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R2-D2: An Unintentional Archivist?

In the above noted video, a video podcast/vlog, Sam Cross and Jennifer Snoek-Brown, each with their respective blogs (Pop Archives and Reel Librarians) talk about archives themes in Star Wars (especially the themes), specifically noting that R2-D2 is a bit of an unintentional archivist in may ways. In the past I’ve noted the analysis droids of the Jedi Archives, noted fights over records in various episodes of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and the reprogramming of a droid, Chopper, in Star Wars Rebels as the Empire attempts to learn the location of the Rebel Base, along with any other secrets within. [1] However, I had never thought of R2-D2 as an unintentional archivist, perhaps because at times I see myself at the bit of the fringe of the Star Wars fandom. I tried to approach this article by combining my love of Star Wars with my knowledge of archives, records management, and other topics.

I somewhat broached a similar subject in the past, in respect to Peridot in Steven Universe, determining whether she is a records manager, unintentional archivist, or something else entirely. His official Wookieepedia entry notes that he was “never given a full memory wipe nor did he ever receive new programming” and states that he semi-retires in the Resistance, poring “over several decades of uninterrupted data” and dreaming of his “greatest adventures.” That’s pretty amazing for a droid who is one of the only consistent characters through the series. Not only does he survive through the invasion of a planet (Naboo), the entire Clone Wars, the Jedi Purge, the rise of the Galactic Empire, the end of the Empire, and beyond!

The entry notes that when he was captured, in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “Downfall of a Droid” as the devious General Grevious wants to “disassemble the astromech droid and extract all information on the Republic’s military strategies from him”. While he is saved in “Duel of the Droids”, this does show that even enemies see his value as a storage place of information. In a later episode, “Evil Plans”, Cad Bane exploits this, accessing the memory banks of R2, allowing him to “obtain a technical layout of the Senate Building”.

General Grevious personally oversees the disassembly of R2 in the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “Duel of the Droids”

To make sure his plan works, he even mind-wipes R2, so he doesn’t remember anything! As a note, all of these episodes will be from Star Wars: The Clone Wars unless otherwise stated. In fact, even while C-3PO gets mind wiped after Anakin becomes Darth Vader, R2 does not! This allows him to recognize Ashoka Tano in the series Ashoka and Star Wars Rebels episode “Droids in Distress”. A memory wipe is a select or completely erasing memory of a droid, something selectively done. This is basically a disposal process that “results in the obliteration of records”, i.e. destruction, rather than disposal or disposition.

Even funnier is the fact that R2 even commands, “The Citadel” and “Counterattack”) a whole droid squadron, allowing him to free some of the captured Jedi. Otherwise, he has helped indigenous people rise up against droid overlords, in the episode “Nomad Droids”, befriended battle droids in “A Friend in Need”. And despite almost being destroyed various times, like in the episode “Point of No Return”, or blasted in Return of the Jedi, he somehow survives, as does all the information he stores, despite various reboots if you will.

He serves a vital role in getting the plans of the Death Star into the right hands, as shown in Rogue One and A New Hope, and Leia’s message to Obi-Wan and Luke. Again, since he wasn’t memory wiped, he recognized Kenobi from before. Later, in comics like Princess Leia 3, data from his memory banks is useful once again. He even withheld information from Luke to protect him from the Sith, as shown in Star Wars (2015) 5. Even more interesting is that by The Force Awakens he had gone into a low power mode and tried to organize his information:

…the droid’s low-power mode allowed his diagnostic systems to attempt organizing the vast troves of information his databanks had collected over the years. The process of defragmenting millions of exanodes within his memory caused him to ‘dream’ of many of his greatest adventures.

That must be some good records management! He is even able to help when there is an attempt to build yet another Death Star-type weapon, as he STILL has the plans of the original Death Star downloaded! What is his lifespan? Isn’t there any degradation of his data? He even later restore C-3PO’s memory in The Rise of Skywalker. While the page says he was “destroyed”, this is referring to the episode “Point of No Return” in Star Wars: The Clone Wars, when he was rebuilt. The page also states, summarizing Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary, that he had “sophisticated computer access equipment” allowing him to read whole networks and had been “secretly keeping internal copies of much of the data he had accessed over the decades”!

Specifically, R2 engages in accrual, by acquiring additional records, but also has actionable information, i.e. data “assembled to facilitate decision making.” He probably also has active records, information he restricts from “unauthorized disclosure”. Considering he is a robot, his records are more likely organized in an alphanumeric fashion, instead of alphabetically by subject, software of some sorts. He may have a device like a bulk eraser which can “rapidly remove recorded information from magnetic media without having to touch the surface”, something which enemies of him undoubtedly have.

As is states in a caption on Wookieepedia, “Leia Organa entrusts the future of the Rebel Alliance to R2-D2.” That’s a lot of faith in a droid!

The Legends page doesn’t add much more at first, other than his role in Star Wars: Clone Wars, the first animated series which was later superseded by Star Wars: The Clone Wars many years later. It does not how he is often a conduit of information, especially during the Clone Wars, as shown in Star Wars: Clone Wars. In a now, not-canon The Secret Disk, R2 copies a “top-secret information disk”, a story continued, and concluded, in The Cloud. Otherwise, he was hacked, broke into computer systems, fixed robots, and did much more. All the while he has techniques set policies and supervise the “creation, organization, access, and use of large quantities of information”.

Even more significant is in Dark Nest I: The Joiner King when he shared holograms of Anakin and Padme with Luke and Leia, not wanting to do, at first, in order to protect them. Later, it was said he was “passed down from generation to generation within the Skywalker family”, almost like a family heirloom. The page goes onto state he had more personality than other droids possible because “his memory [was] never being erased or reprogrammed”. After all, as the page notes, he is one of few characters to “appear in all six primary Star Wars films”!

Is it any coincidence that a data resilience and integrity plan, officially named “reactive redundancy for data destruction protection” would stand for R2D2? I think not. Others have noted that in the Death Star, people can access the network and do whatever they want, stating that “R2D2 was able to plug into the system and access information without any audit report”. It is then noted that R2 was able to “plug into the system and manipulate different functions of the Death Star.” Records managers have also likened themselves to R2. [2] At the same time, R2 has disposable records which are either shortly or immediately destroyed and has his own forms of document management.

In the end, perhaps we can say that R2 is an archivist who has an electronic recordkeeping system of some type, and survives longer than anyone, somehow not dying despite everything that happens.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] In that post, I said “there’s also fights over records in “Senate Spy” (S2, e4), “Children of the Force” (S2, e3), “Downfall of a Droid” (S1, e6), and “Duel of the Droids” (S1, e7).” Also, in an August 2020 post, I describe the Wookiepedia entry for Nu, which says that the “Chief Librarian” (actually chief archivist) is assisted by “associate librarians” (actually associate archivists), along with various analysis droids.

[2] “Document Management: 5 Ways Your Business is Like the Death Star and How to Fix it Now” and “Nicole Thorne-Vicatos ARIM” pages.

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The relevance of Star Wars to pop culture depictions of archives

My post on here back in February was met with some push back on /r/archivists, which I totally expected. One cranky archivist, with the username DependentFigure6777, declared that “any article that uses Attack of the Clones as evidence of anything in the real world is not well.” I’m not really sure how to interpret that comment except that it is passive aggressive and a bit hostile. So, in this post I’ll explain why Attack of the Clones and Star Wars are relevant to the real world, especially to work in archives, even though Star Wars films, animated series, and the like, are obviously fiction, and not “evidence” of any real-world archiving, especially since archivists and librarians are famously confused in Attack of the Clones, leading a myriad of problems.

As I noted in that post, Jedi archivist Jocasta Nu in the Star Wars franchise thinks her records are “complete” and without error, but is anything but neutral. She further thinks that all the records will not have not have any issues because the information is managed by a Jedi, i.e. herself, and others who are helping her. I further noted that that the Jedi temple archives’ records are meant for the Jedi, but the general public is now allowed inside and can’t access the records, meaning there are definitely specific rules which influence how the records are described, collected, and arranged, rules with their own biases based on where, when, and who runs the archives. In the post I also noted that the Imperials took the Jedi records and destroyed many of these records, with Nu purging the archive files before that, using it for their own means, becoming a a place for anti-Jedi propaganda, with manipulation of archived data. I further argued that this story means that archives aren’t neutral but are contested spaces going from Jedi propaganda to anti-Jedi Empire propaganda, then becoming Sith propaganda. Since it is a human institution, its organization of information and storage involves choices, as not a neutral receptacle of history, nor is its documentation accurate, comprehensive, fair or representative. There is no such thing as a “complete” archives.

