Princeton University Library partners with HBCUs in inaugural archiving program

Students and staff from five historically black colleges and universities explored archival practices, historical narratives and social justice during the inaugural Archives Research and Collaborative History Program at Princeton.

Princeton University Library partnered with five historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for the inaugural Archives Research and Collaborative History (ARCH) Program July 9-13.

The program welcomed 12 undergraduate and two graduate students from HBCUs across the country to Princeton’s campus. The goal of the ARCH Program was to introduce students to the archival field, the importance of diversity in archival collections, how to use primary-source documents and potential career opportunities. The program also encouraged students to make connections between historical narratives and present-day social justice issues.

“Interpretation changes, depending on the perspective, depending on the person,” said Madison Washington, a recent graduate of Lincoln University. “So if I'm able to go back to something that was read 20 years ago, and bring a new look onto it, then … not having that will be a missed opportunity.”

As seen in the video above, the students received a behind-the-scenes look at how archival material is processed and preserved, as well as access to some of the University’s collections. In addition, the students heard presentations and participated in discussions with the Princeton University Library’s staff and visiting colleagues from the participating HBCUs.

“So many students don't know much about the archival field,” said Sarah Trotty, a retired professor from Texas Southern University. “So I feel it's important for them to have the experience to at least have a look, a real close look, at what archival work provides. Whether they're interested in history or interested in visual art, or interested in writing, they'll see the connectivity, they'll see the chance to preserve, archive those things that are very important to cultural history.”

The program is an outgrowth of the Princeton and Slavery Project, a research effort begun by Princeton Professor of History Martha Sandweiss in 2013 to explore the University’s involvement with the institution of slavery.

“Research during that project brought a focus on the University’s archives and how the narrative history of slavery in Princeton has been shaped by which materials archivists choose to preserve,” said Dan Linke, University archivist and curator of public policy papers.

The partner HBCUs were Howard University, Lincoln University, Texas Southern University, Tougaloo College and Tuskegee University.

“Archives play a crucial role in our understanding of history, which includes the importance of diversity within that history,” said Anne Jarvis, Princeton’s Robert H. Taylor 1930 University Librarian. “Working together with colleagues from historically black colleges and universities on this program has meant that we are providing students with practical ways in which they can work on their archives back at their home institutions. If the work appeals to students, they may then consider pursuing archival work after graduation and thus help to diversify the profession.”

The program was funded by Princeton University Library, the Department of African American Studies, the Princeton Histories Fund, the Humanities Council, the Center for Collaborative History, and the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities.