Archives and the Importance of Preserving Identity

This past Tuesday, my ASTU 100 class participated in a showcase for archival research. One of the biggest takeaways from this research that my classmates and I have done in the past couple of weeks, is how much information one can find within the archives(and I believe that this is a much shared opinion among all of us). The histories and narratives are immense, detailed, and very well preserved, and I have been blown away by the ability of those who work and have worked in the Rare Books and Special Collection archives here at UBC.

An idea of archives that is striking a big chord in my head recently is an archival collection’s ability to really portray the identity of individuals. For an example, two groups in my class presented their findings on Jack Shadbolt,  a well renowned artist who made a huge contribution to art in all the places that he resided in and visited over his lifetime (between England, British Columbia, France, and New York, to name a few). His fond contains, as I understand, a collection of various journals, sketchbooks, and other keepsakes that he accumulated over his lifetime. I find that these items, although they may not be his best, most popular, or proudest of creations, are of utmost importance as they give us a view into the fundamentals of his artistry – that being his inspirations, thought processes, and characteristics. I believe that these documents shape his identity more than any of his vastly distributed masterpieces could. It is in Shadbolt’s collection that I value archives as a facet into the real lives,(apposed to their more material fame) of any renowned personages that would otherwise be discarded or forgotten if their was no organized collection made.

Elizabeth Kaplan’s, “We Are What We Collect, We Collect What We Are,” is a very thorough source with many in depth observations to the role of Archives in this idea representing identity, and even further explores the debates around identity, down to the politics of identity. I recommend that you take a look!





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