This is really something that would be great for someone to write a fan fic about if they so chose, as they could touch on many archival themes. Otherwise, apart from the various articles about this by Sam Cross and Jennifer Snoek-Brown, both of whom were part of a really great video vlog/podcast about archival themes in Star Wars films which was posted on Cross’s YouTube channel [1] this film has often been covered in the archival literature. I noted one such article in my post last month, by an Italian archivist. Others have pointed out Nu as an example of a “librarian” with an “unsupportive” attitude, as she is extremely unhelpful to Obi-Wan.

Harvard educator, ethnographer, and organizer Jarret Martin Drake mentioned the series briefly in his article “Blood at the Root” in the Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies, writing that “the ethical archivist, it is often argued, does not shirk this power but rather assumes it consciously and conscientiously, a wiser wielder of their force, so to say, as evidenced by the conspicuously outsized number of references to Star Wars in this genre of writing.” [2] Others have gone further, saying the scene in Attack of the Clones provides a glimpse into the “kind of power archives wield and their ontological effect as sites where not only events, experiences, and histories get recorded”

Most well-known is an article by Randall Jimerson, then president of the SAA, arguing that in Attack of the Clones, “archives represent power”, claiming that the film presents a “more confident view of archives” than George Orwell’s 1984, and describes Jocasta
Nu as a “frail elderly woman”. He goes onto say that the missing planet is erased in an “act of archival sabotage” but that the film’s futuristic vision of an archives “shows the limits of archival control.” He then says that the “pose of omniscience” of the archivist is “truly an illusion” and quotes Eric Ketelaar who says that the power o the archivist is shown in the fact that “Obi-Wan must physically enter the Jedi Archives in his search” He concludes that in the film “the role of the archivist is crucial and powerful.” [3]

The article by Ketelaar describes Nu as a “Jedi archivist”, says that the film indicates the power of the archives. He asks if her claim that if something doesn’t appear in records it doesn’t exist is an overestimation or “typical for the dedicated professional who is so entirely taken up by her own world that external reality is rated lower than its internal representation”. He further argues that Nu “suggests that the archived reality is part of the record” and notes that the Jedi archives is within a temple. Later in the article, he adds that “temples and churches convey by their architecture the idea of surveillance and power” and notes that search rooms of many archives are a panopticon, giving examples of the U.S. and U.K. National Archives, saying that researchers have to keep silent and are under “constant supervision” while researchers have a “minimum of privacy”. [4] He concludes his article by saying that Nu is ensuring the archives are comprehensive, secure, and affirming her role in society. In that, she is fulfilling the societal expectation of archives: that they are secure places which store memories, while archivists use their power for empowering so that “society can be confident of the future”. [5]

There a few other articles in The American Archivist which analyze Star Wars. One of those is an article in 2007 by Richard Pearce-Moses. He briefly mentions Attack of the Clones. He saying that with the rise of the Web and the the digital era, there will be “changes in public expectations for access to information”. He goes onto argue that the attitude “if it’s not on the Web, it doesn’t exist” is a naive notion manifested in the film itself. He quotes a now-dead link to a Star Wars Databank entry for Nu, which states that she was so reliant on the data of the Jedi Archive that she “neglected to consider that perhaps the information could have been tampered with.” [6]

While I understand what he is saying, it would be a stretch to say the computer systems of the Jedi Archives are like the internet. Its more like an intranet, as it can only be accessed within the archives and not outside of it. Neither of these reviews noted something interesting about Nu, as noted in the “expanded universe” part of that entry: that Nu had been Archives Director for 30 years, but is not a frontline warrior, and “in addition to serving as custodian of the records, she would prepare mission briefs for Jedi taskforces and Knights on assignment.” I wish something like that had happened in the film. Something akin to that did happen in the animated series. In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars episode “The Lost One”, Nu explains the records that the Jedi Archives has on Sifo-Dyas. [7]

As was mentioned in the above shown video by Snoek-Brown, Dooku and Nu were apparently in a romantic relationship. The Wookiepedia entry seems to allude to this, saying the Qui-Gon Jinn “noticed that Dooku and Nu were normally very friendly” and quotes an interview in Star Wars Insider 75 (which Snoek-Brown mentioned), in which Nu’s voice actress, Alethea McGrath, stated that a scene cut from the film stated that “Nu and Count Dooku used to be in love during Dooku’s days in the Jedi Order”! I mentioned this in a previous article, noting it creates an ulterior motive for her and asked if she is “part of a cover-up of the record in that her previous love with Dooku clouded her judgment” and asked if “he took advantage of her, allowing him to delete the record”, raising lots of questions.

After some sleuthing, I found the original article. It is always better to look at the original source than looking at an abstract. In a small part of the article in this 2004 edition of Star Wars Insider, [8] McGrath said she was disappointed that Nu didn’t get to use her lightsaber in the film, commented that she wore an “old-fashioned dress” instead of a cloak (which she expected), and notes the cut scene about the romance between Nu and Dooku, with her careering Dooku’s face:

“It was a lovely bit. I got quite sentimental about it because [our characters had] been in love at one stage. I was almost tearful, you know. I touched his bronze face and thought of happy times, and I ended up saying, ‘It was sad he turned to evil'”.

I was curious, and it turns out that there are 50 Dooku / Nu fan fictions on Archive of Our Own, a fan-created community archive which won a Hugo Award in 2019. Looking through those is a discussion for another time. Anyway, on a related note, perhaps, is an article arguing that Star Wars has a lot to “tell us about perennial questions of constitutional design.” [9]

The entry for Nu on page 87 of Amy Ratcliffe’s Star Wars: Women of the Galaxy, which summarizes her role in Star Wars.

What McGrath is saying echoes what is stated elsewhere in the archival literature: that Nu wore “a traditional, conservative robe” and that the archives “even resembled a library, with stacks of glowing records lined up on the shelves,” while stating that she exhibited some qualities of stereotypes usually applied to librarians. The same article in Archivaria notes that Obi-Wan did not follow the advice of the archivist, going on a search for the planet, while Nu “with all of her extensive knowledge, was quickly forgotten” in the film. [10] Additional literature noted the similarities between the BIONICLE universe made by Lego, with a Great Archives in Onu-Metru. This series even had a character named Tehutti who is said to have spent all his time within the archives! I was a big fan and user of LEGO for years and never remember this, or how central this archives is to the universe. [11]

Others have said that Obi-Wan was “put in his place by the lady archivist” (Nu) and summarizes Ketelaar who describes archives as “sites of power”. Furthermore, renowned archivist Michelle Caswell in 2020 speech at the Association of Canadian Archivists’ annual conference, made an argument about liberatory memory work, saying that they are not bound to linear time in a “sort of Star Wars out-of-order kind of way”. [12] That’s just two examples, but there is more in other archival literature. For instance, on pages 22 and 23 of the May 2022 edition of Estudios del Discurso, Nina Hoechtl, a visual artist, curator, teacher and independent researcher at Museo Amparo, noted Attack of the Clones as an example of an archival imaginary, and said that:

The archive is a site that joins various sorts of assumptions about kinds of knowledge –how to store,access, retrieve and re-active them, and what is knowable– that are crucial to the ways people, communities, and societies think about themselves, deal with their pasts, ponder on their presents, and imagine their futures.

Caitlin Patterson of Western Washington University makes one one of the more interesting perspectives about Nu: that she does not “conform to all the standard stereotypes” of archives, describing her as “fierce and imposing,” and countering “the image of archivists as shy and retreating”, stating that her age “commands more respect than that of the average fictional archivist”. She goes onto say that Nu is intelligent and dedicated but not cloistered or passive”, but seems to have a “certain possessiveness of the collections” and states that Nu suggests a “different interpretation of the archivist which…still offers a reasonable explanation of her role”. [13]

In conclusion, the cranky archivist I noted at the beginning of this post is dead wrong, and should be a bit ashamed of themselves. Star Wars, and pop culture in general will continue to be relevant to archives, and the profession as a whole, [14] whether we like those depictions or not. As for this blog, I’m going keep posting these articles even if people on /r/archivists, a group of individuals who luckily do not represent the majority of the profession, hate them.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] See Cross’s articles “Tool of the Empire, Tool of the Rebellion: Star Wars and the Archive” on Pop Archives and “Page Turners, They Are Not: The Last Jedi and the Archives” in The American Archivist Reviews Portal. Also see Snoek-Brown’s “The Jedi librarian“, “The Jedi Librarian vs. Darth Vader“, “A funny thing happened on the way to the Jedi library…“, and “May the archives be with you | Shining the spotlight on the Jedi librarian” on Reel Librarians.

