites along the Transcontinental Railroad.

Containing recorded interviews from 32 participants who are direct descendants of Chinese laborers who worked on the railroad, the oral interview series (and the accompanying essay from historian Connie Yu) conducted by the Chinese Railroad Workers Project work functions as a work of outreach in two ways. First, it is an active initiative by Stanford University to invite scholars and independent researchers to use these materials for their own historical research and writing – particularly those residing in China and scholars in the United States working in Asian American Studies and labor history. Because very little was written about or by Chinese migrant workers on the railroad at this time outside of timesheets, disciplinary records, and labor contracts, interviews with descendants provide valuable context and testimony that would otherwise be lost to time. Second, this work of outreach also functions as a gesture from Stanford University to the Chinese-American community in California and North America to discover and share a collective sense of history and ancestry. While this can be interpreted as an ancillary and symbolic overture relative to the mission of the project to spur further research into its repositories, it is notable because Leland Stanford himself was a vocal critic of the Chinese immigrants in the United States, often making racist and disparaging remarks even as he employed them, paying them far less than his already underpaid white laborers. Stanford University would be well aware of its image as an inclusive institution of higher education and how the current views of the university do not reflect those of its founder.

Another way that this project speaks to the renewed scholarly and public interest in social and labor histories manifests in its virtual tour of notable construction sites along the Transcontinental Railroad. Written by Hilton Obenzinger and designed in conjunction with Stephanie Yu and Gabriel Wolfenstein at the Center for Spatial and Textual Analysis (CESTA), it is the most public-facing digital exhibit produced by the Chinese Railroad Workers Project. As an exhibition geared more towards public outreach, its interactivity and visuals are immediately striking in their prominence. Featured most visibly through this online exhibit is the interactive overview map, which forges a path through California and the American West and updates in tandem with scrolling through the exhibit page, highlighting salient excavation sites key dates, and difficult construction sites in the development of the railroad that were instrumental to its creation. However, some of the HTML and CSS elements of its web design are rather sloppy and not optimized for easy visibility or navigation. Some of the text of the various photographic captions are hidden behind images, and the overview map – while able to be turned on and off — often takes up too much of the screen to be used in conjunction with the historical commentary and accompanying images. Nonetheless, it is a very impressive piece of visualization and interactive public history. The ways that it reconstructs various sites and provides juxtaposed photographs of past and present-day railroad sites does a wonderful job in illuminating not only the incredible logistics of railroad construction but also the incredibly dangerous and demanding work conditions under which these Chinese laborers operated.

Overall, this project is an extremely effective example of advocacy and outreach work by Stanford. The Chinese Railroad Workers Project of North America reaches its multiple audiences and seeks to engage them in ways that enrich Asian American history, connects with Chinese-American communities, and encourages researchers to use Stanford’s digital repositories. Its oral history exhibit is rich in testimony, and its visual reconstruction of the Transcontinental Railroad – while somewhat flawed in its execution – is an excellent companion to understanding the incredible work, exploitation, and human sacrifice that went into building this feat of infrastructural innovation. Combined with its robust lecture series and a steady stream of publications, it can be considered a successful advocacy project that lasted nearly 8 years.


Meet Dr. Learotha Williams, Associate Professor of African American and Public History at Tennessee State University, Founder of the North Nashville Heritage Project

by Alex Howard

“The North Nashville Heritage Project taught me that the old lady who fried chicken at the church was just as important as the lawyers who bailed the students who got arrested out of jail,” said Dr. Learotha Williams, referencing the Nashville sit-ins of 1960.

Dr. Williams started the North Nashville Heritage Project in 2010, along with students in his Introduction to Public History course at Tennessee State University. The project seeks to preserve the heritage of North Nashville, a community that has been an epicenter for Black business, culture, and education since the end of the Civil War. The North Nashville Heritage Project started when students asked Dr. Williams questions that he “quite honestly didn’t have an answer to.” His students were interested in the people that lived in the peripheries of North Nashville, beyond its historic Jefferson Street. Dr. Williams realized that “these people had stories that were important” and had not been documented. So Dr. Williams had his students engage in oral histories, encouraging them to “look where people haven’t been looking, ask the questions that haven’t been asked.”

