The Politics of Archives.

An Archivist’s main goal is to preserve the history of a place, institution, or group of people. One does this by collecting and maintaining irreplaceable records and documents that provide information about these histories. But this process does not always go smoothly. Often, Archivists face various social constraints as well as political obstacles while pursuing this goal.

Marcus Robyns, University Archivist at the Central Upper Michigan and Northern Michigan University Archives, recalls dealing with some social obstacles while working at an Archives in Beaumont, Texas. He decided to create an exhibit dedicated to women’s history in Beaumont, showcasing various influential women in the Beaumont community throughout the years. One of the women he chose to include in this exhibit was the owner of the Dixie Hotel, which was once the largest operating brothel in Beaumont. This woman was a well- known figure in the Beaumont community and was recognized for her involvement in community affairs and charity work. When Marcus debuted the exhibit, the community was outraged. They were furious that he showcased a woman who represented a “socially inappropriate” establishment. The community demanded that the exhibit be taken down, but Robyns refused, stating that “It is my job to preserve the history of this city, and that is what I am doing here.”

Social repercussions are not the only hurdles that Archivists face in his or her work. Politics are often closely woven into the profession, and can sometimes create problems. Here at the NMU Archives we recently obtained the papers of local politician Bart Stupak. Processing this collection to make it available to the public would take a large amount of time and labor, the funds for which we do not currently have.  Earlier this year we were preparing to apply for a grant that was being offered by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), which would allow us to process this collection. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the NHPRC is a federally funded organization, they were not able to give financial aid to our project because Stupak is still technically an active lobbyist—any money given to aid a project dealing with a current politician could look as though the government is supporting that individual or party. Due to this stipulation, we were ineligible for the grant, and still have not received any of the money necessary to process this collection. Sadly, this means that it is not yet available for public viewing or research.

Stupak Collection sitting in Archival storage

Part of the Bart Stupak collection, still un-accessioned, sitting on shelves in Archival storage.

An Archivist’s ability to overcome these political and social hurdles comes with experience, something that Marcus Robyns certainly possesses. Here at the NMU Archives, we feel lucky to be working with such a wonderful archivist and have faith that he will find a way to make this extremely important collection available to the public!

Prepared by Savannah Mallo and Olivia Ernst.

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