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The City of Portland, Oregon

Auditor Mary Hull Caballero

Promoting open and accountable government

Archivists tackle white supremacy, other issues, at national conference in Portland

The Society of American Archivists held their conference in Portland the last week of July. This was a big deal since it is the first time they met in Portland and was only the second time meeting in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle 1990). Apparently, archivists love Portland because the registration numbers were the second highest ever – 2,100 people in all, including many international archivists.

This year’s theme was Archives 2017: alike/different and it served to focus discussions on topics such as diversity, inclusion, ethics, outreach, education, activism, and collaboration. The last day of the conference was set aside as an opportunity to invite the community to attend and present alongside archivists, with the intent to provide both groups with a forum to learn from each other. The keynote speaker was Walidah Imarisha, who spoke to the role of archives in realizing our whole selves – not just who we are, but who we were, how we got here, and who we will be in the future. One of her quotes gets to the core of what ARM has been working on for many years, “How do we make sure this information is accessible?  How do we take this knowledge that people actually want – not what we assume they want – out into the community where folks can use it and engage with it?”  Some of the community groups that were involved: hops and brewing (OSU has one of the first beer archives in the nation), Vanport Mosaic, Don’t Shoot Portland, and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The proximity of the conference meant that all Archives and Records Management staff attended sessions. I co-chaired the Host Committee and chaired/presented on Portland Archives and Records Center’s artist-in-residence program, while Mary Hansen gave a presentation on documenting activism in the public record. Some of the sessions attended by staff:

  • Radical Empathy in Archival Practice: a hybrid lightning talk-facilitated dialogue provided a forum for discussing the ways in which our profession can "center radical empathy and obligations of care."
  • The State of State Government Electronic Records: progress in state archives and records programs in dealing with electronic records.
  • Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in Archives: Developing a Plan of Action: In the words of Auditor’s Office employee Max Johnson: “[focus on the] de-centralization of the white experience in the record. The chair of the session made the discussion interactive and invited participants to develop strategies for addressing common issues that arise from white supremacy and oppression in the US…. We then discussed what it looks like to engage an inclusive model of record keeping, archives creation, donor relations, access controls, and other archival/records management concepts.”
  • Local government records section’s panel discussion about documenting activism in the public record:  Mary Hansen’s focus was on the documentation that is naturally captured through the work that City employees do (minutes, communications, meetings, laws).  A presentation by an archivist from the New Orleans City Archives discussed the removal of confederate statues in the middle of the night by city employees wearing ski masks so community members didn’t recognize them. A topic that would soon after become a headlining topic throughout the world.
  • Representation without Leadership: Assessing Stress and Gender in the Archival Workplace:  In the words of Max Johnson: “It turns out that archivists as a profession are very, very depressed. Much higher than the national average for other professions; we are also much more compassionate. This data was analyzed and the results contextualized by a clinical psychologist, so I felt the information presented was solid. Other aspects of the study had to do with feelings of stress based on what gender your manager is and differences in stress levels by gender based on the type of work and which work caused who the most stress. Very interesting to think about how we all react differently to different challenges in the workplace.  Something important to always keep in mind.”  Diana’s note: ARM is obviously bucking the trend….

If you are interested in reading some of the handouts given to attendees of the Identifying and Dismantling White Supremacy in the Archives, please visit these links:

Peggy McIntosh -

Frances E. Kendall –

Dismantling White Supremacy poster

--City Archivist Diana Banning