Dr. Williams says the North Nashville Heritage Project “started off as something simple but it has grown into something that was completely unanticipated.” One of these unanticipated results is that “it connected groups that were previously working out there in the wilderness doing their own thing. Now they know about each other. In places where one group is struggling, another may have expertise to share.” One such group is a group of women church historians working to publish and preserve the histories of North Nashville’s Black churches. Dr. Williams says the knowledge and material the church historians have collected is extremely valuable because “the churches were often times the repositories of this community’s history.”

The North Nashville Heritage Project is committed to telling the history of North Nashville through the voices of people who have traditionally been ignored and marginalized. Dr. Williams especially encourages us to “pay attention to Black women in Nashville because we have not done right by them. Not by a long shot.” Intentional community outreach, like to North Nashville’s church historians, is essential to engaging and documenting marginalized voices in Dr. Williams’s work.

This photo was taken from a North Nashville Heritage Project Facebook post on September 25, 2019 highlighting a meeting of the National Association of Colored Women held in Nashville in 1897.


According to Dr. Williams, the most effective method of outreach is cultivating long term, mutually beneficial relationships in the community. This was especially important for him to do as he is not native to Nashville. To start building these relationships, Dr. Williams says it’s all about “getting to know people, figuring out their likes and dislikes, hanging out in the same places as them.” Most importantly, Dr. Williams argues that developing strong relationships requires us to listen to the communities we are engaging – “Listen to what they need and what they want to do. They might have a dream. You can help them pull that off.” If possible, Dr. Williams says it is important to make these relationships a permanent feature of our institutions.

Dr. Williams says it took five years of being in academia for him to start feeling free to do the kind of work he is really passionate about. Dr. Williams is originally from Florida and earned his PhD in African American History from Florida State University. He worked as a Historic Sites Specialist for the State of Florida and served as a professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah, Georgia where he started an African American Studies program. When he started in his discipline, Dr. Williams had to advocate for academia to embrace conducting oral histories and working with heritage societies as “real history.” He argues that practicing history in this way is difficult because “you have to learn everything that the ‘traditional’ historians know but you also have to learn to speak to folks who aren’t usually in the audience and more importantly listen to people who have traditionally been ignored.” When Dr. Williams came to Tennessee State University in 2009, he was able to engage at this level of historical practice through the North Nashville Heritage Project which he says “has made me a better historian and a better teacher.”

Archival Sources On the Street

by Jenny DeRocher

La Crosse, Wisconsin is a city of about 50,000 people. It sits between tree-covered bluffs and the winding Mississippi River. The city’s downtown area is like many other industrial Mississippi River towns with traces of train tracks, red brick buildings with ghost signs, curving one-way streets, and a large green park bordering the river with a walkway. There are coffee shops, every kind of bar you could ask for, and an old-timey ice cream and soda shop. There are oddities, too. For instance, there is an authentic riverboat sitting on the riverfront waiting to give tours up and down the river. Above it is a faded thirty-foot statue of an unidentified Native American man that, offensively, has no markings of the local Ho-Chunk Nation’s culture (though it is meant to be a tribute to their culture). Farther up the river on the north side of downtown sits the world’s largest six-pack, thanks to the city’s history with brewing beer.

When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, the charms of the historic downtown area gave me the same happiness as other students. However, the town-and-gown divide is felt fiercely in the La Crosse community. As soon as I became a Public and Policy History Major, I was immediately swept into the arms of Dr. Ariel Beaujot and her public history project Hear, Here. I was a newbie in the world of studying history and didn’t really understand what public history was—I just knew I wanted to go to school for library science after college. I didn’t know it at the time, but Hear, Here isn’t just a public history project, it’s a community archiving project that brings archival sources literally onto the street. Hear, Here is an oral history project that focuses on place-based stories that take place in the downtown area. It’s a grant-funded community project that is meant to bridge the town-and-gown divide, bringing voices of all kind to the forefront.

As students and community members working on the project in a classroom-setting, we had to network within the city to find at least two stories to contribute to the project. Once we found a story and an interviewee we wanted to pursue, we did primary and secondary research on the story. We interviewed the story-tellers as short oral histories with first-person narratives, and then edited these stories so they were 2-5 minutes long. Once they were edited, they were put into a phone system and assigned a phone number. Then, in the locations that these stories happened, we placed street signs that had the phone number for the story on them (see picture). People walking in the streets of La Crosse’s downtown area can see the sign, call the phone number, and listen to someone’s story of something that happened in the exact location they are standing. Some of the stories took place the same year we collected them. Others were from oral histories collected in the 1970s and took place as early as the 1880s. On the website, you can click on the gray icons in the interactive map, listen to stories, and read their transcripts. There are currently fifty stories in the project.

Photograph taken from an article written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.
Photograph taken from an article* written by the Wisconsin Humanities Council, a large funder of the project.

The primary and secondary research each interviewer does for the stories is collected in an archival box at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Murphy Library Special Collections and Area Research Center. This box also includes CDs with the full-length interview for each story and the edited version as well. For ongoing outreach, Ariel runs a Hear, Here Facebook page, where she keeps followers up to date with tours, story editions, and international Public History news. Every few months, she runs free walking and bike tours for the public to highlight specific stories. In early 2017, there was also a poetry contest, where community members submitted poems responding to stories. Winners received a cash prize and their poems are now also in the phone system for listeners to hear on the street. When you call the number, you can even leave a message to give feedback for the project or to connect with Ariel to record your own story; she’s always collecting new stories until the project’s end in 2020.

Hear, Here brings the history of the everyday person to light. We didn’t collect stories that support the already well-recorded narrative of the city. We collected stories about African American men getting wrongfully arrested in 2014, a woman chaining herself to a building to keep it from being demolished, a student from China excited to eat ice cream somewhere President Obama had reportedly been before, a Canadian tourist experiencing the Mississippi River for the first time, and a local Ho-Chunk man expressing his distaste for the offensive statue that’s supposed to represent him and his culture. We specifically tried to collect stories from voices that are often overlooked and have historically been underrepresented. Some stories are fun, others give voice to discrimination a community member has experienced. In either case, Hear, Here stories are concrete evidence that everyone experiences La Crosse in their own way and each one of these ways matters to the city’s larger narrative


Meet Dr. Kenvi Phillips, the first curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

Dr. Kenvi Phillips, curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

by Sony Prosper

I recently met with Dr. Kenvi Phillips to discuss advocacy and outreach in the context of a curator working in a research library. Kenvi comes from a rich cultural heritage and history background. She received a bachelor’s degree in History. She then earned a master’s degree in Public history and doctorate in history from Howard University in Washington D.C. She has worked in the Anheuser-Busch tour center, the National Park Service/National Archives for Black Women, the History Factory, the Moorland Spingarn Research Center, and now works as the first curator of Race and Ethnicity at the Schlesinger Library.

Located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Schlesinger Library is a research library at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University. The library’s holdings date from the founding of the United States to the present and include more than 3200 manuscript collections, 100,000 volumes of books and periodicals, and films, photos, and audiovisual material. The material documents the lives of women of the past and present and reflect a strong collection of resources for research on the history of women in the United States.

Hired in 2016, Kenvi is leading the charge to ensure the Library’s collections are representative of a diverse group of women and reflective of the full American experience. The charge is part of an increased interest in diversity and inclusion on the Harvard campus in the past several years. A big part of her job is building relationships and trust on-campus, in the Northeast region, and across the country. She is constantly traveling to meet with potential donors, planning workshops and public programming events, and performing personal outreach.

Meeting with potential donors includes making them aware of the value of their material, offering suggestions for where to place material, and creating a relationship built on honesty, integrity, and respect. Part of making donors aware of the value of their material, Kenvi notes, is “including their voice and values in the way we classify collections in our care.” “We owe it to ourselves,” she continues, “our children, to do this work.” Touching on the memory of her grandparent’s materials being thrown away, Kenvi is also adamant on offering suggestions outside of Schlesinger Library. “Part of the job is making sure the donors place their material anywhere other than leaving them in a basement,” she remarks.

At the time of our conversation, Kenvi is working on multiple workshops, public programming events, and on-campus and off-campus outreach efforts. The first effort is a workshop in conjunction with Spelman College, a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent in Atlanta. The second is a major public program in conjunction with the Museum of the National Center for Afro-American Artists in Boston. The third is a concerted effort to talk with Harvard alumni of color to fill institutional holes. The fourth is an effort to attend other events throughout the various centers, institutions and programs – the Hutchins Center, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Boston Poet Laureate Program – in the Greater Boston area. Kenvi also performs personal outreach when attending local Juneteenth programs, public library programs, and other community programs.

When asked about the importance of outreach and advocacy, Kenvi harkens back to the 1960s and 1970s. She notes it was a period where questions like “why are we not talking about women’s history or black history” entered the mainstream. She continues “we partly did not talk about them because they were not present in the “mainstream” archive, we did not have the documents to support the existence of various groups, and so did not have the memory of these groups.” She continues, “it is important to collaborate directly with potential donors and place the evidence of their existence here at Schlesinger or elsewhere through outreach.”

When asked about a project she has recently done, Kenvi mentions the planning of “The Difficult Miracle: The Living Legacy of June Jordan,” a joint project with Columbia University. The project is a celebration and discussion with activists, poets, scholars, and the public of June Jordan’s work. The discussion will be followed by a poetry slam and reception. One of the goals for the event is to provide an opportunity for face to face contact with the community outside of academia. Hopefully, this event creates a space where “we can learn together,” Kenvi pauses, “and provide more awareness of our collections.”

Stephen R. Curley, Tribal Archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Community

Stephen R. Curley is the archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Community and Government Center

by Jessica Hoffman

A vast complex sits apart from a main road on the Cape, housing the Mashpee Wampanoag Indian Community and Government Center. Nicknamed “The Castle,” the new building is a state-of-the-art asset, layered with modern architecture, security guards, and restricted access rooms. The building represents quite an upgrade from the Tribal Council’s previous home: a modest cottage donated by a local homeowner. But it can also seem an overwhelming, or even intimidating, change.

But tucked into the basement of The Castle is the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives, an archives whose outreach and advocacy success depends on building trust with the people it serves.

Stephen R. Curley is the tribe’s first archivist. When he was hired two years ago, the Tribe handed off a room full of boxes, some basic infrastructure, and a set of operational benchmarks. Since then, he has created a functioning archives from scratch: learning about his holdings, identifying their strengths and weaknesses, cataloguing, digitizing, and creating collections.

Curley admits to being surprised and impressed by his progress. “I’ve built it from the ground up. I’m still building. You need to build up an archive before you can do all the community outreach. That way you can show people what you are doing and how their materials will be treated…We want to have our materials in great condition before we display them. It makes a huge difference… People wonder what to do with their own collections. If they know us and trust us and know we will preserve their collections properly they will turn to us.”

While gaining physical and intellectual control of the Tribe’s holdings has been daunting but achievable, gaining the trust of the tribal community of the community has proven to be a much more difficult challenge.


Stephen R. Curley is the first archivist for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives

Originally from Arizona, Curley began his career as an anthropologist. However, he realized he wanted to focus his energies on something less esoteric and more concrete. He wanted to make a difference. In shifting to the field of archives, he hoped to work with tribes to develop and decolonize institutions, better suiting them to the needs of the tribes they serve.

For Curley, the Mashpee Wampanoag Archives was the perfect opportunity. “There wasn’t anything better I could have picked,” he declared. “Tribal archives help lead to tribal sovereignty…but the idea of a tribal archive is still nascent. Not many tribes have their own archives. And they are mostly community based. This is something that isn’t the norm.”

But, he is an outsider in the Mashpee Wampanoag community, a community with a hearty distrust of institutionalization and concerns about the historical exclusion, misrepresentation, and abuse of Native American tribes by academic institutions.

“People have a lot of mistrust and misconceptions… That trust dynamic… It’s a big piece in creating a viable archive. We want people to know that they can trust us to keep their family collections here and that we’ll try to curate them respectfully and we won’t just have other tribal members take things out. Because that’s happened before in other tribal settings.”


But the Tribal Archives relies on more than just community trust. Trust of the Tribal institutions and infrastructure is critical. And it is something Curley has worked hard to cultivate.

Curley has advocated for his archives since the moment he arrived, building relationships within the Tribal Government itself. He speaks regularly with the tribe’s chief, recording interviews for the future. He also uses these meetings to ground himself in the history of the tribe — a critical part of understanding his holdings and establishing himself as a trustworthy professional. He also works closely with the Tribe’s legal branch, assisting them with the research and records needed for their work.

Curley is also working hard to build relationships outside of the Mashpee community. He is actively reaching out to other institutions in the field, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts State Archives, Amherst and others, in hopes of building partnerships that will allow the tribe to reclaim some of their historical material via digital surrogates. Curley views these relationships as critical, not only to help grow the Archives’ holdings, but also to help reunite the sovereign history of Tribes.


The Archivist often does not have final say or control over the Tribal Archives programming ideas. All programs and events are subject to approval by the tribe’s governing infrastructure and press office. And, they often want to avoid anything politically charged. It’s a recurring theme with some of Curley’s outreach ideas.

“The inconvenient truth of archives is internal bureaucracy and politics… Even though we’re just dealing with paper, it can be very political. There’s a bureaucracy that we sort of operate within,” he said.