[2] Drake, Jarrett Martin (2021) “Blood at the Root,” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies: Vol. 8, Article 6, p. 2.

[3] Randall Jimerson; Embracing the Power of Archives. The American Archivist 1 January 2006; 69 (1): 20-21. doi: https://doi.org/10.17723/aarc.69.1.r0p75n2084055418.

[4] Ketelaar, Eric. (2002) “Archival temples, archival prisons: Modes of power and protection,” Archival Science 2, p. 2, 8-9. The pages used her are in the PDF version on academia.edu, not those in the original article in Archival Science.

[5] Ibid, 10.

[6] Pearce-Moses, Richard. (2007). “Janus in Cyberspace: Archives on the Threshold of the Digital Era“. The American Archivist 70 (1): 15.

[7] She also has a big role in the episode “Holocron Heist”, a smaller role in the episodes “Lightsaber Lost” and “Assassin” as I noted in my post on the topic.

[8] Tscharner-Patao, Gabriela. “Appearing Knightley (And the Women of Star Wars)”, Star Wars Insider, Vol. 75, p. 35.

[9] On the other hand, there were no results for Star Wars in the International Journal of Digital Curation, the National Archives’ Prologue magazine, and a number of other journals, such as Archives and Manuscripts, Archives and Records, Journal of Archival Organization, Journal of the Society of Archivists, Library & Archival Security. Also, of related interest may be “Learning from the news: Experiments in media, modality, and reporting about star wars.

[10] Aldred, Tana, Gordon Burr, and Eun Park. (2008). “Crossing a Librarian with a Historian: The Image of Reel Archivists.” Archivaria 66: 80, 84, 89.

[11] Schwartz, Joan M. (2006) “‘Having New Eyes’: Spaces of Archives, Landscapes of Power.” Archivaria 61 (September), 19-23.

[12] Buckley, Karen. (2008) “‘The Truth is in the Red Files’: An Overview of Archives in Popular Culture“, Archivaria 66 (1), 101; Caswell, Michelle. (2020). “Feeling Liberatory Memory Work: On the Archival Uses of Joy and Anger“, Archivaria 90, 151.

[13] Peterson, Caitlin. “No Dust in Cyberspace?: The Effects of Internet Technology on Perceptions of Archives.” Masters, Western Washington University, 2012. See page 18.

[14] Star Wars appears to be mentioned in archives (and library) literature such as Archive Stories: Facts, Fictions, and the Writing of History, Ljiljana Gavrilović’s Culture in Show-Window: Toward a New Museology, Beth M. Sheppard‘s Future Shock: The Inevitable Impact of a “New Generation of Patron” on Theological Libraries” (calls Nu a librarian rather than an archivist), a conference paper by Alexandra L. Fitzpatrick and S. Halmhofer entitled “There is Power in the Past: The Politicization of Archaeology and Heritage in the Star Wars Universe“, the books Teaching Gender with Libraries and Archives and The Image and Role of the Librarian, S Koevoets’ “Into the Labyrinth of Knowledge and Power: The library as a gendered space in the western imaginary“, an quoted at the beginning of David Levente Palatinus‘s article “Subjectivity and the Hauntology of the Digital“, to name a few.

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Beyond “negative perception” of archives and archivists in pop culture

Quote from abstract of Doria’s publication about perception of archivists

In May 2022, Gianni Penzo Doria, the director of State Archives of Venice, wrote a publication entitled Asterix, the Others, and the Archives: The Cinema perception of the archival profession. [1] This publication was of specific interest as it focuses on the “negative perception” archives and archivists have in popular culture. It notes how the role of the archivist is lost in common perception, with “boring old stereotypes” paired with lack of attention and “poor visibility” of archives.

The book’s preface, by Micaela Procaccia, president of National Association of Italian Archives (ANAI), emphasizes the need to limit the inconsistency between perception of archives in archives and the perception of archivists as “stiff and dull bureaucrats and even foolish servants.” It suggests possible (and appropriate) self-criticism which avoids technical language and self-reference while acknowledging that lack of knowledge of archives is the cause of the persistent idea that mold and dust is present in archives, and among archivists. He concludes by saying that society needs professional archivists and holds out hopes that a movie director will imagine a “brave archivist who, confronting risks and dangers, saves an historical record, unveils a plot, defeats the evil”. [2]

These comments and more make me think about what I’ve written about on this blog. This is especially the case since Doria notes the representation of archivists as “third-rate employees” with repetitive procedures, safeguarding their solitude, avoiding human contact, surrounded by dust and insects, and “isolated from the organizational context of the technostructure they operate in”. [3] While various Italian films, and other Hollywood films are discussed in Boria’s article. He highlights, first, Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film, Brazil, defining the main character, Sam Lowry (voiced by Jonathan Price) as “archivist employed by the Ministry of Information” who often has dreamlike moments and imaging himself as a winged superhero. Lowry tries to tamper with data in order to save the woman he loves. This is before he realizes it is all a dream and is in a catatonic state. [4]

Boria notes memorable lines from the film, like the importance of documentary forms, the idea that archives are a “secondary department” where you can’t make a career (not true), and claiming his talents are wasted in the archives. In other scenes, it is shown that each office in the ministry has “an alphanumeric code”, while he acts like the perfect bureaucrat, He is shown escaping from the archives somehow after he feels trapped inside, even though he can only imagine this, as he can never actually escape, only doing so in a world of dreams. [5]

Following this, Boria describes the film, Blade (1998), noting it has a “blob archivist” who tries to “protect humanity from the invasion of vampires. This includes his murder of an archivist, Pearl, a carcass of a man employed in the Erebus Archived, located in a smelly basement. He goes on to describe Julia Child, who calls herself a “poor archivist” in the 2009 film, Julie & Julia, even though she was actually an insurance agent. This is part of the bad impression of archivists that he describes in the paper. [6]

This is contrasted in Fail Safe (1964). In the film, Professor Groeteschele (Walter Matthau), political-military advisor of the Pentagon, predicts that file clerks and convicts will survive, declaring they will be “protected by tons of the best insulation in the world”, paper, asking people to imagine a “small group of dangerous convicts against an army of file clerks for the conquest of the remaining sources of life”. He says that although convicts know violence, file clerks know organization, asking “who do you think would win?” Boria goes onto say that this film exalts the role of archivist, and records manager, as being “capable of organizing the memory of a records creator through the figure of middle manager”. [7] A related video, when Groeteschele talks about saving corporate records, is shown above.

This differs from the rediscovered file in Philadelphia (1993) where Andrew Beckett, a gay lawyer affected by AIDS, is fired by a law firm because of his disease. His lawyer tells him that relevant correspondence ended up in the records center when the case was closed. Then, there’s the dull archivist at a records center, Lahontan Regional Water Board, in Erin Brockovitch (2000) who is convinced by Erin to let her look at the documents because she looks “sexy” to him. Of course, this is a bad perception of an archivist, who lets her stay in the archives without any supervision. What she finds there is helpful to her lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

Just as bad is the archivist in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, who declares the archives immutable and without error after Obi-Wan learns that the information is in the archives. He later realizes that something can be erased from the archives, even though it is “unsettling and dangerous” as Yoda puts it. This leads to, as Baria puts it, the idea that while archives provide “incontrovertible documentary proof of all activities that are documented and the records…preserved” but critical research cannot be “limited to the control of a single primary source”. [8]

He concludes the publication by saying that while the figure of archivist is often a caricature, grumpy character or a person who hinders research, it can also be a “person who holds the absolute truth…a useless dreamer…a sucker…[or] a human larva.” He adds that there are only a few cases, like in the film Fail Safe, that the archivist has a primary role as a “protagonist in a public or private organization”. He qualifies this by saying this level of respect only rises when movie directors and screenwriters focus on the archives as a “sacred place” that preserves “memory of its creator and guarantees accountability and citizens’ rights” rather than archivists. [9]

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] The publication was published in Bolgana, Italy by Filodiritto, 2022.  The latter included a link to this publication. The publication also had a preface by Micaela Procaccia, president of National Association of Italian Archives (ANAI).

[2] Doria, Gianna Penzo. Asterix, the Others, and the Archives: The Cinema perception of the archival profession (Bolgana, Italy: Filodiritto, 2022), 7; Procaccia, Micaela. “Preface” in Asterix, the Others, and the Archives: The Cinema perception of the archival profession (Bolgana, Italy: Filodiritto, 2022), 8-10. On page 9, Procaccia also urges archivists to make a big effort to “spread awareness of the central role of their work and their professional skills in society.”

[3] Doria, “Asterix, the Others, and the Archives,” 16. On pages 14-15, Doria says that Italian films like Le ragazze di Piazza di Spagna (1952), Il segno di (1955), Il compagno di don Camillo (1965), Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto (1970), La sconosciuta (2006), or Hollywood films like Being There (1979), Johnny Mnemonic (1995), The Net (1995), Murder at 1600 (1997), Being John Malkovich (1999), The Fellowship of the Ring (2001), Firewall (2006), Invasion (2007), and Soul (2020) aren’t included although they “contain interesting scenes about the archival profession, and…important scenes related to archives and archivists”. Page 15 also says that the paper leaves out “movies and TV series…often or periodically set in archives” which are generally “based on a captivating mix of police, espionage, science fiction and horror themes”.

[4] Ibid, 30, 32.

[5] Ibid, 32-34.

[6] Ibid, 35-37.

[7] Ibid, 37-39.

[8] Ibid, 46-47, 52-58. On pages 59-60 he adds that Jocasta Nu was a Jedi Council member but “chose to return to perform the functions of archivist and librarian out of passion and thanks to a love for knowledge” making clear that archives are “knowledge and knowledge is power.”

[9] Ibid, 76.

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Is the Buddwick Public Library an archival repository?

Jamie as Buddy Buddwick, surrounded by books he has written in the episode “Buddy’s Book

In January of last year in my weekly newsletter, I linked to my first post about archives and archivy themes in Steven Universe, then I wrote that “…the Buddwick Public Library is archivy in the sense that all the books were written by the town’s founder, Buddy Buddwick and library serves as a repository of said books.” I’d like to expand upon that with this post and examine it a little further.

A repository is defined by the SAA’s Dictionary of Archives Terminology as storing “items of continuing value” or an institution focused on “the care and storage of items of continuing value,” especially records. This is different from the much narrower terms, depository, digital depository, records center, archives, or even library.

The key part of the episode is toward the end, where Buddy declares that he followed Rose Quartz’s suggestion to become an author. He says, and I quote, “…become an author I did! I wrote up a storm, making book after book, so many until I realized I could fill a library with them!” Steven and his friend, Connie, come to the realization that the library they are in, the Buddwick Public Library is filled with Buddy’s book. After the unnamed librarian, predictably shushes them, they recognize that how they portrayed Buddy was wrong, but admit to one another they liked how they saw him better.

Unfortunately, we don’t get another look at the library in the series proper. The fandom site for the show notes that Buddy had written enough “books to fill an entire library,” which is how the library came into existence. When the library is featured in a few comics associated with the series, there is no insight into the library and its collections, although the librarian is somewhat redeemed. It seems clear from the episode we do see, however, that the library has more than a bunch of books written by Buddy. Why would the citizens of town use the library if it only contained his books? Perhaps his books form the core of their collections, but it is doubtful those are the only books or materials there. That just wouldn’t make sense.

Steven and Connie come to the realization that Buddy founded the public library

There is no doubt that Connie is right to say that Buddy “really did leave a mark on this town.” I am reminded of how, after some debate, the U.S. Congress purchased books from Thomas Jefferson to replace the books destroyed when the British burned the Capitol in September 1814. This formed the foundation of the new Library of Congress collection, which grew over the years. Jefferson’s books didn’t last very long though. A fire in later December 1851 destroyed “nearly two thirds” of the over 6,000 volumes which Congress had purchased from him! In the case of Buddy, he seems to have gifted his books rather than making a government entity buy the books from him.

As viewers, we don’t know, from a 11-minute episode, the status of Buddy’s books in the library itself. One could speculate they are, like in some libraries, in a special collections. On the other hand, the crux of the episode is Steven finding a rare book, literally a journal written by Buddy himself, stashed under an ordinary library shelf, clearly misfiled. This begs the question of whether Buddy’s books are within the library’s general collection or if they are in a special area, a sort of mini-archives. That is something that fans would have to figure out by themselves, even possibly writing fan fictions about it if they were so inclined to do so. I may even write a story about it in the future.

Clearly, the Buddwick Public Library is a location for storage, but it is unclear how many items in the collections are kept for “safety or preservation,” as the Wikitionary definition of the word “repository” states. We can guess there is a section for rare books and although the journal may have fallen off a cart accidentally, it almost seems it was deliberately put under that shelf for Steven to find or even to hide it from prying eyes. What if an earlier Steven hid the journal under there so that future Steven would find it? I wouldn’t put that outside the realm of possibility. All theories, even bad ones, are possible here.

In the end, the Buddwick Public Library is a functioning public library, but it is not known how much effort is put into preserving information on a long-term basis, including books written by Buddwick. We do know that after the book was found, however, we know it became part of the library collection, implying that the library may have begun efforts to save rare books or at least organize them properly. If that is the case, then the Buddwick Public Library would be a repository in some sense, even if it isn’t a typical archival repository.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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Archives Archivists basement archives comedy community archives drama fantasy Fiction genres film paper records Pop culture mediums preservation record erasure Records management romance speculative fiction White people

Creating Your Own History: Archival Themes in “The Watermelon Woman”

An archivist speaks to the film’s protagonist about having a “great system” to organize archival records within the community archive.

Reprinted from The American Archivist Reviews Portal. Thanks to Rose and Stephanie for their editing of this article!

Note: This review contains some spoilers for the film The Watermelon Woman.

The Core Values Statement of the Society of American Archivists says that archivists should expand access, respect diversity found in humanity, and advocate for archival collections that reflect humanity’s complexity. [1] The reality is often different from that ideal in a field that is overwhelmingly White, as a recent article about Black archives pointed out. [2] This is evident in Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 romantic comedy-drama film, The Watermelon Woman, which the Library of Congress added to the National Film Registry in December 2021 for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” [3] The film follows the story of one Black woman’s determined effort to create her own history and connect with the past. Although this eighty-six-minute mockumentary is over twenty-six years old, its themes of archival limits, power, silences, erasure, and fabrication continue to resonate today.

In the film, Cheryl Dunye plays a videographer (also named Cheryl Dunye) who works at a video rental store in Philadelphia with her friend Tamara (played by Valarie Walker). Cheryl watches a videocassette of an old 1930s film, Plantation Memories, and becomes interested in the character Elsie, a stereotypical ‘mammy’ character credited as “The Watermelon Woman.” She then strives to learn more about the actress who played Elsie. One of the first places Cheryl looks is in the basement of her mother’s house. Cheryl tells the audience that her mother, played by Irene Dunye, who is Cheryl’s mother in real life, throws nothing away. She says that Irene’s filing system needs updating. Her mother tells her about the films she watched growing up in the 1930s and notes that she saw “Elsie” singing in some clubs.

Cheryl continues her dogged search by talking to a person with a collection of old Black films and then traveling to the local public library, likely the Free Library of Philadelphia. After perusing the stacks, she checks out as many books as she can and talks to the reference librarian, a White man who is played by David Rakoff. Wanting information about the Watermelon Woman, she encounters her first archival limit, which scholars Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed, Frank Upward, Jocelyn Fenton Stitt, and Sarah Tyson define as barriers created when documents pass into the hands of archival institutions from those who created them, inhibiting attempts to use records to tell family stories and circumscribing efforts to reclaim records about enslaved people. [4]

The librarian dismissively tells Cheryl to check the “Black,” “film,” and “women” sections of reference books for information about the Watermelon Woman. With much prodding, he eventually searches his computer and identifies Martha Page as the film’s director, telling Cheryl that information about Page is on a reserve desk on another floor. Although reserve desks serve students and faculty with materials typically meant for university courses, Cheryl is given an exception and is able to access the relevant information for her research. Yet, she is still unsuccessful because the materials she looks at don’t have exactly what she is looking for.

Following her setbacks in the library, Cheryl again goes through her mother’s files in the basement. Her mother’s friend, Shirley Hamilton (played by Ira Jeffries), reveals a key clue: the Watermelon Woman’s real name was Fae Richards, which Shirley knew because Fae sang under her real name. Cheryl also learns that, like her, Fae is a “sapphic sister”—a Black lesbian woman—and was in a relationship with Martha Page, the White female director of Plantation Memories and other 1930s films. Through her research, Cheryl learns the lesson that Alta Jett, coordinator for the community-focused Black Woman in the Middle West archives project, pointed out in 1986: “if you want the history of a white man, you go to the library. If you want the history of black women, you go to the attics, the closets, and the basements.” [5]

Jolie Braun, a modern literary and manuscripts scholar, has argued that The Watermelon Woman highlights the power of archival limits, critiques how archives and libraries control access to records, and reveals power relations that undergird research in those spaces. [6] John J. Kostka, a moving image specialist, described Cheryl’s contact with the librarian in her reference interview as “frustrating.” His description is accurate: the librarian does not initially listen to Cheryl and only offers assistance and takes her seriously after he realizes that she has done her research. [7] If Cheryl had been a White woman, the librarian may have been more gracious and less hostile, instead of telling her to check the “film,” “women,” and “Black” sections in a derisive tone. [8] The librarian, by redirecting her to look in those library sections, is representative of collections reinforcing cultural bias by marginalizing views that are not White, heteronormative, and male.

