Introduction and Narrative
The purpose of this chapter is to explain how contributors were identified and selected for inclusion in the archive project. A reflection on my experiences generating interest and participation follows with a discussion of relevant scholarship and implications for rhetorical approaches to archival participation. These considerations include the intersection of historiographic recovery work in the rhetorical traditions and the participatory archive and the complications surrounding building trust and working with a feminist ethics of care. Other issues raised by this narrative include drawing on friendship as a method, relying on membership and participation in a community, for generating participation, the tension and negotiation needed between the intentions of the researcher and the reality of interested participants, and ultimately what constraints prevent further participation.
From its conception, this archive can be best categorized as a “participatory archive,” in which “curatorial responsibilities are shared between archivists (or information managers) and the participants in an archive” (Huvila “Participatory” 25). The participatory archive “is an acknowledgment of the possibilities for crowd-sourcing the collection of archival artifacts” while creating “a space where archive building is at once documenting, enabling, and creating the work of memory” (Smith 117). Therefore, it is critically important to have transparency about the methods surrounding how the project garnered participation. The overall approach to participation can be understood as having three distinct phases of planning and influence: Prospectus, IRB Approval, and Participant Activity.
Since this project is serving as my doctoral dissertation, the plan for how I would generate participation and use participant contributions was initially developed as part of my prospectus, a detailed overview of project submitted for institutional approval. After the prospectus, the next step was to obtain approval from the university’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) since the project involves research with human subjects. This further refined and developed the participant plan since the process required applicants to submit detailed plans and all documentation used to advertise the project for participants and to collect and store data. (The effects on the project design as a result of working within these institutional requirements is further discussed in the Institutional Influences chapter as well). Lastly, once the plan for participants was approved by the IRB, the implementation stage began, which also shifted the methods as participants began to respond to the project in unexpected ways. The following narrative traces the project as it moved through these three stages of planning.
Narrative: The Prospectus
The prospectus was the first document to emerge after conceptualizing the archive and is closest to what I had initially envisioned as the scope of the project and its participants. I defined contributors as 1st and 2nd generation Azorean-American women who currently live, and whose families first settled, in Bristol County, Rhode Island, preferably who emigrated from the island of São Miguel prior to 1940. I think it is worth noting that these parameters were based on my own family’s immigration story, and I assumed that these emigrations to Bristol County from Sao Miguel prior to 1940 were among the most common in the current Azorean-American community, which importantly did not bear out in the response.
While the point of origin and place of settlement may seem limited for generating a strong sample, it was initially important to me to work in this island-specific way due to the significant divisions in community identity between the nine islands. Scholars of Azorean culture also acknowledge the need to better understand these internal divisions. Klimt writes, “Differences in regional origin within Portugal itself also play out in the immigrant context in ways that are not well documented…explorations of the relationship between people from different islands of the Azores…would tell us a great deal about how individuals negotiate identities and create communities in the immigrant context” (xvii). Brettell also notes, “Certainly one question worth pursuing is what the diversity of places of origin of Portuguese migrants means for processes of incorporation and community-building” (567). I felt that the restricted nature of the contributors might begin speaking to these calls. I also believed that it would be possible to have participation limited to one county due to the “heavy reliance on chain migration” that created concentrated pockets of immigrants from the same island as new immigrants often settled in the same town as other from their same village, which I believed to be the case for the identified county (Klimt xiii). Focusing on women was key to my concept as an act of advocacy by increasing visibility, but was also theoretically practical for my goal of mediating cultural identity losses given that the “gender-specific ways of socializing and realizing commitments to family well-being” make women natural vessels of familial knowledge (Klimt and Holton 18). At the time of the prospectus, these objectives were the primary force in guiding my participatory methods, and they were essentially rooted in abstract research questions as opposed to practical interactions with participants. The tension between the idealized scholarly outcomes and the participants’ actual experiences that they wanted to share was one that would ultimately factor heavily into the evolution of my methods.
In the prospectus, I proposed first using an online interest survey, distributed as a post with embedded link across my personal social network, to identify families who met the criteria I had outlined. To obtain feedback from my committee, I developed the survey using a Google Form that I would be able to share after receiving IRB approval. In included a project description, demographic questions, and contact information from which, I assumed, I would be able to make contributor selections. The online survey format would also facilitate respondents and members in my network’s ability to share the form with others they think would meet the criteria, leading to snowball sampling.
From the survey respondents, I planned to select the 5-7 contributing families who I would then engage in a focus group, online or by phone, with an opportunity to respond to questions about what kinds of artifacts they might expect to see in an Azorean-American archive featuring women’s oral histories and domestic objects, which was a suggestion made by my dissertation chair to enhance the co-constructed nature of the project. This was important to ensure that the purpose and goals the archivist developed would be in line with the community’s actual needs and not only constructed according to the archivist’s perceptions of what is needed.
This would also be an important opportunity to plan our meeting for the oral history and artifact image collection. While I planned to communicate the categories of artifacts I am interested in collecting, I wanted to also use the focus group time to invite and encourage them to have other family members, from lateral and subsequent generations, present at our meeting to add multivocality to the oral history and artifact stories. Lastly, I planned to travel to Rhode Island in early 2017 to spend time meeting each family group.
In the prospectus, I was setting strict parameters surrounding place, time, and gender that were each ultimately challenged and amended once my plans intersected with the actual community. However, before I began working with others, it was necessary to gain IRB approval, which required further specificity that was far more binding than any plans I outlined in the prospectus.
Narrative: IRB Approval
When associated with an institution of higher learning and planning to conduct research that involves people and will be affiliated with that institution, like this dissertation, it is necessary to get approval for the study to ensure that the methods used in conducting the research are safe for participants and follow all ethical standards. The university will have its own Institutional Review Board (IRB) to review applications for affiliated scholars, which in my case is Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia where I am enrolled as a doctoral candidate. The process requires the submission of an application that provides a detailed discussion of the project purpose, recruitment tools, participant criteria, interview questions, data management, consent forms, and associated participant risks. Once submitted, the board members review the application materials and provide feedback to the researcher, sometimes requesting additional refinement or clarification on the protocols, before granting approval for the research project. Once approved, the protocols are binding, and researchers are required to conduct the study according to the submitted design without deviation. Any changes require approval through a submitted amended application.
I submitted the first application in January 2017, which can be reviewed in full here. The process I laid out in the application consisted primarily of recruitment through social media, interest surveys to determine participants according to criteria, focus group interview questions, consent forms for participation and audiovisual recording, oral history interview questions, and data storage management procedures. For the prospectus, I had already written the oral history interview questions and determined the order of participation from interest to selection and focus groups to data collection, but in order to submit the IRB application, I had to write the recruitment language that I intended to post online, develop specific focus group questions, and create consent forms that met IRB guidelines. All forms and questions can be read here: Interview Questions, Informed Consent, Consent for Recording.
Fortunately, I heard back from the IRB committee toward the end of the month and needed to make only minor changes to the consent form contact information. I received my approval shortly after, and I was able to publicize the study and begin recruitment. Although, I would quickly come up against the tensions between scholarly design and the realities of working with real people; amendments to the initial design were submitted the following month.
Narrative: Participant Activity
I remember being extremely excited to get IRB approval because it meant I could finally release the call for participation on my social media platforms, which was the first step in bringing what had been just an idea for an archival project into reality. On January 25, 2017, I carefully copied the text from my IRB application into the Facebook post and changed the settings to “Public,” so the post could be shared, and I would be able to take advantage of snowball sampling. I clicked to make the post go live and sat back waiting for what I assumed would be the inevitable onslaught of participants.
However, after being live for several hours and having only received two “Likes,” I quickly moved from excited to uneasy. I decided that I would share the original post to my own page and add some more personalization to help my friends better understand the project.
Although I was concerned that the additional language was not submitted or approved by IRB for recruitment directly, I ultimately decided that because I had included the idea that the recruitment effort would include duplication through sharing, where introductory language could not realistically be controlled, that the new post would be acceptable. It was one of the first moments where my role as both a member of the community and as the researcher would blur lines. I could clearly share the formal recruitment message in my role as researcher, but could I talk about my dissertation on my social network as a friend or family member?
In addition to the new language, I also tagged nineteen friends in my network from Rhode Island who I thought had Azorean heritage. This seemed to garner a stronger response with fourteen “Like” and six “Love” reactions as well as thirteen “Shares.” In the end, five of the tagged friends responded with some measure of interest with two more responding that they were not, in fact, Azorean. However, despite the direction to complete the survey, none of the five who responded positively completed the form. In fact, I never did get a single response to the form. Not one. Those individuals expressed interest in a casual comment indicating a willingness to help, but there was an apparent reluctance to engage with me through the form in such a structured, academically appropriate way.
It was disheartening at first, and then a source of anxiety that my dissertation was relying on people who met my limited criteria to participate and contribute to the archive. But if no one participated, then what? I could not build an archive like this by myself. Looking back, the assumption that I would have an easy time getting participants and that I would have more survey responses than I would feasibly be able to include strikes me as incredibly and embarrassingly naive. Although, I think the notion really came from a common feeling among those of us who grew up in Bristol that it is a town significantly defined by its Azorean population. Consider the following response from one fellow Bristolian (as well as the casual expression of interest characteristic of the respondents who offered a comment rather than survey completion):
Again, the reality of the experience getting participants was very different than what I had envisioned when I designed the methods, and I knew I would have to readjust to reach my goals with no hope of knocking anything out.
At this point, I also noticed that some of the people were indicating interest but sharing that they did not meet the criteria I originally outlined of having the first immigrant having arrived prior to 1940. The interest I was getting were all from families with much more recent immigration history. It was the first time I had to weigh my original intent against the outcomes I was getting. I also had an inquiry from a male whom I had tagged, indicating he would be interested in helping, was born in the Azores and had himself immigrated as a child with his parents, and asked in a comment to the post if the project was restricted to just women. In the moment, and it was definitely in the moment, I was feeling nervous about the lack of participation and did not want to turn anyone away—I needed oral histories and artifacts and felt like I needed to take them from wherever I could get them—so I said I would welcome his participation. I also heard from someone interested in participating who was only Azorean on her mother’s side, and I responded to her that I would love to meet anyway.