For example, the tribe recently passed the 40th anniversary of their well-publicized land claim lawsuit. Curley proposed an event to mark the occasion: a screening of a well-balanced video followed by a panel discussion with key players from the trial and historical experts. Unfortunately, his idea was vetoed by the PR arm of the tribe. “It kind of just boiled down to it was ‘too political’ and they don’t want to dredge up bad feelings,” Curley explained.


Curley’s best community outreach tool may be his newest employee, Wasutu-Nopi (also known as Denise Kersey. Her love of history and interest in her family’s past inspired her to apply for the Elder Apprentice position in the archives. “I like seeing my relatives way back when.” When she was just eight, her grandmother died. Through her work, Wasutu-Nopi discovered pictures of her grandmother in her early twenties and “…to get to see her then is… oh wow.”

Wasutu-Nopi is a tribal elder, a distinguished position in the tribal community. Even more, she is well liked and trusted in the community. As a result, her presence and participation in the archives raises awareness of the archives amongst the tribe. “Lots of people didn’t know what (the Archives) was or why it was needed. Or even where it was,” Wasutu-Nopi said. But her work with the Archive has gone a long way towards strengthening community bonds.


Thus-far, the Archives hasn’t done much community-facing outreach, focusing instead on intellectual control. However, both Curley and Wasutu-Nopi have lots of ideas for future programs.

Curley is planning to exhibit their holdings as much as possible. Both a blog and a Facebook page for the Archives have recently gone live. And Curley is committed to creating more online resources, such as an online catalogue of the Tribal Archives holdings. Currently, a small wall-mounted monitor near the Archives entrance cycles through a loop of various digitized images. Curley hopes to add more monitors, or perhaps iPads, with images throughout the building. Ideally, the pictures would not only cycle on a loop, but each picture would have description or content, identifying the people or activities seen in the photos. He’d also like to build a self-guided walking tour on a nearby trail, allowing people to wander the sites and view the timeline of the Wampanoag tribe and their history in Mashpee.

As October was Archives Awareness month, Curley also implemented several special programs to raise the Archives’ visibility. A temporary workstation installation in the rotunda of the Government Center, showcased the Archives’ catalog to a new audience. The Archives also collaborated with the Elders Department’s “Lunch & Learn” program, offering public tours of the space and holdings.

Curley wants his outreach efforts to not only build community trust, but also build the Tribal Archives holdings. The entire image collection of the Archives has been scanned and photographed. However, they have very little metadata.   Curley wants to crowdsource as much information as he can by inviting community members to a social night where they can view some photos on a big screen — and hopefully match names to faces and scenes to events. He also plans to throw digitization parties, allowing community members to bring their old photos to the event to be digitized, and hopefully also be allowed to keep digitized copies for the Archives as well.

Wasutu-Nopi also has a vision for the future of the archives. “I’d like to have kids know what went on in the past. I’d love to have groups of kids coming in and they could see what went on during the Federal Recognition Process. It’s not an easy thing to understand. But they could sit around the table and look at pictures and connect. They could see how we make dreamcatchers, earrings, baskets, and we could tell them stories of the past.”

A lot of people in the community have “a notion that larger institutions don’t care about them.” says Curley. “We can change that… It’s a community archive, not just a governmental archive. It belongs to them. We exist to serve the tribe. And they have an expectation for us to do right by them and to be of use.”

To learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Archives visit:



To learn more about the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s land claim lawsuit read:

Mashpee Indians: Tribe on Trial by Jack Campisi

KJ Rawson, Founder of the Digital Transgender Archive

KJ Rawson, Founder of the Digital Transgender Archive (DTA)

by Erica J Hill

K.J. Rawson is the director of the Digital Transgender Archive, an online platform providing digital versions of transgender historical records, born-digital records, and holdings of other repositories around the world. Despite not having professional training in archival studies, he took several Library and Information Science classes in his graduate program. K.J. Rawson is a professor of Rhetoric, English, and Gender Studies at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts. He has a Master’s Degree from University of Colorado-Boulder in English Literature focusing on Queer Theory and Critical Race Studies. He received his PhD from Syracuse University in Composition and Cultural Rhetoric.

The inspiration for the archives began when K.J. met historian Nick Matte, at a conference and discussed the challenges they faced when researching transgender history in archives. These challenges include the repositories knowledge of their materials and the environment of the reading room. The archives addresses the barriers in terms of accessibility. Archives may have documents that pertain to transgender history, however, it may be difficult for one to travel to a physical location and find materials.

