Cultural Humility as a Framework for Anti-Oppressive Archival Description

  • Jessica Tai Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Abstract

This essay argues for the necessity for mainstream archival institutions to audit for oppressive, euphemistic or misrepresentative language within their archival description, and will advocate for the redescription of collections to be undertaken through a framework of cultural humility. Prioritizing critical self-reflection, institutional accountability, and by recognizing and challenging power imbalances, archivists can facilitate the rectification of false historical narratives and oppressive language that continues to be created and remain in the collection description of mainstream archives. This article will examine what steps are necessary to describe and re-describe material through a lens of cultural humility, foregrounding the development of an ethical descriptive practice as an iterative and cyclical process rather than one that is linear with a finite date of achievement. The resulting recommendations will serve as a call for archivists and archival institutions to continually develop a descriptive practice that is transparent, critically self-reflective and community-centered.

Pre-print first published online 10/01/2020 

Published
2020-10-01