Although the librarian’s stance toward Cheryl hints that librarians are gatekeepers of information rather than information providers, Cheryl fully experiences the power of the archive when she travels to the Center for Lesbian Information & Technology (C.L.I.T.) Archive. While at this collective feminist lesbian archive, a parody of the Lesbian Herstory Archive, [9] with her friends Tamara and Annie, she meets an archivist voiced by queer academic Sarah Schulman. While researching at C.L.I.T., Cheryl discovers documents and photographs of Fae, including one given to Fae’s “special friend” June Walker. Later in the film, Cheryl talks to June, who angrily denies that Fae had a relationship with Page, a White woman.

At C.L.I.T., Cheryl faces pushback from the archivist, who explains that Black lesbian materials are segregated from the rest of the collection and that their donor wanted the materials to be used “exclusively” by Black lesbians. The archivist declares that she respects Black people by crossing out any White people in the collection’s photographs. It is implied that this brazen act of record defacement was deemed “acceptable” by the collective running the archive but runs against the wishes of the donor. While the donor restricting access to Black lesbians would seem to reverse archives’ typical power dynamics, this liberatory potential is squashed by the archivist who wants to maintain power over the records.

At the same time, the archivist treats the records dismissively, dumping a box of records on a table. As Alyx Vesey, founder of Feminist Music Geek, argues, the archivist appears to care little about the fragility of audiovisual materials even as she defends the lack of filing and indexing, saying that volunteers run the archives. [10] This may suggest that there is little interest in the materials and that the volunteers who work at the archives privilege material that they believe others will be interested in or that will be more heavily used. Although the archivist tells Cheryl about lesbian history in the 1930s and lets Cheryl look at the materials, she talks about the former in racially charged language.

Even worse, the archivist says the records are “confidential” and demands that Cheryl leave after Cheryl’s White female friend, Annie, films specific records; the archivist declares that researchers can’t do so in the so-called “safe space” without the consensus of the entire collective. Cheryl and her friend do not let these impediments stop them from subverting the archives itself. Cheryl predictably bucks these rules and her friend surreptitiously films what Cheryl needs before they leave. Furthermore, the film suggests that there is not a “right” way to archive materials, as Kostka argues in his post about postmodern relativism and archivists. [11]

The disorganization of the C.L.I.T. archives and the barriers Cheryl must overcome to access the materials demonstrate the power that archives hold over information. The archivist uses her power to select and control what records researchers can use; because of this, AfterEllen, a feminist pop culture site, called the archivist “humorless” and a “borderline fascist.” [12] The records on Black lesbians are excluded from the main collection of materials, resulting in those with privilege and power, particularly White individuals, comprising the primary cultural memory of the archives. This creates a “void in the collective memory” and contributes to archival silences. [13]

As archival scholar Rodney G. S. Carter has written, silences are often manifestations of those with power to deny “marginal access to archives,” which significantly harms efforts by marginalized people to form their own histories and social identities. [14] The Watermelon Woman asserts that archives can be challenged even though they are “spaces of power” haunted by silences. Although Cheryl is not physically denied entry into the archive, the archivist exerts power over her by enforcing institutional rules. She ensures that Cheryl, and her Black female friend Tamara, are marginalized within the C.L.I.T. archive, even though both are lesbians.

Archival erasure and fabrication are major themes in the film. For one, Cheryl makes a living off videos that either exclude or misrepresent those who share her identity, while she simultaneously exploits those videos to create counternarratives about Black women. She uses these films to supplant traditional images of Black women and articulates an alternate structure of Black lesbian relations grounded in “kin and multiracial queer community.” [15] The Watermelon Woman uniquely interrogates and exposes the scarcity of Black lesbians in film history, illuminating how queer people suffer historical erasure when they are made invisible in the present.

The film creates its own history, fabricating archival materials by staging photographs and creating faux footage. As various scholars and reviewers have pointed out, Cheryl exemplifies the process of creating her own history as she continues her research and sees herself in the subject she is researching. [16] The “invented archive” in the film is not unique; it is also present in Barbara Hammer’s 2000 experimental documentary film, History Lessons. The message of The Watermelon Woman is that Black queer stories are often ignored while any attempts to find those stories, as reviewers Monique Jones and Peter Keough argued, can be “excruciating.” [17]

The Watermelon Woman simultaneously calls archives into question for silencing and erasing queer people while appropriating archival authority. Furthermore, the film suggests that people sometimes need to create their own history. This is vital because other archival silences, such as those in collections focusing on “colonialist encounters” in the Americas, [18] distort the past. The Watermelon Woman portrays the negative aspects of “traditional” historical research, libraries, and archives while questioning the community archives model. If the film was made today, it might even highlight digital black holes and information erasure in the digital age. [19]

The focus on Black history and Black (in)visibility, and the importance of preserving and sharing history, have been immortalized in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry through the recent inclusion of The Watermelon Woman. The film will be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” for years to come. Expanding access, respecting diversity, and advocating for archival collections that reflect humanity’s complexity, as the Core Values Statement of the Society of American Archivists states, are turned on their head by this film. The film’s inclusion comes at a time when archives continue to struggle for funding and often depend on external sources for digital access and storage. [20] As writers at Lesbian News, Colleen Kelsey of Interview Magazine, and Black queer studies scholar Matt Richardson all note, the film emphasizes the importance of history-creation, especially in queer communities, [21] which is as significant now as it was when it premiered.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] “SAA Core Values Statement and Code of Ethics,” Society of American Archivists, accessed February 20, 2022, https://www2.archivists.org/statements/saa-core-values-statement-and-code-of-ethics.

[2] Harmeet Kaur, “How Black Archives Are Highlighting Overlooked Parts of History and Culture,” CNN, February 19, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/19/us/black-archivists-history-culture-cec/index.html.

[3] Nancy Tartaglione, “National Film Registry Adds ‘Return Of The Jedi’, ‘Fellowship Of The Ring’, ‘Strangers On A Train’, ’Sounder’, ‘WALL-E’ & More,” Deadline Hollywood, December 21, 2021, https://deadline.com/2021/12/national-film-registry-2021-list-star-wars-return-of-the-jedi-fellowship-of-the-ring-sounder-nightmare-on-elm-street-wall-e-1234890666/. The film is available for rent on platforms such as Vimeo, Hulu, Apple TV, Prime Video, and BFI. I watched it, using my library card, on Kanopy. It can be watched free of charge on the Internet Archive.

[4] Sue McKemmish, Michael Piggott, Barbara Reed, and Frank Upward, Archives: Recordkeeping in Society (Amsterdam, Netherlands: Elsevier, 2005), 205; Jocelyn Fenton Stitt, Dreams of Archives Unfolded: Absence and Caribbean Life Writing (New York: Rutgers University Press, 2021), 42; Sarah Tyson, Where Are the Women?: Why Expanding the Archive Makes Philosophy Better (New York, Columbia University Press, 2018), 148.

[5] Darlene Clark Hine and Patrick Kay Bidelman, “Introduction: The Black Women in the Middle West Project,” in The Black Women in the Middle West Project: A Comprehensive Resource Guide Illinois and Indiana (Purdue Research Foundation: Indianapolis, Indiana, 1986), 1.

[6] Jolie Braun, “Review: Make Your Own History: Documenting Feminist & Queer Activism in the 21st Century,” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 14, no. 1 (2013): 49, https://doi.org/10.5860/rbm.14.1.399.

[7] John J. Kostka, “Toward Transgression: The Changing Role(s) of the Postmodern Archivist,” All Access Pass: Theory + Practice, accessed March 3, 2022, https://web.archive.org/web/20190429001349/https://johnkostka.com/toward-transgression/.

[8] Jean Bessette, “Composing Historical Activism: Anecdotes, Archives, and Multimodality in Rhetorics of Lesbian History” (PhD Thesis, University of Pittsburgh, 2013), 169.

[9] Moira Donegan, “The Watermelon Woman Shows the Power of Gay History,” The New Republic, July 5, 2017, https://newrepublic.com/article/143703/watermelon-woman-shows-power-gay-history; Bessette, “Composing Historical Activism,” 184; Rebecka Taves Sheffield, “The Bedside Table Archives: Archive Intervention and Lesbian Intimate Domestic Culture,” Radical History Review, no. 120 (2014): 112, https://doi.org/10.1215/01636545-2703751.