The DTA functions as a union catalog, virtually bringing together materials that are relevant to the understanding and study of transgender histories. As the collecting policy states, the term ‘transgender’ is used to refer to a “broad and inclusive range of non-normative gender practices.” As such, the DTA considers transgender as a practice rather than an identity, allowing the archives to include a broad range of trans-historical and trans-cultural materials. The focus is on materials created before the year 2000.

What is special about the DTA is that, although there are no physical archives, K.J. has created a lab where student volunteers work to digitize and describe materials. Students also participate in the archives’ social media presence. The posts highlight materials in the archives, including newly added collections. K.J. uses his network of archivists, professors, and researchers, whom he has met at conferences and speaking engagements, to acquire materials for the archives. He uses skype and email the most when working with collaborators.

With a grant from the American Council of Learned Societies, he has hired a fulltime project coordinator to oversee the day-to-day activities of the archives. The College of the Holy Cross where KJ teaches, also supports the mission of the archives. By incorporating the materials from the DTA in his classes, he demonstrates its importance as an educational tool. Involving students in using the archives has led to more college support and feedback on the usability of the online platform and has helped streamline the functionality of the site.

The archives has a 10-member advisory board including individuals in the trans community who are located within and outside of Massachusetts. Part of the success of the archives is K.J.’s willingness to ask dedicated archivists and collaborators for their advice and insight. He believes that now is a good opportunity to make the resource available to educate people and organizations about the issues that transgender communities face.

The challenges of the archives include, meeting the expectations of stakeholders and completing projects with grant funding. While people from all over the world can access the materials online (provided they have a device), most information and description of holdings are in English. Efforts have been made to acquire collections in German, Spanish, Portuguese and several other languages. Another challenge involves acquiring materials without knowledge of who holds copyright. This prompted K.J. and his team to create a policy where materials that violate someone’s copyright will be taken down immediately. Direct materials from creators are preferred because of these copyright regulations.

The archives is an advocacy tool in itself to aid trans communities that are committed to education as a tool for social change. It exists to transform people’s perspectives of trans communities in history and present-day. It also has the capacity to inspire other archives to represent trans people in their own holdings. The possibility of physical exhibits based on the materials found online creates a push for users to advocate for the acquisition of materials related to trans history and culture. This push enables trans related museum projects to begin in non-exclusively trans institutions.

One project K.J. is looking forward to the digitization of a collection out of Berlin and establishing connections and relationships with archivists and trans community members in Venezuela.

To browse the Digital Transgender Archive, click here. To read K.J.’s research, including journal articles and a scrollable timeline of the history the term “transgender,” visit his website, here.

[edited from original posting, 11-11-17]

Ed Summer, Unofficial Curator of Experiments

Ed Summers, Lead Developer, Maryland Institute of Technology

by Victoria Jackson

In a world full of constant content generation, how can library and information science professionals convince their communities, their institutions, and the world at large of their importance? It is a question of growing importance within the field, given the number of technological advancements made seemingly every month. Enter Ed Summers, Lead Developer at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), who has found ways to incorporate user-driven, community-based archival projects throughout his career.

Three years ago, Ed left his position working with digital preservation at the Library of Congress. There, his job included finding ways to preserve digital content. In his current role at the MITH department, he is focused on providing content creators and users with methods of communication. Ed works with both other software developers and researchers, and while his job title is “lead developer,” he does not consider his work as solely technical. When the current director (who is relatively new in his role) came in, he asked if they wanted to change their titles to “better reflect what they do.” Naturally, Ed pondered what he would change his to. He found a title on Wikipedia from nineteenth-century scientists who called themselves “curators of experiments.” Ed is unofficially one of them.

For the last two years, Ed’s main experiment has been Documenting the Now, a “tool and a community based around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.” Ed serves as the Technical Lead for the project, alongside a host of other archivists from the University of Maryland, the University of California at Riverside, and Washington University in St. Louis. Designed to “explore building tools and community of practice around social media archiving—specifically oriented around the ethics of social media archiving,” DocNow was inspired by the reaction to the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. At the time, Ed was attending a Society of American Archivists meeting during the height of the Ferguson protests. He and fellow archivist Bergis Jules wondered what people would remember about this event in the future. They collected 13 million tweets in the weeks surrounding Brown’s death, started writing about the data collection and analyzation; archival and public interest ensued. For Ed, it was important the project have a home that was physically close to its origin. The project came to reside at St. Louis University.

