The LGBT Archival Education Project fellows recognize that working with queer archival records can be an emotional, embodied experience, especially since many materials contain a reflection of oppression, trauma and violence experienced by queer individuals and communities. In many records, slurs, descriptions of violence, or other dehumanizing content may arise. We must remember that these archives are also important in understanding queer history, and that our job as empathetic archivists is to humanize the subjects of archival records, and not diminish their agency, while also giving ourselves space to feel and heal.
In “From Human Rights to Feminist Ethics: Radical Empathy in the Archives,” Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor assert that archivists must act as “caregivers.” Caswell and Cifor posit that “an archival approach marked by radical empathy would require archives to make survivors and implicated communities not just a target group of users, but central focal points in all aspects of the archival endeavor” (24).
Dealing with queer archival records within a framework of feminist ethics also means a willingness to acknowledge our own positions and the situated knowledges we bring to our analysis, practicing “objectivity in action,” a term borrowed from Kim Tallbear, which asks us to bring our anti-racist, feminist and decolonial practice with us into the archive instead of leaving it out for the sake of “objectivity.” It also means considering your own experiences and how you relate to the archives that you are handling. You may not share the experience of the archival subjects, but that does not mean you cannot practice radical empathy and care when making decisions about how to interpret, share, and respond to the records.
We are excited to share these queer archival resources with everyone, and we encourage you to keep these ethical guidelines in mind as you explore.