[10] Alyx Vesey, “Bechdel Test Canon: The Watermelon Woman,” Bitch Media, December 12, 2011, https://www.bitchmedia.org/post/bechdel-test-canon-the-watermelon-woman-feminist-film-review.

[11] Kostka, “Toward Transgression”.

[12] Shauna Swartz, “Review of The Watermelon Woman,” AfterEllen, March 15, 2006, https://web.archive.org/web/20071008204613/http:/www.afterellen.com/archive/ellen/Movies/2006/3/watermelon2.html.

[13] Kostka, “Toward Transgression”; “The Great and Powerful…,” LIS Theory, October 23, 2014, http://listheory.prattsils.org/the-great-and-powerful/; “Archival silence,” Dictionary of Archives Terminology, 2022, https://dictionary.archivists.org/entry/archival-silence.html; Bessette, “Composing Historical Activism,” 183–4.

[14] Rodney G. S. Carter, “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence,” Archivaria 61 (Spring 2006): 215–221.

[15] Frann Michel, “Eating the (M)Other: Cheryl Dunye’s Feature Films and Black Matrilineage,” Rhizomes, 2007, https://web.archive.org/web/20210506021330/http://www.rhizomes.net/issue14/michel/michel.html.

[16] Jolie Braun, “Review of Retroactivism in the Lesbian Archives,” Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies 6 (2019): 2; Harmony Hammond, “Reframing History,” Albuquerque Journal, December 9, 2011, https://www.abqjournal.com/74091/history.html; Tuula Juvonen, “Don’t Throw It Away!” SQS, no. 1–2 (2012): 76; Bessette, “Composing Historical Activism,” 135, 163, 167, 168, 170–172; Anne Stockwell, “Cinema: Color-Corrected Film,” The Advocate, no. 728 (1997): 53.

[17] Monique Jones, “11 Black Films That Keep Pride Alive,” Shadow and Act, June 28, 2018, https://www.shadowandact.com/11-black-lgbt-films-that-keep-pride-alive; Peter Keough, “Slice of Life: The Watermelon Woman Refreshes,” Boston Phoenix, May 1997, https://web.archive.org/web/20090604010613/https://bostonphoenix.com/alt1/archive/movies/reviews/05-08-97/THE_WATERMELON_WOMAN.html.

[18] Christina Taylor Gibson, “Musical Passage,” American Archivist Reviews Portal, September 30, 2019, https://reviews.americanarchivist.org/2019/09/30/musical-passage/.

[19] Eira Tansey, “Institutional Silences and the Digital Dark Age,” Issues & Advocacy, May 23, 2016, https://issuesandadvocacy.wordpress.com/2016/05/23/institutional-silences-and-the-digital-dark-age/.

[20] For instance, Lauren Harper, Director of Public Policy and Open Government Affairs for the National Security Archive, pointed out that the National Archives budget has been stagnant over the past 30 years even though the agency’s responsibilities have expanded due to the “explosion” of electronic records held during that time period. Lauren Harper, “U.S. National Archives’ (NARA) Budget: The 30-Year Flatline,” National Security Archive, March 11, 2022, https://nsarchive.gwu.edu/foia-audit/foia/2022-03-11/us-national-archives-nara-budget-30-year-flatline.

[21] Cheryl Dunye, “Cheryl Dunye’s Alternative Histories,” interview by Colleen Kelsey, Interview Magazine, November 11, 2016, https://www.interviewmagazine.com/film/cheryl-dunye; “Cheryl Dunye: Documenting Lesbian History,” Lesbian News, October 21, 2018, https://lesbiannews.com/cheryl-dunye-documenting-lesbian-history/; Matt Richardson, “Our Stories Have Never Been Told: Preliminary Thoughts on Black Lesbian Cultural Production as Historiography in The Watermelon Woman,” Black Camera 2, no. 2 (2011): 100–113.

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animation Archives-lite drama fantasy Fiction genres Pop culture mediums special collections speculative fiction

Special collections are archives-lite

Cleo, Akila, and Brian see the few items in the library’s special collections room which are presented by Khensu in an episode of Cleopatra in Space

There are are specific parts of libraries which don’t fit the usual distinctions between archives and libraries. One of those parts are special collections, which generally keep personal papers and rare books, including thesis written by alumni. Access to materials in said library sections is similar to than in archives, but can be managed by archivists or librarians. As such, special collections, just like historical societies and rare books, can be considered archives-lite. [1]

There are a few examples of this in series I’ve watched and have explained on this blog. One of the first examples is the special collections room of the PYRAMID library in an episode of Cleopatra in Space, holding holograms, documents, and other research materials, making it a repository of sorts. It is more than a mini-archives, but can be seen as operating “in a library-archives space of sorts” as I wrote at the time. More directly than this is the special collections room of the Trolberg library in Hilda. I described the importance of the room to the episode as a whole, writing:

She [Samantha Cross] begins by noting how Hilda and Twig, her deerfox, Twig, find a secret special collections room in the Trolberg library, a room which is only seen one time in the series. While she notes that as a result the room is only seen in this episode it “doesn’t make a huge impact on the story as a whole…Hilda photocopies a page of the book that she was reading when the Librarian confronted her in the special collections room, intending to help her friend, David, and her mom…After Hilda enters the secret/hidden special collections room, it is literally underground…Assuming she does not put the book back in the special collections room, this means that the librarian will have to re-shelve this, hinting at the work she will do off-screen…Is this librarian a lone arranger of the special collections room? Or does she have volunteers, unpaid interns, or other staff helping her? It is my hope that this librarian has paid staff helping her…Frida expresses her surprise that the special collections room existed, making it clear it really is hidden…Sadly, the librarian doesn’t have a role in any other episodes and neither does this special collections room…

I expanded on this in a post in January of last year, where the protagonists go back into the special collections room. They use it to begin a trek through various secret rooms until they come across the librarian, Kaisa, who ends up being a witch. In the case of Hilda and Cleopatra in Space, there is no doubt there was some level of appraisal even though it not shown directly in either series.

As such, it is clear, that libraries can have archives of sorts within them, and in some cases (like with the Maryland State Archives) libraries can exist within archives. This can help patrons, and even those working in the library, providing with secondary sources to give context to the primary sources within the archives themselves.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] Samantha Cross noted this on her blog in explaining the  Springfield Historical Society in an episode of The Simpsons. Cross also writes about the importance of family records in an episode of Star Vs. The Forces of Evil, or the archives which revealed the truth in an episode of Justice League Legends, and the Hall of Records used by Lisa and Bart in an episode of The Simpsons.

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animation anime Archivists Black people drama fantasy Fiction genres Filipino people film Korean people live-action Pop culture mediums science fiction speculative fiction webcomics White people

The go-to archivist depiction

Example of someone who cross describes as a go-to depiction of an archivist; this is Archie in Regular Show

Samantha Cross, an archivist who reviews examples of archives in popular culture, has argued that the “go-to depiction of an archivist” is often middle-aged, White, male, and likely cisgender. She also described Zootopia as feeding intothe stereotype of records and archives being distant,” and the almost useless archivist in Voltron: Legendary Defender. One of the best examples of what she describes as the “go-to depiction” of an archivist is Archie in Regular Show, but there are others as well, which align and buck this depiction.

If he can be considered an archivist, there is the Librarian in an episode of She-Ra: Princess of Power. He oversees the Library in the Valley of the Lost, and is said to be a hermit. He is an elderly man with White hair and is White. He also manages what is known as the Inner Library, which has books “in a language not used in a thousand years.” It is, arguably, a bit archivy. He is not the only White archivist I’ve written about on this blog. One of the oft-mentioned on here is Jocasta Nu, an elderly White woman, who runs the Jedi Archives. Another example I sometimes forget is the White female archivist who is manipulated by Anna to change a birth record in My Dictator Boyfriend. [1]

Some fan fics seem to feed into the idea that archivists are White people. These fics show archivists as stereotypical with grey hair, for instance. Others showcase archivists of color, even making Bow’s dads archivists, even though they are historians in the original series, She-Ra and the Princesses of Power. This is a bit of an oddity, however. As, others example of a White archivist are the records clerks shown briefly in an episode of 180 Angel, Abigail Chase in the National Treasure franchise, and a reference librarian in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. Additionally, it could also be argued that Theoda and Pothina in Cleopatra in Space are archivists, or at least information professionals of some kind as they work in a museum of the show’s protagonist.