DocNow is a tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

DocNow aims to provide practitioners who wanted to preserve these moments with an opportunity to do so. The project had two initial deliverables: a white paper about the ethics issues and a digital tool that would allow people to collect twitter posts. However, while working on the project, questions regarding data sharing and consent arose. The project shifted gears: the new objective became to build a tool that “connected curators and archivists with content creators” and “bring the two into a more meaningful communication.” DocNow puts the focus on content creators and the relationship they have with each other.

As you can imagine, receiving a grant from the Mellon Foundation went a long way to advocate for the importance of the work Ed and his colleagues do. In between such prestigious projects, MITH participates in nontraditional advocacy programs, such as a series of digital dialogues in which the school invites researchers from outside its own community to discuss their work. This interdisciplinary relationship is what drives Ed’s work. Ed believes his most important constituents are the university’s students, faculty, and community—in that order. Working in a university can sometimes involve what he refers to as the “town-gown” divide; ordinary community members and members of the university’s community. His goal—which should be the goal of all archivists—is to bridge the gap between the two. Ed sets an excellent precedent for how to accomplish this goal.

Meet Bergis Jules!

Bergis Jules, University and Political Papers Archivist at the University of California, Riverside

by Jessica Purkis

Recently, I had the chance to catch up with Bergis Jules, the University and Political Papers Archivist at the University of California, Riverside. Bergis manages UC Riverside’s institutional records, political papers collections, and African American collections. While supporting the university’s administration and community outreach efforts, Bergis documents campus history and builds collections around local, regional, and state political organizations in California. As part of his work, he is constantly reaching out and educating to build better donor relations and more diverse collections.

Bergis views his work in archives as a way to build ties between communities and ties between community members. He believes that archives and cultural heritage materials can bring people together, especially when those materials are “put into the hands of those who teach.” Without enhanced accessibility, some users might never encounter these materials (or communities) at all. To build ties, outreach and advocacy are essential. By creating a space for conversation, an archivist can build trust and discover a community’s particular needs. The most important aspect of any outreach or advocacy project, Bergis reminds me, is “putting people and communities first.” No matter the medium, digital or old-fashioned face-to-face, conversation comes first. Bergis believes that collaborating and conversing with smaller communities holding diverse materials is the best form of advocacy that an archivist can perform at a large repository. The best way to do this, he adds, is to learn to listen to the communities that keep the materials.

Because listening facilitates collaboration, Bergis suggests that listening itself is a great way to find new strategies for outreach and advocacy. An archivist can learn a lot from other projects by asking about what has worked and what hasn’t, and then seeing what spaces may be left behind that provide new project ideas. Bergis has had a lot of success learning about new projects through networks of archivists on Twitter. According to Bergis, following the networks on Twitter is a really effective way to find out about and collaborate on all kinds of projects, including grassroots archiving. Bergis himself is very active on Twitter, and can be found at @BergisJules.

In the past, Bergis has helped build collaborative communities around collections from underrepresented groups. He has worked at the Black Metropolis Research Consortium at the University of Chicago and also at the District of Columbia Africana Archives Project at George Washington University. At the BMRC, he was Project Director, and helped create a digital repository of collections documenting Chicago-area African American and African diasporic materials. Bergis wrote a grant to jumpstart the DC Africana Archives Project, increasing access to collections documenting the history of the African diaspora in the DC area. Both projects have been incredibly successful in enhancing accessibility to materials. More recently, Bergis has helped develop Documenting the Now, a tool for archiving tweets, to help document diverse perspectives on social justice issues.

DocNow is a tool and a community developed around supporting the ethical collection, use, and preservation of social media content.

Bergis therefore brings a long-standing commitment to community-building and diversity to his work at UC Riverside’s Archives, located in the UC Riverside Library. The library holds more than 275 manuscript collections, including personal, family, and organizational records. The university collects materials that document a wide variety of experiences in the US, particularly in the Inland Empire Region, an area in inland southern California east of Los Angeles. Some of the strengths of Riverside’s special collections lie in the history and culture of the Inland Empire region, Latin American history and culture, and ethnic studies, which document African American, Native American, Asian American, and Chicano/Latino experience.

