A moment

[Note: I started this post right after Charlotteville but kept holding back on sharing it as I worried I was rambling too much and missing facts and in general not making sense but I still feel the need to share so here it is.]

I often struggle to put into words what I feel at times like this. I tend to keep politics off this blog but every once in awhile, I feel the need to comment. I have a hard time saying what I want to say though articulately and in a way that doesn’t just sound like an impassioned outburst of emotions rather than something thought through logically with facts. But I’m not sure I can do that for this one.

A woman died over the weekend. She was my exact age. She died because she was standing up and speaking out when she saw something was not right. I wish I was more like her. I find myself often tongue tied with the current state of affairs. So sunk in rage and depression and shame I retweet articles rather than write my own. Others seem to be much better equipped to say what I feel in my heart and know in my mind. But if she could do it, stand in the actual face of the problems of our country, the least I can do is write about it from my safe desk in my safe apartment.

This is not normal. John Oliver asked us to remember that after the election last year. I find I say it to myself daily as I watch the news, read the tweets and watch in disbelief as our country becomes the worst parody of itself. America and its democracy have always been a double edged sword; freedom of speech means freedom for everyone, even those you would spend your life screaming about how wrong they are. But you can scream and so can they. It is when one side begins to take action to limit the other from speaking that we have our problem. However, in the case of Charlotteville, unlike our president’s opinion apparently, I stand firmly in the camp that that sort of speech, the speech meant to incite hatred and violence, is wrong and should not be protected. There are very clear sides in this case and only one side that is right. We have fought wars, American men and women have died, over this sort of hate and now it’s apparently being tolerated by our administration on our own soil.

I find I must admit I just do not have it in me to understand. How can you have that much hatred for people you have never met simply because they look or believe something different from you? How can this group of people, arguably the most privileged in the world, feel that disenfranchised? That under attack? That scared? I know I come from an extreme place of privilege, the one tick against me being my gender, so I always try to remember that as I process things like this. But no, I’m sorry, there can only be one response which is both logical and emotional…THIS. IS. WRONG.

Wrong on so many levels, I cannot begin to delineate them. These are people who are living their lives, trying to raise their families and move ahead in the world, same as you and me. They have done nothing to you. The problem is not them, it is you and whatever twisted path you walked to come to this point. I am sure you have excuses. They are lame. This behavior is inexcusable and perhaps worst of all to you, un-American. We are supposed to be the land of the free, the home of the brave. The land that takes in those who cannot find refuge elsewhere. Our country would not be what it is today without the many immigrants and outcasts that have found a place to call home on our shores. This used to be something we celebrated. When did it become something we were ashamed of, something we wanted to forgot or actively denounce? In making that reputation for ourselves, we made mistakes. We have never been as free as we liked the world to think. There have always been caveats. We’ve closed our doors to certain groups out of fear, bigotry, pride in the past and we’re doing so again. Perhaps what history should teach us better than most is there is no closing the door. No going back to an isolated existence. The world is at our doorstep and the doorbell is going to keep ringing.

Ironic in many ways that those who marched this weekend may be descendants of those who were once shunned as immigrants in those earlier waves. Those greeted with signs of “No Irish.” My ancestors were. What happened over the weekend was about more than immigrants or racism or gender or religion or sexual preference. It was about a bunch of people who are scared and therefore want to make sure everyone else is scared with them. That fear and ignorance and willful hatred helped last November happen. So, I will not be scared. I will be angry that we allowed this to happen and fight to make sure we do better, that we are better. But I will not let them scare me. They are wrong and they will not win.

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Appraisal in the Real World

(second report for summer class)

The suggestion for this week’s report was uncannily like a topic I had been playing around with writing on anyway. I did a little blog post on it for the blog as well but I wanted to use my reflective report to share my first actual appraisal experience and to compare it to SI 632, Appraisal of Archives, a class I just took this past semester. For the most part, I found that while we can be taught the theory in a classroom, there is no greater teacher than experience.

For my first appraisal, I accompanied my supervisor to the National Museum of Natural History. The paleobiology department had contacted Tammy about looking through several filing cabinets to see if it was anything the archives were interested in or if they should just get rid of everything. Loaded down with acid-free boxes, as we had no idea how much stuff could be in the filing cabinets, we drove over to the museum. We then proceeded through a maze of hallways into a massive basement room, full from top to bottom of specially made fossil cabinets with regular filing cabinets interspersed. After being shown the way through the maze to the filing cabinets we were concerned with, Tammy dove into the first cabinet. Immediately I saw that experience was the key factor here. She knew the types of forms in the drawer and where copies of them would be and how long they would be kept. She quickly recognized maps that were published, paper drafts that should be kept and any correspondence was an automatic keeper. However, she also had difficultly with the subject matter. The papers could have common paleobiology knowledge on them or some research that never got around to being published. It was a tricky balance that she was trying to find between keeping and tossing.

In the end, we took four and a half boxes full of papers back to the archives, the bulk of which was correspondence. The rest Tammy suggested the department at least glance through before tossing as they may catch important research she did not recognize. Compared to the amount of papers Tammy looked through we kept about 10-15% for the archives. Tammy talked me through what she was doing the whole time. She kept a list of everything she found and the reasons why she either did or did not take it to explain both to the department head as well as to put in the appraisal log back at the office. She stressed the archives was most interested in correspondence between the Institution and “everybody else.” Why however, she never said and I was too busy lugging boxes to ask. I will ask when she gets back from vacation though.

So, How did this compare to class? One thing I noticed, and just mentioned, was the reasoning behind what Tammy was taking. She wrote down the reasons why she was not taking things – mostly because it was either published or located elsewhere. In SI 632, we discussed collection policies and their importance in appraisal as it helps an archives say ‘no’ when it needs to. I have not seen SIA’s collection policy nor do I know if they have a formal policy in writing. I have noticed things at SIA tend to be very loose and laid back. An environment I enjoy but it does not jive always with the formal atmosphere I sense in class at times. Professor Hedstrom stressed the imperfectness of appraisal and how the best teacher would be experience. However, my first experience here had no rhyme or reason to it. There was no method Tammy used, no theory we discussed in class that seemed to guide her. It was pure “I have done this a million times before so I can do it this time too.” I was both impressed and terrified. I want to talk to Tammy more about this however she has been on vacation since so my weekly meeting has been pushed to early next week this time around. I am interested to hear her opinion on how she approaches appraisal in general and see if that links to a theory in a more subtle way.

In terms of class vs. reality, it comes back to what I discussed in my last report. The classroom can prepare us, give us the mental tools we need to approach a task in the archives but there is no substitute to the actual work itself. That observation seems to be my major take-home message of the summer so far. I need to soak up all the background work, all the theories and experiments and use that to approach the real-life tasks. I may have been overwhelmed by my first real appraisal experience but I feel, armed with the SIA collection policy, I could have done a good job just working from the basics I learned from SI 632. The class is a good jumping off point for the real-life work involved in appraisal and I was glad I had that under my belt for this first time out.