In a post on Recovering the US Hispanic Literary Heritage’s blog (based on a talk given to new CLIR fellows), Lorena Gauthereau discusses “the importance of minority archives” and the idea of postcustodianship. As Gauthereau explains, “archives have historically functioned as mechanism of colonialism. They have helped to structure our understanding of history and the nation in a way that also structures our understanding of what we call ‘civilization’ and ‘barbarism.'” Citing Franz Fanon, Gauthereau further explains that imperial powers do not stop at controlling physical territory or at oppressing people in the present; they also impose control over the past and seek “to destroy the history of oppressed peoples.” Archives play an important role in this process as colonial institutions “determined to own and possess history in order to categorize it.” So how is it possible to preserve the histories of oppressed peoples, to ensure that their perspectives and experiences are not drowned out by colonial histories, without furthering colonial efforts to possess and control those histories? Gauthereau offers postcustodial archival practices, made possible by modern digital technologies, as one answer:
Since, as mentioned earlier, archives have historically functioned as an instrument of colonialism, community members with personal collections are often wary of institutional archives. Even today, large, well-known libraries have disposed of or sold collections deemed “unimportant” (usually minority collections) in order to make room for “more important collections.” Moving away from an archive design that requires possession and ownership is a stance that delinks libraries from the colonial model. The postcustodial theory of archives is “the idea that archivists will no longer physically acquire and maintain records, but that they will provide management oversight for records that will remain in the custody of the record creators” (Pearce-Moses). Digital technology allows archivists the ability to return physical collections to the original record keepers and create digital copies that can be housed in an institutional repository. Furthermore, postcustodial practices offer opportunities for community engagement, as Sofía Becerra-Licha (2017) has suggests.