UCLA IS Celebrates Practice and Research Around Community-Based Archives

Professor Michelle Caswell co-founded the South Asian American Digital Archive in 2008 to help communities recognize “History from Different Angles," shared at a symposium on Feb. 23 at UCLA.

“History from Different Angles,” was presented by the South Asian American Digital Archive (SAADA) at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Library on Feb. 23. The daylong symposium shared the work of the community-based digital archive co-founded in 2008 by Michelle Caswell, associate professor of UCLA’s Department of Information Studies, and Samip Mallick, SAADA’s executive director and former director of the Ranganathan Center for Digital Information at the University of Chicago Library.

Wasserman Dean Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, UCLA IS Professor Michelle Caswell (at center), and Karen Umemoto, director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center, welcomed attendees to “History From a Different Angle” at UCLA’s Charles E. Young Library.

Professor Caswell is the creator of the UCLA Community Archives Lab and teaches a course in community-based archives in the UCLA Department of Information Studies. She spoke of the theory of “symbolic annihilation” as described by communications scholar George Gerbner, which Caswell said is what happens when marginalized communities are absent from narratives.

“We think about community archives as collections of material gathered by members of a given community [with] some community members exercising some level of control,” she said. “That is a definition from UK-based scholars. I think in the American context we can add to it that community-based archives form around marginalized identities and that autonomy participation are key.”

Mallick held a conversation with Surinder Pal Singh, grandson of Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, a leader of the Ghadar Party, an Indian revolutionary organization founded in San Francisco in the early 20thCentury and Joti Singh, Gyanee’s great-granddaughter and Singh’s niece. Joti Singh, who is the artistic director of the Duniya Dance and Drum Company, spoke about learning of her great-grandfather and performed a dance inspired by his story.

Eric Saund, grandson of Dalip Singh Saund, spoke with Manan Desai, assistant professor of American culture at the University of Michigan, about Saund’s grandfather, Dalip Singh Saund, the first Indian American to serve in the U.S. Congress. Rani Bagai, the granddaughter of Kala Bagai, spoke with Professor Caswell and Kritika Agarwal, managing editor of Perspectives on History, a publication of the American Historical Association. In 1915, Kala Bagai was one of the first South Asian women to emigrate to the United States. Lydia Wassan, the granddaughter of early yoga practitioner Yogi Wassan Singh conversed with Philip Deslippe, a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara; and Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah, DDS, a Sikh philanthropist and community leader, was interviewed by Sharon Sekhon of The Studio for Southern California History.

Samip Mallick, SAADA executive director and co-founder, held a conversation with Surinder Pal Singh (at left) and his niece Joti Singh, whose ancestor, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee was a leader of the Ghadar Party in San Francisco in the 1900s.

Mallick recognized the family members, descendants, and community members who make SAADA’s collections possible, with their impact on “California’s story and the American story.”

“What is exciting for us today is we get to hear from the family members of these early immigrants – grandchildren and great-grandchildren who have been the keepers of these archives,” he said. “It is because of them that we get to explore their stories.”

Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, Wasserman Dean of the UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, is a scholar of immigration and co-director of the Institute for Immigration, Globalization, and Education at UCLA. He commended the work of SAADA, and underscored its value in changing the current political and social climates around immigration in the United States.

“Immigration is a shared condition of humanity,” Suárez-Orozco noted. “[It] explains how we came to be the country we are today. We can think of immigration diachronically – that is, the historical nature of immigration as it unfolded in different contexts. It is by addressing the fundamentals of immigration as a shared condition that we endeavor to lower the temperature to understand the stories of our immigrant ancestors back then, and in the here and now.”

To learn more about the South Asian American Digital Archive, visit this link.

For coverage of “History From a Different Angle” by India Abroad, visit this link.


Above: Joti Singh, artistic director of the Duniya Dance and Drum Company, performs a dance inspired by her great-grandfather, Bhagwan Singh Gyanee, who was a leader of the Ghadar Party, an Indian revolutionary organization founded in San Francisco in the early 20th Century.