UC Riverside currently spearheads the Inland Empire Memories consortium, a group of cultural heritage institutions located in the Inland Empire. Bergis is the Project Coordinator there. He writes grants and manages the program day-to-day in conjunction with the other member institutions. Because the consortium was established recently, right now Bergis spends much of his time listening to the consortium’s members, gathering data along the way about their projects and interests, their resources, and their ideas for later programs. Bergis is currently helping to facilitate the Sherman Indian High School Museum’s project to digitize some of its collections and provide its users with new levels of access.

In future, the Inland Empire Memories institutions intend to collaborate to share funding, develop access tools and programs for digital collections, and build relationships with other community institutions. The Inland Empire Memories mission is “to identify, preserve, interpret, and share the rich cultural legacies of the Inland Empire’s diverse communities” by enhancing access to cultural heritage materials. It emphasizes materials documenting “peoples and groups underrepresented in the historical record.” Increasing diversity in the archival record, I have come to find, is something of a theme in Bergis’ work.

It’s through listening that Bergis has had such success collaborating with others to promote access to a more diversified historical record. I expect that the Inland Empire Memories Consortium will become as active as the Black Metropolis Research Consortium and the DC Africana Archives Project in enhancing access to new materials. I hope to hear about many more projects from its members in the future!

Jade Pichette, Volunteer & Community Outreach Coordinator

Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator, CLGA

by S.S.

Meet Jade Pichette, Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator for the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). Although Pichette’s background in social work might make them an outlier in the archival field, they see this atypical professional experience as an asset. Pichette’s work in nonprofits, and especially their work in anti-oppression advocacy and education, strongly informs their approach to archival work. In pursuit of an organizational mission to serve as a resource and catalyst for progress for LGBTQ+ people, the CLGA works to collect, preserve, and make available materials created by or about the LGBT community. Through their outreach work, Pitchette works to ensure that CLGA’s mandate: to preserve the history of marginalized people – is fulfilled in a way that is equitable and inclusive.

When asked what their ‘average’ day at CLGA looks like, Pitchette’s response resonates with those familiar with community organizing: “I don’t have one.” CLGA’s outreach efforts and volunteer activities bring the community into the archives through diverse and dynamic programming, from leading neighborhood walking tours to curating themed exhibitions.

Pitchette’s work has allowed the CLGA to develop strong partnerships with community organizations, including with the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, which has recently worked with the archives to create timeline of LGBTQ history in education. This material reached the Federation’s 7,000 members across Canada. Going forward, the archives and the Federation plan to collaboratively design workshops to help teachers integrate more LGBTQ history into the elementary level curriculum are underway. This partnership harnesses the strengths of both sides – the Federation has curriculum design expertise; CLGA brings their LGBTQ history expertise – and is focused through Pitchette’s anti-oppression framework, emphasizing an equitable lens that traces history beyond dominant, mainstream narratives.

Without outreach that is “explicitly centered in anti-oppression and anti-racism,” says Pitchette, community archives can be vulnerable to “reproducing only the perspectives of those who work or volunteer,” and in turn representing only those perspectives in collections. By reaching out to non-white and non-cis-gendered communities in acquisition, and by helping update collections policies to demonstrate an explicit interest in records from intersectionally marginalized communities, Pitchette has worked to ensure collections represent a diversity of viewpoints. Aside from collection development work, Pitchette also focuses on the reference interactions patrons’ have with CLGA’s board members, staff, and volunteers on a daily basis. By instituting mandatory diversity and inclusion sessions and a strong volunteer policy, Pitchette aims to foster a welcoming environment at CLGA, and create an organizational culture that values inclusion.

CLGA currently seeks proposals for a consultant to aid in their selection of a new name. Their current name – the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives – can be seen as at best unwelcoming, and at worst exclusionary, of people who don’t identify as specifically “lesbian” or “gay.” CLGA’s stated goal of the upcoming name selection indicates a desire to “better reflect [their] mandate to support the archives of LGBTQ2+ people.” This name change can itself be seen as a form of outreach, aiming to identify the organization to those whose history it seeks to preserve.

Ultimately, Pitchette sees inclusive outreach as imperative to the survival of community archives, as well as one of the major challenges in the archival field. They feel that the profession as a whole needs to come to think of outreach as integral to the work of archives – and as something that is directly connected to funding. New professionals coming through MLIS programs can help push the conversation to the fore of the profession, pushing for recognition of outreach as a necessary component of a functioning archives. Outreach is essential to help people – especially marginalized people – see that their histories are valuable, an essential step towards preserving those stories for the future.