After a couple weeks and still no survey responses, I decided to amend the research design based on how those in my network were responding. I thought I might have more response if I created a way for people to respond to me in an anonymous way that required no future commitment to participate. I had the idea of taking the idea of a focus group culled from contributing families, I would reframe the questions as an anonymous survey in an effort to get more data about archival expectations. I created the Expectations Survey and drafted new recruitment language that was far less scholarly then submitted a modified application to the IRB committee in February 2017.
Approval came quickly, and I posted the following:
I made sure to include language that would invite survey respondents who might be interested in further participation in the project to email me as a way to try increasing the pool of potential contributors. Again, response to the post was limited and ultimately resulted in only two survey submissions. One only answered the demographic question, but did not answer any questions pertaining to archive construction, while the second submission did offer some responses to the questions:
This survey, like the interest survey from the previous post, failed to garner the kind of robust data set I was hoping to get, but it did make me happy the kinds of artifacts the respondent expected to see in an Azorean archive aligned with the types of artifacts I had also envisioned.
From here, I had a decision to make because I had planned on using my Spring Break in March 2017 to travel from Florida where I live to Rhode Island to conduct the research. With two young children and a husband with a full-time job, coordinating travel for an extended period of time requires significant planning, so my travel dates did not have much flexibility and needed to also coincide with dates my husband would be able to take vacation at work. I could reach out through different channels (like the Portuguese American Women’s Association of RI) to try to find participants who were both interested and met the original criteria, which would likely require postponing travel since it was already the end of February and I doubted I could make the connections with PAWA in time. The other option was to change the criteria I had originally established and coordinate with the five people in my network who had expressed interest despite not meeting all criteria.
Since I had already replied to comments that I would welcome their participation and with the time constraints weighing heavily on my mind, I decided to direct message the five people who had expressed interest and tried to set a meeting for specific days in March. I was able to confirm meetings with three, one who responded but could not commit, and one who had work obligations during that time that she felt would prohibit her involvement. I also knew that there was one person, my great Aunt Mary, my grandmother’s sister and the family matriarch, who I wanted to interview and have share artifacts and who would not need a social network or online survey to serve as an intermediary. With four solid leads, I committed and booked the flight to Rhode Island to meet with the Areia, Alves, Castro, and Sousa family groups. Unfortunately, last minute schedule changes led to a cancellation of the meeting with the Castros; however, I was successful in meeting with the other families, collecting both oral histories and artifact images. Further discussion of the processes of meeting and collecting data can be found in the Data Collection and Management chapter.
After the research trip, I also found out that I had won a research grant that I had applied for at the beginning of the year. This allowed me to not only reimburse myself for the out-of-pocket expenses for the flights, rental car, and lodging from the March trip, but to also fund a second research trip. I set out to identify and set meetings with additional participants. On May 19, 2017, I re-messaged the interested parties who were not able to get together with me in March to see about the possibility of meeting in July. Almost immediately, I received one response and scheduled a tentative meeting date. Over the course of several more days, I had tentative meetings scheduled with two additional families who expressed interest in meeting but also shared a reluctance to be recorded. Again, I made the in-the-moment decision to increase avenues of participation by being flexible with my plans for how participation would occur rather than hold rigidly to the design and exclude members of the Azorean community from participating in ways that were comfortable for them. In July, I was able to collect an interview and artifacts images from the Furtado family and additional images only from the Coute and Castro families. These participants brought my total family group contributors to six, which fell into the range I had initially outlined in the prospectus and IRB.
From there, I would return to Florida with hours of audio recordings and hundreds of digital images from which the archive could be constructed. The execution of the planned participation methods did shift, often in significant ways, from the initial design, but the final result is an authentic and organic reflection of the Azorean community.
The Participatory Archive as Historiographic Work
This narrative brings one truth about my archival project into stark relief: the archive is wholly dependent upon others. As I describe above, deciding to construct a participatory archive is both terrifying and exhilarating. There is the fear that my attempts to find contributors would fail and the content generated would be far too limited to achieve the archive’s goals, but there is also an excitement that comes from the surprise of experiencing the contributors’ stories and artifacts, following rather than leading. Yet this reliance on participants is probably one of the most influential aspects of the final archive and subsequent exhibit. The archive is a reflection of the participants; their contributions not only tell their own stories, but also influence how users understand the whole by reinforcing and adding depth of meaning to artifacts contributed by others. Approaching the archival construction as a process of collaboration with participants draws on the fields of archival studies, from the tradition of participatory archives, and rhetoric, from the tradition of feminist historiographic recovery work. Both fields recognize that the ethical treatment of cultural stakeholders is paramount, with attention to the construction of archives that meet participant—rather than archivist/researcher—needs. In addition to questions of participant agency, archival studies tends to also focus on the pragmatic questions of where and how to invite participation into various archival processes while rhetoricians tend toward questions of how representation can be developed without the reinscription of colonialist ideologies.
In some ways, this turn away from centering archivist activity around artifacts toward a stronger focus on individuals and communities is a hallmark of the participatory archive discussed in archival studies scholarship. Gregory Rolan explains that participatory archives “appear to encompass the management of records under community control; consideration of community or crowd-sourced submission and annotation of content; and the acknowledgement of the rights of multiple stakeholders in records—irrespective of the records’ physical location or custodial arrangement” (196). This definition highlights several key aspects of the participatory archive. First, the control of the records themselves are maintained by the community and not the institution; there is not a required transfer of ownership to the institution and subsequent relocation of the cultural artifacts. Second, the participants should have a role in the appraisal and description processes that select records for inclusion as well as provide their contextualization. Third, the participatory archive works with respect to the needs of many stakeholders, striving toward the ethical management of records according to the individuals and cultures represented in and by the artifacts. These archives work “to understand the participants themselves, together with their characteristics and needs,” in order to “provide the foundation for the design of services and systems that satisfy such needs” (Rolan 197). Where traditional archives prioritize the needs of artifact management, with a focus on the procedures and practices that produce a completed archive, participatory archives prioritize the needs and desired goals of contributors. This shift away from records and toward users, including working collaboratively with participants to generate new records, aligns with the philosophy of the post-custodial turn, but it is notable in that it also shifts agency powerfully toward participants and away from the archivist. It is not about the archivist bringing her expertise to a disenfranchised community, but rather it is about working “as translators between archival and non-archival knowledge” (Huvila, “The Unbearable” 378). It is an intermediary process that facilitates the community’s generation of archival records and their management by providing information about options within the archival processes and guiding the sustainability of the outcomes.
Although the promise of the participatory archive model is a more democratic archive, both in its modes of production and its use. However, the approach does entail certain challenges, which are exemplified in this narrative. First, there is an emotional component to this work. The archivist, as discussed of affective influences on scholarship in the feminist rhetorical practices section of the “Rhetorical Claims on the Archival Space: Power, Knowledge, and User-focus” chapter, is often motivated to develop cultural archives out of a personal desire to engage in the social justice activism of equitable archival representation. However, there is also an emotional component to participation on the part of contributors who must make an effort to give of their time and their lives. In reviewing the scholarship around participatory archives in the 2015 article “The Unbearable Lightness of Participating? Revisiting the Discourses of ‘Participation’ in Archival Literature,” Itso Huvila finds that developing these archives requires “both archivists and others…to engage in affective labour which commodifies their enthusiasm as a productive force” (375). The archive depends upon the enthusiasm of the archivist and the participants; that emotional attachment drives the archive and motivates its growth and development. This excitement can be a positive force, with Huvila noting that “collaborations between records creators, archivists and informants can be based on enthusiasm and develop into engaging and thriving communities” (376). Engaged and thriving communities is a laudable outcome for archival work, and excitement can be a significant factor in bringing that about. However, relying on enthusiasm means that the stakeholders have to want the archive. They have to want to participate. Yet relying so strongly on a mutable emotional motivation introduces opportunities for disruption of that productivity. Huvila explains, “The variations in the timing (different individuals and groups are enthusiastic at different times), focus (enthusiasm on different things) and expressions of enthusiasm (and the subsequent difficulty to understand and appreciate them) may deteriorate [enthusiasm’s] positive effects” (376). I experienced this in my own attempts to garner participation, particularly with expressions of interest and enthusiasm on social media that were difficult to convert into actual participation, whether due to timing or to focus. Being enthusiastic about an idea is not enough; participants and archivists must be enthusiastic at the same time and about the same interpretation of the archive.
There is also a challenge in participatory archives of the participants and archivists experiencing tension between misaligned goals for the outcomes of collaboration. There is always a risk that the participants’ attachment to and enthusiasm for their own culture can be exploited by the archivist who is focused on producing the archive. Having pride in one’s culture does not automatically translate into a desire to see that culture represented in an archive, especially if the proposals for that archive are coming from external locations. The difference is in the origination of the idea for the archive. If the community organizes around an idea for creating a cultural repository and engages archivists for guidance on how to achieve the goal, there is likely to be more enthusiastic participation than if the archivist approaches the community with a request to contribute. This certainly calls forth issues of trust between the archivist and community, which is discussed in greater detail in the subsequent section, but it also speaks to the question of whether participants are emotionally connected to the idea of an archive themselves, of whether the end-goal of the archive is shared by both archivist and participant or whether it is an artificially imposed goal. Huvila explains that this issue is similar to the “tensions between subcultures and entrepreneurs who engage in repackaging and commercialising them” (376). The authenticity of the culture cannot be represented if the archivist’s goal is self-serving, just the completion of a personally or institutionally significant project. If that is the goal, then the archivist is likely to be met with resistance and skepticism, or even resentment and exclusion. In order for participation to be generated with an “emphasis on helping users to develop their own subcultural strategies for developing an emotional connection with something the archives can provide them rather than focusing on contributions and institutional objectives in their communication with participants” (Huvila 376-7). This means that the archivist needs to work with participants to find and support ways that the idea of developing an archive becomes important to them and not just the archivist or institution. In my own experience, I have seen how participants who both value their heritage and also a sense of cultural responsibility to preserve that heritage are most likely to actually participate. The enthusiasm, in other words, must be more than just an enthusiasm for one’s culture. There must also be a buy-in to the idea that the culture should be part of a repository for others to also experience. I have also had concerns about my own goals to build an archive and complete a dissertation overriding the needs and goals of the contributors, and I have worked to negotiate those tensions throughout each stage of participation.
