Much of our understanding of the past is based on archives, and who assembles those records, and decides what’s worthy of protection. A new project at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Southern Historical Collection (SHC) is making archive creation more accessible by offering resources that can easily launch community partners on memory projects. Called Archivist in a Backpack, it supplies compact kits with basic tools for oral history and material archives.
“There’s this sense that there’s something arcane and a little mysterious about what it takes to preserve history,” Josephine McRobbie told Hyperallergic. McRobbie is the community archivist at SHC in the Wilson Special Collections Library. “Our experience is that history harvests are often the starter material that fuels larger archives aspirations in communities, and the backpacks contain what a citizen-historian might like to have to get started.”
One kit is specifically for oral history interviews. While it has the expected audio recorder and tripod, it further assists DIY historians through interview question cards and a training guide from the Southern Oral History Program, as well as thank you cards to send participants. Another is designed for archival preservation and digitization of ephemera, whether photographs, letters, or diaries. A flatbed scanner, thumb drive for files, acid-free sleeves and folders, and cotton gloves for handling fragile photographs, are joined by user-friendly technical tips.