Anne Gilliland: Book on Global Archival Practices Honored by ASA

Australian Society of Archivists recognizes “Research in the Archival Multiverse” with Mander Jones Award.

Updated January 31, 2018

As director of the Archival Education and Research Initiative (AERI), Anne Gilliland leads a consortium that is committed to shaping archival scholarship for the next generation of scholars, practitioners, and other experts throughout the world. The Archival Multiverse is a concept that describes the complex and contingent nature of archival studies today, with its need to understand and delineate the recordkeeping practices and needs of all societies and communities.

“The definition that we use came out of AERI itself,” says Gilliland, a professor of archival studies at UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. “We wrote a foundational piece as a group a few years before that was published in The American Archivist, which was about how we could pluralize archival education. The original definition we used in the article is ‘the pluralism of evidentiary text, memory-keeping practices, and institutions; bureaucratic and personal motivations, community perspectives and needs; and cultural and legal constructs with which archival professionals and academics must be prepared though graduate education and through research and development to engage.’ Basically, what it’s saying is that there are many different factors at work in different contexts that must be taken into account. We don’t want to generalize about those factors or assume that there is equity between them.”

“It’s never one-size-fits-all,” Gilliland notes. “Because we work in cultural and memory fields and culture and memory are inherently political, it’s important that we are aware of the power of archives and archivists to determine what is remembered and what forgotten. It is about trying as much as possible to be transparent to the future about our actions and the ways in which our own value perspectives have shaped what is preserved and how it has been represented.”

Since its publication last year, Gilliland’s co-edited book, “Research in the Archival Multiverse” (S. McKemmish and A. Lau, Co-eds. Victoria: Monash University Press, 2016), has been lauded as the seminal text on research challenges and strategies for archival scholars in a globalized world. The volume – with numerous contributions from UCLA colleagues and alumni – has been recognized with the Mander Jones Award from the Australian Society of Archivists.

UCLA Professor of Information Studies Anne Gilliland

Gilliland says that the range of contributors to the book, including feminist, indigenous, and post-colonial scholars speak to the fact that, “Our research has to be tailored to meet different cultural and societal contexts. It took almost four years to put this together and to try to present [a diversity of] approaches that didn’t impose a single world view. We asked each author to write about their own work using and explaining their own terms and vocabulary so that we didn’t impose one overarching perspective or epistemology. We sought out scholars at various points in their careers and from a range of backgrounds who were doing some of the very best state-of-the-art research relating to archives and recordkeeping more broadly in different parts of the world, in different areas of application, from human rights to systems design to geology.

“This book was designed to address an important gap in the field of archival studies, but it is relevant to research and research design in many other disciplines as well,” she says. “The archival turn has affected many fields, especially those in the social sciences, humanities, and the arts.”

Gilliland and her co-editors and contributors acknowledge the unprecedented growth of archival studies within the past 15 years. She notes that a “global research front… is really forwarding research and education in archival studies.”

“One of the things we noted was a big lack in the field [of] texts that directly addressed methods and research design,” she says. “It’s a fairly new field in the academy and people were trying to make the translation between standard methods-designed texts and the kinds of applications that would be appropriate in our field. The book discusses and evaluates a wide range of methodological implementations, adaptations, and innovations in the context of actual research projects.

“The second issue we ran into was that archival ideas and practices as well as legal systems, are very different in different countries and jurisdictions. And there are also many variants within countries and jurisdictions. Because the largest body of research literature is in English and other Western languages, not all of these are equally well understood or even appreciated. Similarly, there are peoples and communities whose cultures operate within intangible as well as tangible memory structures, especially Indigenous peoples or those who have lost their tangible heritage through conflict and dispossession.”

“Culturally-sensitive management and the return of materials from archives to populations from which they were appropriated is increasingly recognized as a moral imperative,” Gilliland notes. “If we think about for example, Indigenous Australian populations where so many artifacts, stories, and music or data about them was collected by so-called explorers, collectors, anthropologists, or ethnomusicologists, those materials are being managed more and more in consultation with their source communities and, when mutually agreed upon, returned in original or digital form to them.

“This respectful, participatory, consensus-based approach between the people who hold the material and the people who are the source community for that material is key to moving forward and addressing traumatic histories of oppression, appropriation, and even genocide. And it can change a lot about how the practices classically have worked inside the archives as well as how archival research has been conducted.”

Gilliland says that the book’s contributors are “many of the most senior authors in the field, as well as the brightest upcoming young scholars.” A number of UCLA alumni have contributed their expertise to “Research in the Archival Multiverse,” including Amelia Acker, Kimberly Anderson, Anthony W. Dunbar, Joy R. Novak, Joanna Steele, Kelvin L. White and Eunha (Anna) Youn. UCLA IS chair Jonathan Furner and faculty member Michelle Caswell have also made contributions to the volume.

Professor Gilliland directs the Archival Studies specialization at UCLA’s Department of Information Studies. She also directs the Center for Information as Evidence (CIE) at UCLA. On Jan. 10, she organized a symposium on “Refugee Rights and Records” in collaboration with CIE,  the University of Liverpool Centre for Archive Studies and the Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archive at Central European University in Budapest. Participants included representatives from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, the Central European Helsinki Committee, and the Syrian Archive project. These organizations will present a series of forums around the world in key locations that are grappling with refugee flows as part of their research project, “Records and ICT at the Boundaries of the State: Refugee Needs, Rights and Uses.”