Lastly, there is also a challenge in participatory archives that in relying on participation from enthusiastic contributors, there is a danger of archives that skew representation toward the perspectives and positions of only those participants and not the broader community. Dominique Daniel writes about this challenge in her article “Documenting the Immigrant Ethnic Experience in American Archives.” She explains, “Clearly, however, there is no such thing as a monolithic ethnic or cultural community; more than one understanding of the past and culture exists within any such community; and choosing specific individuals to participate in the appraisal and arrangement of archival materials will inevitably eliminate others who might have acted differently” (99). If the archivist does not take the time to deeply engage with the community, rigorously studying their history and complexities, then the archive may not reflect the community accurately, instead only representing the most easily accessible and willing voices. It may require an increased effort to garner participation from multiple and varied participants, or at least an effort to be made to provide users with transparency about participant selection and recognition of the existence of contrasting perspectives. Rolan argues that a failure to do so means that the resulting archives will not “encompass a wider catchment beyond the immediate community,” limiting the community engagement with the archive and its usefulness because the archivist has “generally assumed that the serviced communities, or community segments are sufficiently homogeneous in their requirements” (202). In viewing the community through this lens of homogeneity, the archive will exclude members of the community and reinscribe oppressive practices of erasure.
It may be possible, however, to mitigate some of the exclusivity or reductionism of limited participation by privileging participants’ role in all aspects of the archival process. Rather than simply using participants to generate the kinds of records the archivist wishes to see, which would certainly limit the representation of the community to single view, a participatory approach to record-keeping can also be employed. Record-keeping practices, beyond just record-making practices, include “the appraisal, creation, documentation, preservation, access control, and disposal of records,” and by inviting participation into these processes typically managed more exclusively by the archivist, it is possible to increase “the depth of empowerment” offered to participants from the archive and “the degree to which stakeholders may possess and exercise agency” (Rolan 201). Failure to include participants in these practices “in shallower implementations” of the participatory model that “are generally more concerned with providing repositories for community archives than infrastructure for pluralistic participatory recordkeeping” (Rolan 202). Again, if the goal of the archivist is self-serving and exclusively focused on the artifacts themselves as opposed to the people to whom they belong and to whom they may be most useful, then the resulting archive will fail to uphold the true goals of engaging the participatory model. Daniel also advocates for archivists to engage broader participation in processes by looking “for ways to actively involve these communities in the appraisal, arrangement, description, and use of their own archives” (83). It is also a mandate expressed by Huvila, who argues, “Participation works only if it stems from real options and sensitivity to others’ epistemic beliefs” (379). Real options for participation come from giving participants the opportunity to shape the archive, through processes like description and arrangement, in ways that genuinely reflect cultural mode of knowledge production and values. The archivist can impose their own values on the archive if participation is limited only to using community members as access-points for the location of cultural records. Archivists must recognize that “a multiplicity of perspectives on recordkeeping is needed, rather than singular, institutional viewpoints” (Rolan 199). Although this can be a more difficult process as the multiplicity of perspectives will require greater negotiation to resolve than the advancement of a single, uncriticized and unrevised position, Daniel notes that “no matter how messy and contested, the participatory decision-making process, which empowers ethnic communities to represent themselves, may be the closest we will ever get to a fair method of representation” (103). In terms of this project, I have worked to honor the multiplicity of perspectives by broadening my ideas about the inclusionary criteria for participation, but also by following the lead of the participants in topics of discussion in interviews and the selection and description of artifacts. These negotiations are discussed in more detail in the Data Collection and Management chapter, but they represent the efforts made to facilitate the production of a community archive reflecting the participants’ perspectives rather than the inscription of my perspectives onto the bodies and lives of those who contributed.
The participatory archive recognizes the importance of cultural stakeholders in any efforts by others to recover, preserve, and share knowledge about that culture. In archival studies, the focus is on records that reflect the cultural, civic, and historic contributions of a community. However, in rhetoric, historiographic recovery work is more specifically concerned with records that illustrate the rhetorical practices of marginalized groups and individuals. The practice of historiographic work is discussed in greater detail in the Feminist Rhetorical Practices section of Rhetorical Claims on the Archival Space: Power, Knowledge, and User-focus, with attention given to the goals of recovering rhetorical practices of marginalized groups, creating critical documentary evidence for social justice causes, working with critical reflexivity toward one’s own biases and interests, and conducting ethical archival work resulting in community-relative knowledge. However, within the context of this discussion of participation in more pragmatic terms as opposed to theoretical positions toward historiographic work, it is useful to look further into rhetorical scholarship at methods for working with participants and cultures commonly employed by practitioners in this field. These methods build on approaches to the archive that center ways of interpreting archives over ways of building them. The field generally argues for the critical interrogation of archive in which a rhetorical stance against the archive invokes a reading of not only artifacts, but a reading of how and why artifacts come into the archive and how the archive asserts power over the narratives of history it seeks to impose on users. Methods that center these concerns are featured in a special 2013 issue of College English titled Seizing the Methodological Moment: The Digital Humanities and Historiography in Rhetoric and Composition. Contributors Jessica Enoch, David Gold, Jim Ridolfo, Ellen Cushman, Tarez Samra Graban, Shannon Carter, and Kelly Dent all speak from experiences developing digital archives with historiographic methods. These scholars primary focus is not necessarily on specific methods for how to collect artifacts or process them into the archive, but they do illustrate important considerations for how to maintain an ethical interaction with participants and to uphold the values reflected in feminist rhetorical practices in digital historiography.
Because one of the motivating factors and goals of this dissertation is to increase the diversity of archival holdings and representation afforded to Azorean-American women, honoring the domestic sphere in the ongoing rhetorical practices that transmit cultural knowledge, this dissertation can be viewed through a historiographic lens. In their introduction to the issue, Enoch and Gold define the rhetorical tradition of historiography as the reclamation and recovery efforts “that engage underrepresented or marginalized communities…to continue the work of addressing the rhetorical significance of populations often silenced by dominant historical narratives” (108). Although historiographic work does not require the creation of a new archive, the contributors to this issue highlight the participatory archive as a powerful mode of discourse to effectuate these goals. They also illustrate how this kind of historiographic recovery work is increasingly taking place in digital spaces, because “the digital delivery of cultural heritage has the potential to help cultural stakeholders advance their heritage through broader circulation” (Ridolfo 148). While the broader circulation of cultural heritage promises to increase visibility, the relative ease of and access to digital reproduction and transmission can often lead to a kind of digitization fever where, if not careful, the focus can turn to speedy and voluminous production of digital materials as opposed to the more complicated issues around ethical representation and the meaning-making activities enacted around the discursive product. In order to conduct archival work in alignment with the ethics of historiography that seek to facilitate authentic archives that do reinscribe cultural oppression, it is important to keep certain concerns at the forefront of the processes. Enoch and Gold pose these concerns as a series of questions they identify as central to maintaining that ethical stance. They ask:
How do we create digital scholarship in ways that engage with historical actors and present-day stakeholder communities on their own terms? How do we respect issues of language and culture through our digital projects? How do we acknowledge and work against dominant historiographic processes that have erased marginalized communities? How do we effectively engage with the local? How do we respectfully include the voices of citizen stakeholders in our practice? And how do we deliver historiographic projects in ways that stakeholder communities outside of our field will find useful? (108-9)
Although these questions do not offer specific methods for carrying out these goals, they do not explain how to engage communities on their own terms or deliver useful projects outside the field for example, but they do offer a useful methodological framework for conducting the work. They suggest the attitudes toward participants that should be assumed by historiographic researchers, recognizing that how we show respect or create usefulness is likely to vary depending on the culture and community in question. It is ultimately up to the researcher to learn about the community and engage thoughtfully with participants to discover the answers for themselves. It is a set of methods that is less about specific practices and more about establishing outcomes that can effectively guide the activities.
In Ellen Cushman’s contribution, “Wampum, Sequoyan, and Story: Decolonizing the Digital Archive,” she explores her involvement in the development of digital materials related to the Cherokee Nation. Her work illustrates several key aspects that relate to archival engagement with the people and cultural heritage of traditionally marginalized groups. The primary criticism of some traditional approaches to archival projects, which she describes as “imperialist archives,” is that their methods effectively damage the artifacts and culture it seeks to preserve. She argues that one way that this damage is done is if “the item is taken from its context of use,” so that “it is no longer understood in relation to the stories that place the item in its context and in relation to the people who use it” (120). This can happen if the archivist sees artifacts and not cultural objects that are imbued with value by communities for the function they serve in that culture. Cushman explains that “as imperialist archives organized themselves, they collected evidence of these traditions by abstracting sacred, ceremonial, and everyday objects from the contexts of their uses. As this was done, these objects became artifacts, artifacts that were presumed to be useless, no longer valuable or in use by the people who practiced ceremonies or lived with these objects. Artifacts can then be displayed, hermetically sealed off from their everyday or ceremonial use, preserved” (121). She uses the example of the Cherokee wampum belts that were sought after by archivists looking for cultural objects for museum exhibits and archival holdings; she notes that this was done without working to “understand how these ‘artifacts’ work to mediate knowledge for the people who use them,” meaning that “even though it seems a collector has succeeded in obtaining a Cherokee wampum belt, that person is not likely to know how to read it, how it works, or what it means” (120). Removed in this way from its cultural contexts in service to the imperialist goals of the archivists, by failing to be “well versed in their meanings and the language used to unpack that meaning,” the end-result is that the artifacts lose their value and become “nothing more than a woven collection of shell beads and sinew” (121). These assertions speak to participatory archives in the sense that if we want to decolonize the archive, we cannot simply remove artifacts from a culture and look at them through the lens of the archive, separated from the contexts in which members of the culture actually use them and understand them. It is reminiscent of Dominique Daniel’s suggestion that archivists should “replace the ethos of custodianship with that of stewardship” (96). This shift becomes a philosophical position that sees the archivist not as the owner of the object, responsible for its custody, but rather as a steward charged with the ethical management of something for the benefit of others that is not under one’s total authority. We must instead recognize that value and meaning are more than just a function of materiality—it is more than beads and sinew. Value and meaning can be conveyed by the archive only when connected to context.
