These days cool air slips in during the evenings, reminding me that despite the warm day temperatures, Autumn is most certainly here. Autumn means we are more than halfway through the calendar year in the Northern Hemisphere. When we realize that Summer is ending or that the school year is starting, we tend to think about how the current year is almost over and reflect back on what we did so far.
We might think of achievements we reached, people we met, and concerts we attended. It’s interesting to note that we don’t remember everything we did too. We might even realize we don’t feel the same way about a particular thing that happened to us. Some memories take on a different story when we remember them a week later, a month later, a year later… and so on. Scrolling through the pictures on your phone is like a stroll through a casual archive of your life.
The last time I strolled through an actual archive was in 2019. I was following a staff member on a tour of the Orange County Archives, which had many rooms with cabinets full of documents and shelves full of artifacts. The marvelous part about a public archive is that historical materials are available for you to look at and visiting is free. An artifact I remember distinctly for some reason is a livestock branding iron that belonged to the Irvine family.
The reason for my visit was not to study the omnipresent real estate development company, though. My peers and I, as student researchers, were on a quest to find photos and papers that documented the history of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community in Orange County for the Learning from our AAPI Leaders project. Initially, the project intended to “bring more visibility to Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities in Orange County” through archival research and interviews of community elders. However, with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, the oral history project pivoted to recording the challenges the AAPI communities faced. Interviews were arranged with community organization leaders and small business owners who were doing their best to make the most out of the challenging financial and social circumstances. I remember feeling impressed by how the research team mobilized and adapted very quickly.
The project website notes, “the following interviews represent a moment in time; but the work of these leaders and their organizations remains ongoing.” Archives remind us of exactly that. They document events of the past and propel us forward. The act of archiving can be an act of hope, where we keep something we deem important because we think it will inspire a better action in the future. We look, reflect, and think, “Where do I want to go from here?”
Archiving, or memory keeping, is one of the many shared practices we have as living things. Plants can make memories even without a central nervous system. Their physiology allows them to retain past experiences and adjust their behavior accordingly to overcome stressors and defend against herbivores. All in an attempt to ensure their growth. Perhaps all those photos in your phone have the potential to do the same.
If you are feeling inspired, here are some tools to help archive your community stories:
- UCI Library has a Toolkit on its website with six modules to kickstart your next oral history project.
- HistoryPin is one of the ways you can spatially lay out memories and photos to tell the story of an area.
Lastly, click on the links below to learn about the missions of the community organizations based in Orange County that were featured in the Learning from our AAPI Leaders project:
Happy archival Autumn!
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