How does it feel to create a record? What personal impact does it have to represent yourself in a record after being misrepresented in records created about you by someone else? Employing a participatory action research (PAR) research design alongside two community archives, this article answers these questions through empirical interview and focus group data collected from people who told and recorded their stories as part of participatory projects led by the Texas After Violence Project (TAVP) and the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA). Across interview and focus group data with storytellers from both SAADA and TAVP, many participants discussed how they were motivated to tell and record their stories for themselves, as part of their own personal journey, rather than solely for their interviewers or future listeners. At SAADA, participants discussed how storytelling enabled them to place their own personal stories within larger community narratives, not only validating the importance of their own stories but revealing the importance of culture, identity, and community in their own lives. At TAVP, participants described the process of record creation as a “cleansing” release from the trauma of incarceration. Across organizations, participants describe how telling and recording their stories for inclusion in an archives catalyzes an ontological shift in the storyteller, changing their way of being in the world and how they see their place within it. Based on these findings, the article proposes three new theoretical concepts: archival autonomy, self-validating records, and radical record creation. Archival autonomy enables marginalized people to reclaim their stories after experiences of symbolic annihilation and narrative dehumanization. Self-validating records are created in order to acknowledge and affirm the life experiences of people who have been symbolically annihilated by dominant recordkeeping practices. And finally, radical record creation describes those documentation efforts that shift power from those in positions of dominance to those in positions of vulnerability, that increase archival autonomy, and that wrest narrative control back into the hands of those from whom it has been taken, extracted, or denied. The article asserts that records can be self-validating even if no one else ever listens, uses, or activates them; their first impact is on the creators themselves.
Caswell, Michelle and Robinson-Sweet, Anna
"“It Was as Much for Me As for Anybody Else”: The Creation of Self-Validating Records,"
Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies: Vol. 10, Article 10.
Available at: https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/jcas/vol10/iss1/10