I am reminded here of one artifact in this archive, which is the saint medal that one participant keeps on her keychain. Removed from her expressions about its value and purpose, the keychain becomes just a small, stamped metal decoration, an emptier symbol of religion perhaps generally understood. However, in context, it is possible to see that the medallion represented a deeper spiritual entwinement between her daily life and religious saints. It is connected to the practice of praying to saints for intercession and protection by making “bargains,” as she described it, for devotional offerings and living with significant reverence for these spiritual promises. Without capturing the value, in accordance with the participants’ actual use and ascribed meaning, the archive fails to uphold an ethical principle of historiography.
Cushman does suggest that one method that can contribute to a “decolonial archive” is through the incorporation of storytelling. Whether engaged in storytelling about artifacts or cultural knowledge more broadly, Cushman argues that storytelling works by asking “participants to actively take up the knowledge, to continue the telling of it, and to position themselves in relationship to the era, the place, and the elder telling the story,” which produces more authentic experiences of cultural heritage “rather than the archive being experienced through codification of an expert’s understanding of the artifact decontextualized from its actual use” (129). Archives drawing on media composed “in the languages, practices, and histories of the communities in which they are created” can provide powerful disruptions to “the imperial archive’s insistence on expert codification of knowledge,” operating instead “through the co-construction of knowledge based on interactions between storytellers and listeners” (Cushman 116-7). She concludes that in valuing storytelling, it becomes possible to see digital archives as liberatory, but only if they are “being created and maintained by the very people they hope to represent” and if “knowledge unfolds through stories told in and on the people’s terms” (Cushman 132). The reiteration of archival representation done “on the people’s terms” is an important methodological tenet of rhetorical historiography. This argument becomes a strong guideline for participatory archives to actively seek out and include storytellers, in their myriad forms, in the archive. Whether in audio or audiovisual recordings, the voices of community members actively engaged in the retelling of cultural knowledge are valuable to the archive in terms of strengthening its ethos and in upholding an ethics of care for the cultural heritage being archived. The imperative is to support the community’s needs over one’s own archival vision.
Like Cushman, Tarez Samra Graban also advocates for historiographic methods in the archive that deprivilege the needs and goals of the archivist. In her article, “From Location(s) to Locatability: Mapping Feminist Recovery and Archival Activity through Metadata,” Graban reflects on her experiences developing archival materials related to the work of rhetorician Cecilia Hennel Hendricks, and she draws on the work of Royster, Morris and Rose, and Glenn and Enoch to position her claims about effective practices for developing archival projects that serve needs conceptualized more broadly than one’s own research goals. She writes, “I contend that our attitudes toward recovery might better be guided by a historiographic paradigm…that provides a stronger understanding of ‘who the primary and secondary audiences are and who, even, the agents of research and scholarship include,’ and…even those other important agents of archival recovery ‘besides the researcher and the archivist’” (173). This is a methodological approach that positions the archivist as facilitator. It is about purposefully working to understand who the stakeholders are in the archival material, beyond the needs of the scholarly community, and looking at how to work in ways that honor the broader connections and uses of the constructed archives. It is about first and consistently asking not how the archive can fulfill one’s own needs for research but how it can serve the needs of others, designing for those needs as a priority.
However, Graban’s article also makes a significant contribution to historiographic methods by offering transparency as a clear mandate. In developing participatory relationships, particularly when working with marginalized communities, Graban argues that researchers must be cognizant of the fact that archival processes “divulge a historicization of power (or status) by revealing interactions between producer, consumer, and content” (185). The power dynamics that take place in the archives, as archivists interpret and represent cultural values and mediate a community’s relationship with their own content, are ever-present and consequential. She argues that “it is this relationship that I want our feminist historiographic methodologies to bring into deeper relief” (185). Bringing these questions of power “into relief” requires that practitioners acknowledge the negotiations of agency that take place in the decisions, rationales, and interactions with participants, while also making this information available to users. Graban explains that “historiographers become locatable agents” because they are affected “by what matters to them, and by their awareness of the material processes and pathways that help them to better know the archival materials and locations they study” (189-90). These effects will then influence how the archive itself is constructed, so Graban suggests that “historiographers might display their raw archival data alongside their analysis of it” as one way to help users determine their own pathways through the material and connections that may have been obscured by the archivist’s own interests (174). Again, although the rhetoricians in this issue do not offer specific methods for conducting archival work, there are clearly established values that should guide historiographic projects. Here, what becomes important is to be mindful of one’s own biases in shaping archives, but to move beyond a simple awareness by taking measures to give users insight into those biases and opportunities to work more immediately with archival materials outside the interested framing imposed by an archivist.
While providing these values-based approaches to methods, the special issue also strongly encourages scholars to engage directly in the development of new archives. Although historiographic work can be conducted by working with pre-existing archival materials, the idea that it may also be necessary to serve as a catalyst for bringing new archives into the field is also an important theme throughout these articles, especially projects that are participatory in nature. Graban notes that she is “eager to explore ways to refine a feminist historiographic methodology that digitally portrays rhetorical activity for which there may not be circulating artifacts,” but she follows this enthusiasm for developing new materials with the assertion that “even digital historiographic recovery is in need of mechanisms that will foster participatory engagement, including storage and ordering, presence and interactivity” (172). She suggests that archivists can call upon users in both “contributing new data and exploring various arrangements of existing data” as a way to “enable greater participation” (181). The contribution of new data means that users contribute artifacts, participating in appraisal, while also offering input into ways to arrange and connect those artifacts, which is understood as archival processes of description. The participation Graban involves community members at many stages of the process, not simply as the starting point from which artifacts are generated nor as the end point onto which a completed archive is delivered. This participatory method invites collaboration throughout the conceptualization and development of the archive. Shannon Carter and Kelly Dent also advocate for rhetoricians to develop new archives to increase the representation of “the literate lives of historically marginalized populations” who are “often underrepresented in formal archives and collective memories” (153). They argue that although these new archives are important scholarly and cultural contributions, it is only possible to develop them if researchers invest in the development of relationships with the communities in question. They contend that in order to “reconstruct these scenes [of literacy], we needed to reach out to community members, local libraries, and cultural centers” (153). Participation from the community is essential to developing robust and authentic archives, but Carter and Dent offer a nuanced suggestion for a historiographic method that not only encourages participation, but also encourages the ongoing development of personal and professional relationships. It is a method of building trust and building ties, of having authentic engagement and interest in the community—not only a surface interest in obtaining artifacts but genuine commitment to getting to know people on their own terms and with a good faith effort to reflect them as they see themselves and not as the archivist assumes they are. Carter and Dent conclude that these relationships are the true gift of the participatory archive. They assert that “most significant contribution” of the archive “is not its potential for interpreting local literacy scenes,” although this is important work, “but rather how it approaches our discipline as a network and, in doing so, purposefully expands that disciplinary network to include local communities” (162). Historiographic and participatory scholarship expands the network of rhetoric to include the communities in which we work, bringing the relevance of our work to bear outside the “ivory tower” of academic and into the lives of those practically engaged in the rhetorical practices we theorize.
Jim Ridolfo’s contribution to this issue of the journal, “Delivering Textual Diaspora: Building Digital Cultural Repositories as Rhetoric Research,” primarily focuses on issues of negotiating various stakeholder’s needs in the development of a digital repository of cultural texts. His work is discussed more fully in the Institutional Influence chapter of this dissertation; however, it is important to note in the context of participation that Ridolfo also broadly advocates for the close connection of researchers to the communities they study. Like Carter and Dent, Ridolfo also concludes that there are significant benefits in deeply invested relationships with participants. He writes, “By participating in engaged research, digital humanities and rhetoric scholars alike benefit not only from long-term collaboration, but also from the rich insights that develop over time. Such an approach both deepens and thickens the rhetorical historiography of our field” (148). The idea here is that there is an important method related to time. In the digital age that so privileges and seeks immediacy, and in a discipline that may create a pressurized urgency to produce final scholarly projects, it may be worth noting that truly rich scholarship rooted in participatory archives may require a more patient and long-term investment. Authentic and trusting relationships are not built in one day or even in one year, but it is exactly that authenticity and trust are necessary for bringing transformative knowledge into our collective sight. Like the other contributors, Ridolfo’s article also emphasizes the need for historiographic work that deprivileges the archivist and for that work to “expand the realm of its concern from that of texts and what’s in them to how they are used by people and communities” (148). Again, the focus is on what users and communities need from the archive; however, discerning these needs can only come from the invested and genuine relationships he advocates developing. However, like Graban, there is also an implication in his article that the positionality of the researcher must be transparently included in the archive to offset the potential damage of invisibly influencing the outcome. While not explicitly stated, it is possible to see this claim inherent in the structure of the article. Ridolfo begins the discussion of his involvement with the digital repository of Samaritan texts with a narrative outlining the “project background.” He writes, “Before I can fully explain how I came to understand and theorize the complex relationship of Samaritans to their diasporic texts, it is important to know more about how I learned about their diaspora of texts” (137). Here, the “locatable agent” that Graban theorizes is explicitly brought into relief, as she suggests, by inextricable linking the development of the repository with Ridolfo’s positionality and location within the project. This self-identification narrative, an autoethnographic moment, can be thus understood as an important method for historiographic work, one employed by this dissertation, that establishes transparency about the archivist’s goals and leaves behind traces of the influence. This method is discussed more fully in the Data Collection and Management chapter, but in projects that involve the representation of participants from marginalized communities, the responsibility of the archivist is to bring themselves into the archive for visibility and accountability.
