Archival Theory Reading Reflections

After completing the reading for tomorrow’s class, I am more aware of the importance of historical archiving and the potential influence it has on generations of learners.  Obviously in a public library, the majority of resources are available to everyone, and many of them can easily be checked out and read or examined at leisure.  However, special collections are much more detailed and particular about the information that is presented within them.

I think one of the most interesting things about special collections is the broad range of documents available to learn from.  Instead of just books, we can learn about history through other cultural artifacts as well, like films, sound recordings, and maps.  Additionally, the fact that special collections come about through the diligent work of many historians and archivists presents various perspectives on a main theme.

Ridener wrote that archivists draw on a “rich tradition of theory to define and redefine the archive” (2).  While archiving is a well-established aspect of historical research, new researchers are continuously contributing their own viewpoints.  Archiving, just as in any historical research, is not without subjectivity because even selecting which items deserve to be kept for others to learn from is a decision that is influenced by our own experiences and biases.  Although we are just beginning, in a way we have already decided what each of us involved in the WDP feels is important because we have chosen topics to explore that we believe others could learn from.

Joffrion’s power-point explained that archives have records with “permanent or continuing value.”  Years from now, someone may look at the WDP because they want to know what people were like in the Williamsburg community.  For me, historical archiving begs the question “Whose history are we telling?” As researchers, it’s important for us to acknowledge our own subjectivity as well as the responsibility and power that comes with documenting the past.  Working through the WDP, we are able to broaden Williamsburg’s historical perspective and preserve narratives which may otherwise be ignored.


The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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