Apart from Hermes Conrad, a bureaucrat who you could argue is an archivist I suppose, there’s the Japanese man, Ura, in Pale Cocoon, a green Gem named Peridot in Steven Universe. The latter two could be either be said to be archivists, each in their own way, or engaging in some archivist tasks. In any case, Peridot’s voice actor is Shelby Rabara, a Filipino-American actress and dancer. More directly than any of these examples is the Black male record clerk, Clark, in Joker (played by Brian Tyree Henry), who tries to help Arthur Fleck get his hands on records of his mother. However, he is determined to stick to the rules, leading Fleck to literally steal the records from him to avoid the red tape.

There are two characters other than Hermes, Ura, Peridot, or the unnamed record clerk which can undoubtedly be described as archivists: Arizal in Recorded by Arizal and Grandpa Park in Stretch Armstrong. Neither seems to have professional training (Arizal may be on the path to such training), but both engage in actions which make them archivists in one way or another. There’s a solo archivist in Ultraman Taiga, a presidential archivist named Briony in Leif & Thorn, and a 26-year-old archivist named Cortez Velasquez in Heirs of the Veil, the blue-skinned sisters (and archivists) in Lore Olympus, and Rae, an aspiring archivist in Always Human.

There are many other examples and characters who engage in archivist duties like arrangement, description, preservation, appraisal, reference, collaboration, outreach, administrative tasks, and selection, so in that sense, this is only scratching the surface. That is in part because the number of posts on this blog are minimal, not even reaching 100 posts at present, so I don’t have many other examples to use for this post. But, if I decide to pursue this in the future, I may come back to this post and build on it again.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

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anime drama fantasy Fiction genres Pop culture mediums record room Records management speculative fiction

The power of records: Kanon’s persistence and Ren’s surprise in “Love Live! Superstar!!”

Keke, Chisato, and Sumire search for records of school idols in the school’s record room. Not pictured is Kanon who is also searching for records

When I started watching a show about school idols, I never expected there would be an episode where a records room is such a big part of the plot! But, Love Live! Superstar!! delivers on both of those with ease. As such, it was only made sense to write about that in this post. Warning that there will spoilers for that episode here.

The episode “Connecting Feelings” is extremely centered on records. Ren laments to Kanon, Keke, Chisato, and Sumire that she knows her mother, the school’s founder, was a school idol but never found any records at home, even with help of her maid, declaring “there’s nothing left!” She is baffled that there are records of her mother in school, but nothing about school idols. She falls into the fallacy that because the records of her being a school idol were not at her home, they don’t exist, making her wonder if her mother regretted it, and asks why “nothing” exists. Kanon, Keke, Chisato, and Sumire talk later, with Kanon not convinced that Ren’s mother regretted being an idol. She remains determined to find out the truth no matter what after seeing a photograph of Ren’s mother smiling.

Kanon asking for records on the Jingu Music School and it told by the headmistress where to look. After that, we see the records room, as Kanon, Keke, Chisato, and Sumire search through the records. Kanon is shown holding binders of paper records, disappointed, as is Chisato, and Sumire, with the latter noting that there are records on other clubs but not school idol activities. Keke has the same results. Ren comes to the room’s door and says she looked there too but found nothing, guessing that her mother destroyed the records. After Ren says that her mother hopes that her feelings and that of her Ren would come together in the “same place,” then leaves, an idea comes to Kanon. She uses the keys that Ren gave her and after some searching in a storage area off the school idol club room, she finds a chest which happens to have the information Ren thought had been destroyed! Kanon is overjoyed, thinking the chest is what she had been looking for.

Ren, who is the student body president, talks to the assembled students, who soon begin challenging her and put her at a loss for words. In the nick of time, Kanon comes in and goes up on stage, presenting the Jingu Music School Idol Club Diary that she uncovered, created before the school was founded. She noted that these students tried to save the school but were unsuccessful, and quotes from inside the diary, then shows her photographs inside, including some of Ren’s mother, Hana, looking happy. Upon seeing this, Kanon saying that Hana created the school to bring people together using music, then joined by Keke, Chisato, and Sumire on stage, and that being a school idol was one of Hana’s best memories, Ren is brought to tears, then given her mother’s school idol uniform. The headmistress later admits that she knew that Hana was a school idol but didn’t tell Ren because Hana told her to not say anything as she wanted Ren to make her own decisions while she would watch over her. She then kicks then out and tells them to prepare the school festival.

Ren is given her mom’s uniform while Kanon holds a diary which confirmed that her mom was a school idol

Not surprisingly, after all of this Ren becomes a school idol, joining Kanon, Keke, Chisato, and Sumire, singing a song at the end of the episode. Clearly, records saved the day! In many ways, this episode is similar to the sixth episode of the classic yuri anime, Bloom Into You.

In that anime, a record room in the Student Council building is a key part of an episode. In that episode, Yuu searches the Student Council building’s records room and learns that a book with records for the year she is looking for is missing, learning that it was removed for a “specific reason.” She later talks with a teacher, who is acting as a records custodian of another records room, who is perplexed that the records are missing. She learns that the records were hidden because Touko’s elder sister was killed in a traffic accident, a story she tried to hide, and we hear that Touko tried to copy the persona from her sister.

By the episode’s end there is indirect confirmation that she took the records about her sister, engaging in archival theft! It raises questions about how checks the school record room and keeps tabs on the materials,whether anyone else noticed the records, whether anything else was missing. At the same time, the records in the Student Council building could be nabbed at any time since Touko was on the Student Council and trusted to “do the right thing.” Arguably, she stole records from both places relatively recently, and in such a way that it wouldn’t be noticed by anyone else.

The episode of Love Live! Superstar!! explained in this post is different from the Bloom Into You episode however in that Ren truly does not know where the records of her mom’s school idol activities have been stashed. It also means that Ren was deceived by her caretaker, the headmistress, who undoubtedly knew where the records were and never told Ren. This, without a doubt, led to psychological damage for Ren, as she had a different view of her mother and it caused her to be strong against student idol activities.

Ren says she looked in the records room but the only thing missing is the records of student idol activities.

It is even a surprise that she was later allowed in the student idol group due to this hostility, as Ren herself points out, but the more people they bring into the group the better. In the rest of the season, she ends up becoming more and more a part of the group, becoming almost like a regular. In the end, if Kanon had not found the records of Hana, then Ren likely would have banned student idol activities and would have had a warped vision of the past. Luckily, that did not come to pass.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.

Categories
animation Archives basement archives dimly lit archives drama dusty archives fantasy Fiction genres Pop culture mediums powerful records Records management speculative fiction

Archivist Absent: Media where archivists should be present

Molly McGee in the archives in an episode of The Ghost and Molly McGee

In April 2020, Sam Cross, who I often cite on this blog, told Archives Aware! that is worrisome that archivists are not featured in media “where they should absolutely be present.” She specifically noted urban fantasy television shows, where they “find what they’re looking for without help or aid from someone with…a background in records management and/or archival science.” While I can’t specifically point to any shows like the ones she described, there are series which have been covered on this blog where archivists should be present. This goes beyond those I mentioned when I wrote about this topic in February 2021, when I asked “where are the archivists? Who is managing the records?” [1] The same question remains now.

Two specific examples which come to mind are the basement archives in Phineas and Ferb and The Ghost and Molly McGee. In both cases, no archivist is shown, although characters make extensive uses of archives. If in the former series an archivist had been present, it is possible that it would have been more difficult for Prof. Doofenshmirtz to grab the town charter and use it for his own ends. Although the series does emphasize the value of records, and in some ways, the importance of ongoing stewardship and preservation of archival records, an archivist would definitely have helped counter some archives stereotypes that the series sadly perpetrated due to its portrayal of archives.

For the latter series, an archivist could be just as much a part of the plot as Archie the Archivist is in two episodes of The Regular Show. Instead, the characters somehow know how to get the information they are looking for and enter a dusty archives with no one in sight. Doesn’t anyone manage this archives? Why is no one there? Those questions, predictably, are not answered in the episode.

The same could be said for the archives-related scenes in Star Wars Rebels. Even though in some episodes archives are specifically mentioned, with the Empire trying to take possession of records in order to further their own objectives, no archivists are shown. This in contrast to other Star Wars series which feature Jocasta Nu, chief archivist of the Jedi Temple Archives. While not every one of those episodes would be helped with the addition of an archivist as a character, at least some of them would be improved with such an addition. It could have helped buck some stereotypes of archivists or the trend of featuring archives but with archivists nowhere in sight.

As one of the cranky archivists sneered at my post in February, declaring “a lot of people get that information and organizational systems are products of people and have biases,” and that is definitely the case with the archives in all the popular culture media mentioned so far. All of the information and organizational systems here have biases and are products of people. Sadly, this isn’t really explored in any of these series, but you can’t completely expect them to.

While there are undoubtedly more examples of this, I’ll continue writing on this topic in hopes of finding other shows to cover in the future which feature archives and archivists.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] In that post, I specifically highlighted Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (2005 film), episodes of Amphibia, Futurama, Cleopatra in Space, Hilda, Little Witch Academia, and Tangled. There are other examples of this too, like The Bravest Knight, Steven Universe, and Manaria Friends, as I’ve pointed out in the past, along with Rick and Morty, Equestria Girls, Carmen Sandiego, That Awkward Magic!!, and Allen Gregory.

 

Categories
animation Archives Archivists drama fantasy Fiction genres Filipino people Korean people Pop culture mediums powerful records preservation record destruction record erasure Records management religious archives science fiction speculative fiction White people

Archives and archivists are anything but neutral

Buttons and stickers from the Glasgow Zine Library in June 2020. Some of these say that libraries and archives are not neutral

As readers of this blog know, neutrality in archives is a lie. Sam Cross has been one of those who has worked to dispel it, writing in 2017 that the “sooner archivists agree on that matter, the better the profession will be” and noted that it isn’t “even a good lie, considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary,” noting Howard Zinn’s speech to the archival community in 1977 when he noted that the archivist tries to be “scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest,” which includes sorting, collecting “preserving, making available, the records of society.” Cross further noted that archivists can’t “truly operate from a distance when it comes to collections or the communities we serve” as the act of archiving itself makes “the archivist a participant” and neutrality is unachievable because archivists are humans “who make mistakes, apply their own biases, and revise their work as they go.”

Archivists are clearly not a neutral party, nor are they observers, like the Watcher in What…If?, and noted that before archival footage is used in a film, archival materials are “collected, arranged, and described based on arbitrarily agreed upon rules that carry heavy biases depending on when, where, and who was in charge of the archives at the time.” This is a process in which nobody is innocent.

The actions of archivists take are not in a vacuum. They are connected to larger political and social structures, and affected by society itself. In fact, I’ve noted this in past posts on this blog. For instance, the Jedi archivist Jocasta Nu in the Star Wars franchise who believes that her records are “complete” and without error, is anything but neutral. She believes that all the records will not have not have any issues because the information is managed by a Jedi, i.e. herself, and other helpers.

The records held in the Jedi temple archives are records meant for a specific group of people, the patrons of the repository: the Jedi. The general public of Coruscant is not allowed inside the temple and cannot access the records, and it is arguably a special library. Although it isn’t explicitly stated in any Star Wars series I’ve read or seen, there are undoubtedly specific rules which influence how the records are described, collected, and arranged, rules which have their own biases based on where, when, and who runs the archives.

Obi-Wan Kenobi searches the Jedi Archives for information on mysterious world of Kamino in Attack of the Clones

After Nu’s death at the hands of Darth Vader in the comics, leading to Imperial control over the archives. Specifically, it was said that the temple was turned into the Palace of the Emperor, while the Imperial Security Bureau took “control of the remaining secrets within the Archives, removing all Jedi-related material and destroying much of their history in the process within a year of the library’s seizure.” [1] Before this records erasure,Nu had “purged all the archive files,” so its unclear how much information the Empire was able to get their hands on. On the other hand, prior to the records erasure by the Imperials, the Inquisitor apparently went through the archives and looked for usable information about remaining Jedi. Due to the death of the Grand Inquisitor, and the other Inquisitors, at the hands of the Jedi as shown in Star War Rebels, it is hard to know how much, if any, of this information which was learned ended up being preserved.

As it turns out, the Jedi archives itself was later became a place for anti-Jedi propaganda, with manipulation of archived data to “make Masters appear as corrupt as the Separatist leaders, and Sith statues,” all set up in anticipation of guided “tours through the Temple” by high-ranking officials. That’s one way to change an archives! Later, there was attempts to “restore the Archives to their former glory” and add new information, following the fall of the Empire. Although it later fell into disrepair, and crumbled away. At some point, a new temple was constructed, and then retaken, turned into a Sith temple, then retaken again, returning to its original design.

The story of the Jedi Temple Archives makes clear that the archives are clearly not not neutral and are, instead, contested spaces. The fact that over the years the archive goes from Jedi propaganda to anti-Jedi Empire propaganda, then back to the Jedi, before it becomes Sith propaganda, and favoring the Jedi again, says something. Like actual archives, the Jedi Temple Archives is a human institution, with its organization of information and storage of said information involving choices. It is not a neutral receptacle of history, nor is the fact that documentation exists means that the documentation is “accurate, comprehensive, fair or representative.

The latter is especially prevalent in the infamous “archives is complete” scene in Attack of the Clones, where Nu believes that the archives has all the records and there are no errors, even though it is obvious that there is an error. Her belief in the completeness of the archives is one step closer to the downfall of the Jedi and the victory of the Empire.

In the first episode of Recorded by Arizal, Arizal begins to define what an record keeper means, to her.

Star Wars is not the only series with these themes. Recorded by Arizal seems to hint at the idea that “archiving will never be neutral” and is not a neutral act. This is because the protagonist in that series, which will likely never be made into a full series, Arizal, dreams to be a record keeper. In that series it is a person who will “travel across the world, trying to document it for those within the city…with the records she collects and creates.” This recording of information, through a series of vlogs, will undoubtedly be shaped by what Arizal sees as important to preserve, with other aspects falling by the wayside. She will be collecting records for an archive, bound to the “records themselves, and their creation” as a keeper, even though her efforts will make the history of her city that much richer and fuller, for all to understand.

The same could be said about Peridot in Steven Universe. As I’ve written closely, what she does is closest to a records analyst, while engaging in some tasks like an archivist. In those capacities, she is tasked with gathering information about the Cluster. What she is collecting is colored by her knowledge of Gems and her beliefs, which is steeped in the Homeworld ideology that the Diamond rulers are superior while everyone else is lesser and insignificant. They are “pebbles” as she terms them at one point. She later learns her way out of these destructive thoughts, beginning to love the Earth, and everything on it. What she collects and records changes as a result.

The basement archives in The Ghost and Molly McGee, Phineas and Ferb, The Regular Show, and Stretch Armstrong all have collections which have their own organizational systems, even it is portrayed as haphazard at times. These systems are clearly not neutral and are arranged in such a way that it reflects the biases, beliefs, and actions of those who organized them, and the rules governing those arrangements. Of these series, Stretch Armstrong features an archivist. He is named Grandpa Park, a Korean-American man who is the grandfather of one of the protagonists, Nathan Park. He is a former reporter who is wise and knows the secret identities of the protagonists. The stacks of basement newspaper archive is organized by whether something is “local” or “worldwide.” It was one of the earliest posts on this blog and I remember being so excited to watch it, as it featured an archivist, unlike anything I had seen up to that point. There is no doubt that his experience as a reporter affects how the archive is organized, along with his personal biases, although he is not hemmed in by institutional rules, as this archive is all his own.

Like Stretch Armstrong, The Regular Show also features an archivist, named Archie the Archivist. He is also known as Archie and works in the library. Other than the fact he is a Laserdisc Guardian who defends the protagonists from those who want VHS to be dominant, very little about him is known. He only appears in two episodes, “The Last Laserdisc Player” and “Format Wars II,” and never again after that point. Even so, it is clear what he is doing is not neutral. Rather, he is a keeper of data from “bad” people as he is taking sides in a conflict.

I could go through many other shows that I have watched since 2020 with archives and archivists. Even so, I feel that this post is a good starting point to this topic, and one that can, hopefully, built upon in the future in ways that discuss this in depth.

© 2022 Burkely Hermann. All rights reserved.


Notes

[1] It was also described on one site that the “Imperial troops [were] guarding the Jedi Temple on Corscuant” and another that after the temple was cleared of valuable information, the “Empire maintained a small presence to maintain defenses in the event of a Jedi intrusion.”

Update: As I half-expected, people on /r/archivists were annoyed by this post. One cranky archivist declared “any article that uses Attack of the Clones as evidence of anything in the real world is not well.” Another said it “seems like a bad faith post” because “a lot of people get that information and organizational systems are products of people and have biases but this is not the argument that is being made,” adding the “blog post barely touches on real archiving before it focuses almost entirely on fictional archives in pop culture.” Its almost like these people don’t understand what this blog is about, jeez. I’m really just waiting until I get banned from /r/archivists, as I think it is coming. We’ll see what happens. In response to this, Sam Cross told meThis is why I stay away from Reddit most of the time” and I can agree with that.