Other rhetoricians outside the College English special issue have also taken up the discussion of participatory archives. Alexis Ramsey-Tobienne argues broadly that “the move from simply digitizing collections to encouraging user contributions and celebrating user knowledge in these participatory archives suggests many possibilities for scholars in Rhetoric and Composition” (16). Kevin Smith discusses the participatory archive that developed in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing in the 2016 article “Negotiating Community Literacy Practice: Public Memory Work and the Boston Marathon Bombing Digital Archive” published in Computers and Composition. He also advocates that historiographic work is enriched by “the unique affordances of a specific type of digital historiography—participatory archives” (116). This type of archive, he argues, is designed with a “radical user orientation,” which is “a privileging of the usability of the archive over the preservation and archival process itself” (117). Like the previous discussions, Smith is also acknowledging that user needs should supersede procedural precedents and archivist needs. It is an argument that draws on the work of scholars, such as Robert Johnson, who advocate for user-centered design principles to be employed in the production of digital objects, which are understood as being participatory in nature. For user-centered design to be effectively instituted, there is a need to see “the user as an integral, participatory force in the process” of design (Johnson 30). Johnson contends that when users “are engaged in the process of developing and maintaining technologies” and “actually participating in design, implementation, and maintenance of technology,” then they become empowered as a result of that participation (31). He explains that by being “involved with decision making in the user-centered model” that focuses on participation, then users, or community members in the case of the archives, “have power that historically has been concentrated solely in the province of the designers of technology” (32). This empowerment is crucial in order to subvert the potential of an archive to reinscribe dominant cultural narratives on the communities they purport to represent.
These questions of power and agency are central to other scholars’, such as Aaron Hess, Sonia Foss, Cindy Griffin, and Jean Burgess, investigations of participatory archives. They collectively suggest that one of the more significant affordances of the participatory archive is its potential to counter oppressive cultural norms and values. In the article “In Digital Remembrance: Vernacular Memory and the Rhetorical Construction of Web Memorials,” Hess argues that the power to resist that dominance is rooted in participatory community collective; he asserts that “the creation of vernacular communities that are participatory in nature” can “challenge the dominant narratives offered by the official discourse” (825). Foss and Griffin advocate for participation that comes in the form of “invitational rhetoric,” which is the claim that when scholars invite participants to make rhetorical contributions to a body of knowledge, it “enables rhetors to disengage from the dominance and mastery so common to a system of oppression and to create a reality of equality and mutuality in its place, allowing for options and possibilities not available within the familiar, dominant framework” (17). The participation becomes liberatory and pushes back against cultural oppression. Jean Burgess contends that participatory archives offer this liberating mode of expression and self-reflection because they “afford ordinary people opportunities to see themselves and, importantly, each other as creative authors with a legitimate claim to a space in the cultural public sphere” (4). The representation in the archive is validating and legitimizing, drawing on the inherent power of the archive as a political force, and changes both the individual member’s relation to the community and the broader society’s relationship with the community. Looking to the participatory archive as a method for conducting digital historiographic work emerges as a powerful tool for ensuring rhetorical validity.
Other ways that participatory forms of the archive are referenced by rhetoricians is, tangentially, through the discussions that center on the importance of collaboration in rhetorically-approached archival projects. James Purdy, writing broadly about all digital archives, claims that collaboration is one of the “gifts” of the digital archive. He argues that “the collaborative potentials of digital archives,” such as the opportunities to create “tags, annotate, respond, [and] converse” with creators and other users, means that digital archives “can present research as dialogic” (44). These dialogic forms are rooted in participation that extends beyond simply using a finished archive; it is a gift based on the recognition that “in digital spaces, people can become both users and producers of archives” (Purdy 34). Rather than creating a strict boundary between users and producers, the digital form in particular supports users’ broad participation in the means of archival production as well. It brings potential users more fully into archival processes, transforming their relationship with the finished archive and transforming archivists’ relationship with users and other stakeholders. Like Foss and Griffin’s advocacy of invitational rhetoric, collaboration in archival production provides archivists’ “a real opportunity to abandon the role of gatekeeper and invite user participation, interaction, and knowledge-sharing” (Cox et al. qtd. in Purdy 26). By encouraging participation, the archivist can move out of the oppressive role of maintaining sole authority over the archive, facilitating instead the opportunity for community members themselves “to produce archival content and make it public,” which “can lead to a greater sense of participation and ownership in knowledge production” (Purdy 42). Similarly, Ricardo Punzalan and Michelle Caswell also cite the collaborative potentials of digital archives as disrupt the damages of singularly concentrated authority in the hands of the archivist. They contend that “archivists are called to relinquish their role as authoritative professionals” by encouraging “larger societal participation in archival endeavors” and assuming a “more facilitative role in crucial archival practices of appraisal, description, and development of access systems” (30). By encouraging participation and asserting the benefits of collaborative archives, scholars make a clear argument for a methodological approach to the archive that is a continual subversion of the archivists’ power. Although nothing can entirely negate the influence of the archivist’s position and interest, it is possible to reduce the negativity of those influences through the careful acknowledgement of the archivist’s location and in the employment of highly participatory processes.
Cultural rhetoric and feminist rhetorical practices also prioritize the kind of collaborative relationships with members of the communities that scholars work to explore and write about. While these scholars may not specifically mention participatory archives as a possible mode of discursive expression, by rooting their scholarship in the prioritization and privileging of community members, they provide further support for the rhetorical methods of relationship building and participation that scholars like Ridolfo and Carter and Dent assert as critical to the development of historiographic archives. Cultural rhetoric, concerned with the textual and material practices that sustain cultural identity, is discussed in more detail in the Data Collection and Management chapter in the context of providing rationale for the kinds of artifacts collected for this archive. However, Jennifer Sano-Franchini explains that” in cultural rhetorics, collaboration is often emphasized in the form of community and alliance building,” as it is a theoretical approach that understands “rhetoric is constellated and built through webs of relationality” (61). This presents another way that rhetoricians provide theoretical foundations for the emphasis on participatory modes of scholarly production. It asserts a view that rhetoric is relational in nature, that meaning-making activities are produced within networks of connected people and communities. To understand rhetorical practices, it is important to tap into these networks, recognize one’s own place in them while also working to see the larger system. To accomplish this, it becomes necessary to build alliances in a community. These alliances become the means by which collaboration takes place and research becomes a function of participation between scholars and community members.
This approach is also prevalent in feminist rhetorical practices that also insist upon dialogic relationships in historiographic research. Royster et al. argue that scholars must find “innovative ways to engage in an exchange” with marginalized communities, as a way to more ethically negotiate between “their worlds and ours, their priorities and ours” (14). Such an approach to collaborations requires scholars “to develop mechanisms by which listening deeply, reflexively, and multisensibly become standard practice not only in feminist rhetorical scholarship but also in rhetorical studies writ large” (Royster et al. 20). Punzalan and Caswell also cite feminist practices as importantly rooted in relationships. They argue that “a feminist framework based on an ethics of care posits interlacing and ongoing relationships of mutual obligation” should be at the heart of any archival project (32). It borrows from feminist methods an approach to historiographic work that sees “archivists less as enforcers” and “more as caregivers, bound to records creators, subjects, and users through a web of mutual responsibility” that replaces “the abstract legal and moral obligations of archivists…with radical empathy” (32). These positions are also noted by Ramsey-Tobienne who sees that rhetorical approaches to the archives should focus less on archival technologies and more on making “a fundamental shift in perspective, to a philosophy that privileges the user and promotes an ethos of sharing, collaboration, and openness” (5). In this way, a feminist methodology requires that significant attention be given to participants, to the communities we study when we undertake historiographic work. Listening and empathizing become more important, more vital and ethical, than upholding disciplinary precedent or personal feelings and needs. The participatory archive is well-suited to accomplish these practices; the deep listening and reflexive approach to one’s position are hallmarks of this archival form. As discussed, the participatory archive requires transparent practices that simultaneously acknowledge the influence of archivist bias while working to subvert that by privileging user needs. Developing genuine relationships over time can support the listening methodology Royster et al. advocate, and feminist practices further validate the rhetorical methods of investing in relationships suggested in the archive-specific literature.
In a project like this where participants are contributing artifacts and oral histories of their own choosing rather than by way of my direction, the participatory archive is designed to protect against dominant processes superseding participant needs and is far more likely to be of value to other members of the stakeholder community outside scholarly circles. From conception through all the processes of archival construction, the participatory archive uses methods that are concerned with people—their goals, needs, desires, and uses—and is ultimately a powerful method for contributing to rhetorical historiographic efforts. The participatory archive’s focus extends the goals of the project beyond just the completion of the archive to consider, and actively shape by the invitation to participate, how meaning is ascribed to the artifacts, how they are construed as representative, and what the stake-holding participants ultimately want the archive to say about their culture. The participatory archive is deeply concerned with what happens after the completed archive enters society in addition to ensuring that it comes into being in an authentically representational way by communal contribution. In this case, the project aims to preserve and transmit important cultural knowledge of and by Azorean-American women and the domestic sphere while also addressing their underrepresentation in current archival holdings.
Trust Required, Archivist Ethos
Aside from being grateful to the participants for sharing their time and families, there is also an added sense of responsibility that I feel as the archivist being entrusted with their artifacts and histories. I feel I have to “get it right” and honor the community by being a good steward of the gifts that have been shared with me while also being worthy of the responsibility to act as a kind of cultural representative. This pressure to create something that does justice to the artifacts and the community is not unique to a participatory archive, but I think that functioning as the archivist in a participatory archive does add an additional layer of that pressure because of the close, personal ties that develop with contributors and stakeholders through the acquisition process. I am not only beholden to the artifacts; I am beholden to the families. Whatever the constraint of this pressure may be though, it is far more rewarding and significant to work within a community than it is to deliver an archive onto one. However, the introduction of highly relational participation does open important questions of trust and archivist ethos.
