Curated by Julia Corrin, Emily Davis, and Kate Barbera of the University Archives, “What We Don’t Have” is an informative call-to-action about the lack of diversity in institutional archive collecting, while identifying the gaps in our own collections. Full exhibit statement is below. Help us create a more inclusive archive reflective of the Carnegie Mellon community. Your feedback is crucial.
What We Don’t Have: Confronting the Absence of Diversity in the University Archives
At Carnegie Mellon, the University Archives are responsible for stewarding the university’s history and legacy. In the past, we have done this largely by collecting and preserving records, materials, and artifacts created by departments, programs, and “notable” CMU faculty and alumni. These practices have led to the development of a University Archives that are predominantly white and male. It would be easy for us to assert that the University Archives lack diversity because, for much of its history, CMU lacked diversity, but this assessment erases our responsibility as archivists and, more importantly, the experiences of generations of members of the CMU community.
People of many colors, creeds, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds have been members of our community since Carnegie Mellon first opened its doors in 1905 as Carnegie Technical Schools. It is our short-sightedness as archivists and willingness to adhere to the dominant top-down narrative that has helped erase countless experiences and stories from our collective memories and the official record of the institution.
Archives are not neutral.
We recognize that the University Archives fail to represent the experiences and contributions of many of you, and that must change. As archivists, our work is often behind-the-scenes, mired in the jargon and processes of our profession. We are trained to be unbiased, objective stewards, but ultimately we have prioritized some stories over others. We acknowledge the myth of archival neutrality, and we vow to do better.
With this exhibit, we aim to expose our work and explore the absences in the University Archives - the voices and experiences we know are missing. These are stories that people are looking for, and we are unable to tell. We recognize that these are not the only gaps in our collections, and we acknowledge that the gaps represent members of our community who have been silenced.
The process of researching this exhibit has been enlightening and affirming. We have discovered avenues to explore and individuals to contact, and we have uncovered aspects of CMU’s history we were unaware of. Most importantly, we’ve been reminded that the Carnegie Mellon community is full of bright, passionate, and tireless individuals working to make their world a better place. We have a long way to go, but we can see the path ahead of us.