First, and most importantly, a participatory archive requires a sense of trust between the archivist and the contributors. Dominique Daniel explains the “best strategy” for harvesting “neglected records” is “creating a relationship based on trust” (86). Alexia Ramsey-Tobienne asserts, “As we continue to discuss and formulate archival research methods, we also continue to build our ethos as archival researchers,” which is important “because questions of trust and community are central to concerns about this developing archival space” (5). In their article on the relationship between researchers and participants, Pol et al. were surprised to find that “one of the most important themes to emerge in this study is the extent to which participants rely on trust to make decisions about research participation” (13). This trust is multi-layered as well; participants need to not only trust the archivist with whom they are working and sharing personal artifacts and stories, but they must also trust the institutions with which the archivist is associated and that the archive itself is going to be a worthy repository for their shared gifts. Because I shared this post within my own network, I assumed that the trust would be there automatically by virtue of having this shared past. However, without the advantage of still being in the community, having moved away from the area in the late 90s, these ties are not as strongly felt as I thought. In many ways, I am someone with a familiar face and name asking them to make a significant commitment of time and to share deeply personal stories about their families. Yet, even though these ties might not be as strong as I anticipated, I think it would still have been a challenge based on the fact that I had nothing to show potentially interested people. It can be difficult to convince people to participate in something that does not yet exist. Where is the credibility? Where is the evidence that participation will be worth their while and not a waste of time? How can they trust that my motivations are good or academic? It requires people to make a leap of faith and trust the archivist that the motivations for collecting this personal information, for recording them and taking photographs, are genuine and ethical.
The potential participants may think the project is a good idea, but without seeing a pre-existing archive, it is difficult to get people to commit to a project that only exists on paper and in my mind. What proof can I show them to demonstrate how they will be represented and to give credence to my authority as an archivist? Jihyun Kim explains that trust in an archival project can only be established if participants accept that the archive is using “a reliable set of technology standards and best practices,” is collecting a delivering “content of high quality and accuracy,” and is establishing “the worth of the repository itself as an appropriate place to receive or retrieve content for a variety of purposes” (248). Furthermore, meeting these conditions is what allows participants “to have trust in their institutions and in the integrity, wisdom and competence of people who manage and preserve work submitted” without which “they would be less likely to contribute” (Kim 248). Without having an archive that could show participants that my practices were sound, the content was of a high quality, and the archive itself was worthy, it follows that participation was likely impeded by a lack of trust.
I feel like once this initial phase of building the archive is complete, the accessible digital project would do more to inspire others to contribute; being able to see the actual archive is likely a far more reassuring tool to encourage participation than my own written and verbal requests could ever do. This is a question of cultivating ethos, of establishing trust rooted in participants’ perceptions of my own legitimacy to conduct this work. Carl Herndl and Adela Licona explain that “ethos implies the authority to speak and act with consequences,” and “can be understood as a legitimating function for a rhetor or subject” (134). They conclude, “Authority implies legitimacy that validates one’s right and ability to speak and act in a given context” (134-5). Cultivating trust, in part, is establishing the archivist’s authority, inspiring participation by conveying an established, professional, and knowledgeable person with the right to speak and act on behalf of the community. This speaks to the limitations of participatory archives’ ability to attract participants while they are still in their nascent stages. It may be easier for archival projects closely associated with an institution, such as a university or museum, to overcome this given that they may be able to increase an archivist’s ethos, drawing on their reputations and the strength of any similar projects to instill trust, but the individual scholar and archivist should anticipate a challenge in participation rooted in the foundational need to develop a trusting relationship between participants and researchers prior to any artifact collection.
I think this issue of trust is especially true for people in immigrant communities who may not be trusting by nature—especially in today’s more heated climate of immigration policies. I have to acknowledge that I am asking people about ancestors only a few generations back who may have come here illegally and to talk about those circumstances. I don’t think it can be expected that they are going to enthusiastically agree to be open about their family stories and let someone they don’t know into their homes. This is not isolated to the Azorean community either, as scholars have “identified community distrust in research as a barrier, particularly for minority communities who may have negative perceptions due to past experiences” (Stein et al. 651). The reality of both needing trust and the difficulty in developing trust is one that any scholar working on a similar project should expect, and it is a challenge that must be ameliorated in order to generate enough participation for a robust archive.
For scholars looking for practical guidance on how to develop trust, research suggest that there are several factors that can contribute to an increase in trust between participants and researchers, including engaging with the community in mutual knowledge-building activities and cultivating group participation. The archivist should be prepared to engage with the community to develop knowledge on several levels. On one hand, the archivist needs to learn about the community through authentic and genuine interactions to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the project, but the community also needs to develop an understanding of the archivist and the goals and benefits of his or her project for themselves and others. Belinda Battley’s work with a participatory archive highlights the importance of shared understanding, concluding that “successful participation between communities and the archivists responsible for some of their records requires an excellent understanding between the groups of their respective needs, values, skills and knowledge” (372). The reciprocity of the learning activities is crucial here to facilitate the kind of engagement by which the community and the archivist “all learn more about one another through the co-productive process of research,” so that “new bonds [are] developed…between the community and [the archivist]” (Battley 382). It is also helpful to have “the presence of an archivist who spoke the language of the ethnic group of interest or originated in that very community” (Daniel 86-7). These are the bonds that then serve as the foundation of trust, which ultimately lends itself to greater participation.
First, in terms of the archivist’s own learning, Pol et al. note that “it is essential for researchers to understand the structure and relationship within the community they wish to work with in order to develop trust among community participants” (1). In my case, I have the experience of being raised in the Azorean-American community, which significantly enhances my knowledge of the community structures and relationships, but first-hand knowledge in and of itself is insufficient for undertaking an archival project. Relying on that alone could lead to an erroneously synecdochical supposition that diminishes the full-range of cultural expressions and experiences within the community outside my own family. I consider the time spent working with scholarship on the Azorean-American community as part of the analytical autoethnographic work in the Concept chapter to be an invaluable investment that broadened my understanding of the community, particularly in terms of the cultural values and the sociological circumstances that contributed to mass immigration along with the economic and political realities of the immigrant population in the United States. Filling in the gaps of my personal knowledge was a critical step, and would be for archivists attempting similar projects, as Rotter and Jeffery warn that “failure to engage with histories of marginalisation, misrecognition and mistrust can lead to selective participation and barriers to genuine participation within disadvantaged and marginalised communities” (387). Any apparent ignorance on the part of the archivist would degrade his or her trustworthiness in the eyes of potential participants, which discourages them from contributing. A commitment to learning about the target community is necessary for developing trust, and potential archival projects cannot simply be approached as a transactional activity in which the archivist works to simply collect artifacts while maintaining a neutral disassociation with the long histories and complex present realities among the participants.
Along with deepening the archivist’s knowledge, adequate time must also be spent developing understanding within the community. As with any participatory research, “one of the main principles of community-based research is to ensure that potential participants are provided with enough information to make sure that they are informed of the goals of research and understand its aims” (Pol et al. 2). In my case, going through the IRB process was one of that ways that I could work to ensure that this information was properly disseminated. The study description and consent forms directly state the goals, purposes, and scope of the project and what participation would entail, with any benefits and possible risks clearly delineated. I also engaged in informal online exchanges with potential participants and started the interviews and data collection sessions with informal conversations about who I am, what I am doing, and why. I am also working to include as much transparency as possible by making these objectives publicly available for open review on the archive site in the autoethnographic chapters. Projects designed outside the scope of institutional settings that do not require the adherence to IRB protocols should take steps to codify and uniformly make this information available to all participants.
However, helping participants understand my purposes for the project is only half of the necessary information-sharing. There must be an investment of time in bringing participants into an understanding of how their participation can be personally beneficial—how their contributions will not only help me meet my goals, but how they themselves gain something from the growth of the archival project. For me, those personal benefits have to do with preserving ancestral stories and artifacts in digital form while also contributing to an archival body that can help shape how Azorean-Americans and society understand the community. My job as the archivist then extends beyond the work of archiving and into a kind of promotional work in which I am making written and oral arguments designed to get participants to “buy-into” what I believe about the importance of archives in society, to see how archives can influence others and shape how they make meaning from cultural information. This dependence on “the need for participation, the need for consumer buy-in” is a hallmark of the participatory archive, but it also presents a “downside” in that a failure to obtain this engagement will hinder any efforts to garner participation and thus archival content (Ramsey-Tobienne 8). I have to work to explain how an archival experience can potentially help those of us growing ever more removed from the community by both time and space to reclaim aspects of our own heritage and cultural identity.
My passion and enthusiasm must read as genuine and sincere because, as Stein et al. note, that there is often a “perception of research not benefiting the community,” which can become a barrier to participation that researchers need to “work with the community to overcome” (651). However, it is important to also note that “cooperation in the present does not mean that trust cannot be broken in the future,” and these investments in the community to develop knowledge must be ongoing, requiring “continuing links in the form of reciprocal relationships and expectations of a common future” (Rotter and Jeffery 386). The key here is in the idea that the knowledge-building efforts, whether prior to, during, or after participation, are working to build a sense of a common future, one in which the archivist and the community both feel goals have been met and benefits achieved. Hopefully, the open nature of the archive I am building and the maintenance of open channels of communication between myself and participants, accommodating any requested changes, will ensure that this project continues to develop bonds of trust while honoring participant and community needs.
One final way that trust can be practically developed is through creating opportunities for group participation. Pol et al. find that “acting as a group made participants feel more secure” (4). They note that although “participants would accept data collection to occur individually,” their decision to participate is “dependent on other group members also participating” (4). They also recommend that “the initial approach by the researcher” is made to a group (4). I suppose that in one way, my initial approach to my network was in a public setting to the “group” of my friends on Facebook, which could contribute to the kind of group mentality and security that the researchers describe. As others from the group add positive comments and indicate their interest, it is likely that others were made to feel more trusting and secure in their own considerations to participate. Also, by sharing in such a public way, it may have been less intimidating than being asked privately and directly where individuals may have felt some added pressure to say yes. However, as I continue to consider the project and its future growth, I am reminded of my initial thought, outlined in the prospectus, of reaching out to an organization like the Portuguese American Women’s Association (PAWA) as a way to gather contributors. In light of this scholarship recognizing the importance of group presentation, it is likely an even stronger candidate for further development. If allowed to speak at a PAWA meeting, for example, about the project and its benefits, it would likely legitimize the work in the eyes of the members, a kind of sanctioning of the project by the organization leadership and thus build trust. It would also potentially increase the interested participants as they see other group members express a willingness to participate. Going forward, this group approach is one I will take into account, and I would encourage other projects to consider working with a similar community organization.
Trust fuels participation, and in a participatory archive, it is the lifeblood of the project, determining its ultimate development. Archivists must plan accordingly and recognize that trust is not developed quickly nor by virtue of a resume. As noted by Ridolfo in the previous section, there must be a significant investment of time in a community to develop authentic knowledge on both sides and a willingness to engage participants beyond the business of archive making.
On a final note, I think it is also important to consider how a failure to establish trust and cultural knowledge can create a false sense of potential participation and archival contributions. As I alluded to in the narrative, one of the most prominent themes to emerge from my experiences garnering participation is one of the disparities between how I envisioned participation and the reality of it. The archive design in my mind and in the prospectus was to have 5-7 family groups in the initial phase, which I did ultimately achieve with a total of six families, but I remember foolishly thinking that would be easy to accomplish. I can remember even worrying about how I might need to turn people away and that the interest would be widespread and enthusiastic. I thought it would be important to have rigid and limited criteria for who could contribute to the archive to prevent the initial call for participation from inundating me with interested individuals. I don’t think I could have been more wrong about that, and reflecting on the challenge of participation now makes it difficult to even share these past expectations as they reveal my naivete and inexperience.
On the one hand, enthusiasm and idealism is not something by which to be embarrassed. It can be a strong motivator and impetus for wading into the archival work, as discussed by Huvila above. To me, the project is important and exciting with real potential to continue growing and enter into the community with positive impacts, and I drew inspiration from that. I just erroneously assumed that this thinking would be immediately adopted by those in the community as well. I think I also assumed that my personal ties to the community would act as a stronger kind of currency that would propel interest and participation without needing a significant investment in community engagement on my part. I also assumed that the sense of cultural pride that I know many Azorean-Americans feel would create a stronger willingness of their part to express and document their experiences. Now I see that these three assumptions about what would ensure strong participation—the community having automatic buy-in to the idea, being archivist with community ties, and cultural pride translating into a willingness to share—neglected to take several key factors related to trust and engagement. Archivists are strongly encouraged to evaluate the strength of their relationships with the community and how strongly they are or are not trusted as significant indicators of potential success.
Blurring Boundaries: Archivist as Participant, Archivist as Friend
One of the challenges that I encountered with participation was the difficulty I had balancing the numerous roles and relationships I have with the project and the participants. This project is a dissertation, so I am conscious of my status as a doctoral student working to make scholarly contributions; however, I am also aware of myself as an Azorean-American woman seeking insights into my own cultural heritage. I am a part of an immigrant community in the small town where I grew up, and because of that past shared history, I also engaging with participants who are family members and friends, but in the eyes of the IRB, my role in relation to them is merely “investigator.” The social norms that govern familial relationships are far more informal and personal than the standards to which I must adhere as an institutionally regulated researcher, which often feels like an impossible juxtaposition. As an example, I can remember the night I met with the Alves family. This interview was with four women from the family, but it was organized by a personal friend of mine, Shannan. After arriving, there was a feeling of excitement as I had not seen Shannan in years, and it felt like a reunion with an old friend. The conversation was light and rapid as we sat at the table, talking about our kids and old times. However, as everyone gathered around to start, and I presented them with the necessary consent forms, the atmosphere and tone in the room palpably changed. Faces became more serious and I felt Shannan’s family shift in the way they saw me, from a welcome friend to an outsider. Her aunt wanted to know more about who I was, specifically, how I was connected to the Azorean community. I felt a kind of distance or skepticism about why I was there and what I wanted from them, although I am sure that Shannan’s vouching for me was enough to keep the conversation moving. Things grew more and more comfortable as the conversation proceeded, and by the end I felt like I had been sitting around the table with woman from my own family. It was entirely familiar, and it remains one of my favorite experiences from the entire project. However, at the end of the recorded interview, I was just chatting, informally again, with Shannan’s aunt, and I was showing her some of the pictures that I had already collected from the Areia family and of my Aunt Elsie, who contributed to the Sousa family artifacts. She immediately exclaimed, “Oh! I know them! That’s your aunt?” and playfully hit me on my arm before turning to her sister to tell her who else was participating. I got the feeling that the recognition of others who were participating not only put her at ease about her own participation, but it lent a certain credibility to me in her eyes, which aligns with what researchers have found about the importance of groups in participatory research. In any case, the boundaries between myself as a scholarly researcher and as a community member and friend were in constant flux throughout the process.
The above example may be more relevant to the discussions in the Data Collection and Management chapter as opposed to the discussion here in the context of participation, but it is a good example of the difficulty in doing what Belinda Battley calls “insider research,” in which the researcher is also a participant member of the community being studied, capitalizing on existing friendships to engage contributions (380). Although these multiple roles can create some challenges, “friendship as method” scholarship suggests that there are also some benefits to working in this capacity. The term, first coined by Lisa Tillman-Healy, is used to describe researchers who “employ traditional forms of data gathering,” but whose “primary procedures are those we use to build and sustain friendship: conversation, everyday involvement, compassion, giving and vulnerability’’ (734). She continues by arguing that the essential nature of this method is that it moves researchers from a place of studying “them” to one of studying “us” (734). Helen Owton and Jacquelyn Allen-Collinson argue that “despite the challenges, the kinds of relationships such ‘insider’ status offers can lead to valuable and even unique insights,” and that “without some prior, shared ‘biography of friendship,’ [participants] more personal and sensitive revelations made would not have been made” (302). It is possible that these more open and richer shared contributions are a result of the “enhanced the trust between the participants and the researcher” that comes from having a shared history and long-standing relationship (Battley 376). The issue of being both a researcher and a friend brings the issue of trust once again to the forefront of participatory research, in this case by creating a situation where deeper levels of trust are already established and thus likely to contribute to a richer interaction and enable the interview to move through greater emotional depths.
For me specifically, one of the challenges of using friendship methods had to do with decisions about how aggressively I would pursue participants who are also friends and family. As I discussed in the narrative, I had numerous friends who commented on the initial call for participation with a kind of casual interest or non-committal expression of willingness to contribute. I envisioned a system of participation that started with those in the network completing the interest survey, which I would then use to track and pursue participants. However, no one who responded to the post completed the survey. From there, I had to make decisions about how to proceed with those who were interested but not willing or motivated to complete the survey. The complication when being friends with someone stems from “the need to balance the risk of coercion of people I am close to with their desire to be involved for their own interest” (Battley 380). I do not want to force participation by friends who might feel obligated to help, like when a friend asks you to move. Even though you don’t really want to do the work, you agree to help because it is a friend. I was worried about being too assertive in my communications—how many times would I be willing to send someone a message about participating? In two cases, the Furtado and Castro families, I had an initial expression of interest from my friends, but when I followed up with each before traveling for the first research trip, they each sent messages that expressed some level of difficulty in scheduling during my available times. Had I pushed, articulating how much I wanted them to participate or how important it was for me to complete my degree, I think each would have relented and made the time to meet, however inconvenient. In the end, I told them not to worry about it, and that if the timing was bad, we could possibly make arrangements to talk at a later date, which did eventually happen on my second trip. With one friend who indicated in a comment that she and her mother would probably be able to help, I ended up sending one message that was never returned. I felt sending additional messages would possibly push her into participating when she might have decided otherwise on her own. Maintaining an ethical balance between archivist and friend requires that I approach people carefully, always ensuring that I make clear that there is no obligation, and when there is a question of pursuing potential participants, choosing to err on side of passivity or release rather than risk forced agreements that could damage a relationship.
In this project, I am not only a friend to the participants, but I am also a participant myself, blurring yet another boundary.
It was not my initial intention to be part of the archive, but it evolved out of what felt like a necessity. The Areia, Alves, Castro, and Furtado collections grew out of participation by friends, but out of all my recruitment efforts, these were the only groups who culminated to contributions to the archive. I was experiencing a growing sense of panic that I would not reach the 5-7 family groups that I proposed in the prospectus, so I decided to approach my family. The Sousa family represents my mother’s maternal ancestry and the Coute family is her paternal line. Including them also allows me to add digital artifacts from my own collection, which in some ways feels true to the inspiration for the archive as a whole—my grandmother’s hope chest. I also felt that on the Sousa side of the family, interviewing my great Aunt Elsie, now in her 90s, was something important for posterity and carried a sense of urgency to capture as much of her knowledge and legacy as possible while it was still possible. It was a way for me to reach toward some of my own very personal goals, finding ways to feel closer to my mother and grandmother, to help keep them alive in mine and my children’s lives. In a less personal way, it also seemed like a good way to demonstrate trustworthiness and credibility; being a part of the archive myself would show others that I am a part of the community and was willing to do all that I was asking of them. It is another way to move from with “them” to working for “us,” which in my case has enriched the project.
Rigidity or Reactivity in Design
One of the key themes that I have found in this project is the constant pull between what is planned and what is possible, between the idealized vision and the reality of what is presented. In terms of participation, I envisioned combing through a number of completed interest surveys to identify participants, but what I actually encountered were non-committal expressions of interest that had to be secured through individualized communications and accommodations. I envisioned applying a strict set of criteria about when and where families had emigrated from the Azores to determine participants, but what I actually encountered were a wide variety of immigration stories and chronologies. I envisioned all the contributing families giving group interviews and oral histories along with sharing artifacts, but what I actually encountered were often only willing individuals or those interested in sharing artifacts but not wanting to be recorded. In each situation, I needed to make a decision about whether to rigidly maintain the plan as I envisioned or adapt and be flexible about participation. I ultimately decided to be flexible: including families who immigrated after the initial 1940 deadline, allowing two families to only contribute artifacts, and inviting participants without requiring a completed survey. It was ultimately more important to me to have participation and an atmosphere of inclusivity than to stubbornly hold to my initial vision, which in retrospect would have resulted in an archive that was forced into a narrow definition of what it meant to be Azorean-American than the archive I actually produced that reflects the true diversity in the community. Smith’s assertion that ““the open call for participation authorizes geographically-dispersed users to share their narratives and engage in the public memory work” resonates with me in the sense that it is the open call that facilitates the important work of a participatory archive (122). In addition to flexibility leading to greater and richer participation, I think that I was also encouraged toward inclusivity by the constraints of time set by the IRB guidelines as well as my own timeline for completing the degree. If there were no deadline associated with this project, a reality that is unlikely to exist for any archival undertaking, I might have felt less pressure to secure participation and could have worked with more selectivity, taking the time to identify and work with the exact participants I had in mind; however, I do think this ultimately would have been to the detriment of the archive by resulting in a less representational sense of the community. Operating from a methodological stance of openness has been crucial for me in both securing participation as well as authenticity in the archive.
In one case though, the balance of openness and vision was truly tested. After posting the call for the participation, the very first person to respond with a willingness to contribute was my friend Leo Areia. From the outset, the archive was designed to capture the Azorean-American woman’s experience and domestic domain. It was a fundamental identity for the project rooted in the observable absence of woman in traditional civic and economic archival holdings. Yet with Leo’s post, I was almost immediately put in a position where I would have to make a significant decision about just how flexible with my vision I was willing to be. I think this raises an important aspect of the friendship as method approach, which is that as the researcher it becomes more difficult to turn a willing friend away and say thank you, but you are excluded from my work. Had I been working with interest surveys simply submitted by unknown individuals, it would likely have been a different decision, just a matter of sending a politely worded email response that explained the criteria for participation in this initial phase had not been met, but that the information would be saved for possible future expansions of the project. And maybe I could have done the same with Leo and not done harm to the relationship, but I could not help but wonder if his experience would still be valuable for people looking to understand their cultural identity? And wouldn’t the domestic artifacts he could share still contribute to the overall sense of the Azorean homelife? I ultimately chose to include him in the archive, and this does seem to align with shifting views within feminist historiographic scholarship that warns against “looking almost exclusively for work ‘by women,’ rather than for work that had shaped women’s lives or that had—for that matter—shaped gender dynamics and, thus, both men’s and women’s lives” (Hallenbeck 15). It is also a way to honor Kathleen Wider’s contention that “to understand a life, one must understand the social and political context within which it’s lived, the familial history of the person as far backward and forward as possible, the dreams and accomplishments of the person, the other lives that connected and supported the life examined, and so much more” (71). In other words, excluding men from the archive is ignoring the interactions and relationships with women—as sons, brothers, husbands, and nephews and the “other lives” that connect and support the lives of the archive’s subjects—that do powerfully shape the gender roles women fulfill in their homes and in the culture and add to the contextualization of their lives in the broader community. Understanding Azorean-American women is not a learning goal that can be completed without male perspectives to more fully illustrate the cultural role women play as part of the mixed gender context in which they are operating.
One area of deviation from the initial plan that is more of a disappointment than a benefit is with the planned focus group. In the prospectus, I delineated the plan for a focus group in which “participants will first answer pre-participation questions by phone interview or completing a written response.” The goals of the group were to identify what participants would want to see or expect to see in an archive, so that the finished product could take these responses into account and build an archive more respective and representative of the community’s needs as opposed to one reflecting only my own ideas. This step is truly important in historiographic work, with Ridolfo making the argument that “without field research into questions about what members of the community want from their diaspora of texts, what they want from their digitization, and most important, how and why they want to communicate and amplify their cultural heritage to the world, the development objectives of the digital repository would not be as rhetorically clear” (147). Here is a place where the theoretical and the practical did not seem to intersect as clearly as I would have liked. It had learned that participation was proving difficult to secure, and that my network overall was mostly unwilling or uninterested in completing surveys and pre-participation formalities even if they were willing and interested in contributing. Not forcing participants to complete the focus group questions was a decision I made to avoid any potential barriers to what often felt like tenuous agreements and plans. I also felt that the goal of the focus group questions were to ensure that the archive was a co-constructed product, and by allowing participants to self-select the artifacts they chose to share and by not too overtly directing the course of conversation in the oral history interviews, that the end result was a collaborative family collection that reflected both what I was interested in seeing and what the families felt was important and representative of themselves.
Going forward, were I to expand the archive, I think I would approach participants with what I am calling the “pickers method.” It may seem an odd tangent, but there is a television show that my husband enjoys watching called American Pickers. It features two men with an antiques and collectibles business who drive across the country in their van, stopping at homes to “pick” through people’s collections and making offers on items of interest. At each stop, they introduce themselves and hand a flyer to the collector that lists several categories of items they say are the kinds of things they are interested in and asks if the collector has anything like that. In every case, the collector will start by showing the pickers items they have that are listed on the flyer, but inevitably as they work together through the collection, the pickers find items of interest that are not something listed on the flyer. They don’t dismiss the item because it was not something from their list, and they often end up making an offer for these accidentally discovered items with more enthusiasm than the specifically sought-after objects. It is the surprise and the unknown discovery of something they did not know they wanted that adds depth and interest to their work. I think I could approach archival artifact collecting in the same way by perhaps showing participants a list of categories that I was interested in gathering—recipes, religious artifacts, and textiles for example—but also staying alert and open to the unanticipated find of something that is important to the family. It would add greater structure to the process that I was missing by not having a focus group, but it would not require any additional formalized participation, resulting in a mediated, yet representational, collection.
Overall, this question of rigidity versus flexibility can also be framed as a question of operating from a set of rules or from a set of values. In a recent PRI radio broadcast, titled “What Can AI Learn from Non-Western Philosophies?,” Marco Werman interviewed Dr. Pak-Hang Wong, a scholar in the field of Philosophies of Technology, about ethical issues related to developing artificial intelligence. Dr. Wong explains that by applying eastern philosophies to govern the developments, the process would differ “from the western traditions in the sense that it is not about setting up particular principles of restrictions, but rather [trying] to do certain things to guide the technologies along the way.” Werman replies, “So whereas in western thinking we might add kind of layers of rules to make sure certain principles are upheld in this technological space the thinking here is to identify the values that might guide the technology.” When I heard this on the air one afternoon while driving home, it clicked with me that this shift is the exact approach that I was taking with the participation for my archive. Rather than guiding ethical participation through restrictions and rules, I could approach this area of the project by allowing my values to guide the process. These values were always clear to me: honor and respect the participants needs and wishes, be grateful for their willingness to share something personal of themselves and work inclusively to make an archive that is truly reflective of the Azorean culture and not just my experience of it. Being open and flexible to the various modes of participation and participants was ultimately a way to adhere to my values instead of adhering to an arbitrary set of restrictions, and I think archivists in general would be better served by organizing methods of participation according to their principles than by constructing a series of limiting regulations.
Reflecting on the totality of these experiences with participation, I find it useful to think about the constraints of participation as generally being either fixed or mutable. One of the more fixed constraints for me had to do with travel, both in terms of time and cost. I might have been able to increase participation if I lived locally within the community and had a wider range of availability to meet participants, but since I live in Florida, I was limited to collections that could occur in the time frame of my visits. These visits required funding, for flights, lodging, and rental cars, but because I have small children at home, I also had to plan my visits during the weeks my husband could take time off work to take care of them. These logistical concerns limited me to two trips, so the trips focused more on meeting committed participants rather than allocating time to community engagement activities, like meeting with local organizations, that could have increased visibility and potential participant pools. This constraint of time is also recognized in the scholarship, with one scholar who works predominantly with minority communities noting that although research takes time, the kind of community engagement necessary for building robust participation does as well. Stein et al. find that among those “who are engaged in community-based participatory research,” there is a recognition that “building community trust is not a quick process but … [has] benefits to study recruitment” (651). With limited time in Rhode Island constrained by the ability to travel, I think participation was negatively impacted. Time may also be constrained by institutional requirement, for example without applying for a renewal of my IRB approval, all research activities needed to be completed within one year. In other cases, if the project is funded by a grant, there would also likely be certain requirements for when the project would be completed or a timeline of the overall progress upon which sustained financial support might be contingent. However, it is important to be aware of the potential detriment to the project of operating in a restrictive time frame. Rotter and Jeffery warn that “when a project has a strict time frame, hurried participation can reproduce and strengthen existing power structures, and homogenise the differences within putative categories such as young men, women or poor people” (386). To me, this means that by working quickly with the participants that are most easily secured, it is possible that one would fail to capture the complexities of the community, instead only gathering contributions from those within the community who have the most agency and visibility or by failing to recognize its inherent diversity by relying on reductive assumptions about the culture that can take time to see through. Considering the ways that time and funding allocated for participation methods may be constrained and the possible consequences for those limitations are important considerations that the archivist will need to address and mediate when designing a new project.
While these areas may be fixed, it is also useful to remember that many areas of the participation design are far more mutable. The IRB modification procedures were relatively easy to submit with a rapid response, so I was able to adjust the inclusion criteria and recruitment process. I was also able to have flexibility with the questions I had planned to ask participants and the variety of artifacts I collected while still meeting ethical standards for equity between contributors because the decisions to make these changes still worked within an overarching set of guiding principles and values. The ability to have flexibility with these methods resulted in a more dynamic archive and allowed me to follow my instincts and grow the project rhizomatically.
I learned that despite the “myriad methodological and ideological challenges” associated with participatory research, it ultimately works in service of the community with a greater efficacy and significance (Rotter and Jeffery 385). It is also necessary to recognize that “participatory research is an evolving methodology” that must be allowed to change and develop in response to the outcomes of putting them into practice, “which increasingly enables community understandings, values and needs to be included in research design, methodology and desired outcomes” (Battley 373). Archivists working to build a participatory archive will need to enter into the process with a set of adaptive, values-driven principles with a specific strategy for generating trust within their time constraints. This work is about balancing theoretical approaches to methodologies with the reality of working with people with differing needs and personalities. Although it presents unanticipated obstacles and spurs unplanned decisions that can potentially shape the archive in unexpected ways, a participatory research design can result in socially significant and richly diversified outcomes.
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