I chose to look in tandem at the Bracero Archive and the Slave Societies digital archive. While they share similarities, the approaches of these projects are quite different. When it comes to collaboration, there is a much clearer hierarchy delineated in the visual space of the Slave Societies digital archive than there is in the credits of the Bracero Archive. I much prefer the Bracero Archive’s way of giving each contributor equal spatial attention (though it is a much smaller group of people, as well). On content, another point that I will make further in my post is that the Bracero Archive is unfortunately a bit opaque as an actual interactive experience. The Slave Societies digital archive fares a bit better, breaking things down and explaining process, documentation, and providing a list of image scans which positions them geographically. Both of these archives resist browsing to a degree, but the Bracero Archive seems the worse of the two in this regard.
Honma’s article prompted me to ask the question, do these archives find, use, or constitute nonwhite systems of knowledge? The answer: “it’s complicated.”
The Bracero archive would seem to be a decent step in the right direction. Focused around the lived experiences of a marginalized group–migrant workers in the 1940s–it promises genuine encounters. Including varying voices and perspectives from all races and backgrounds is important for combating the invisibility of race in LIS (Honma 17), and to that end encouraging and empowering users to make their own stories known–as does the Bracero archive–is key to destabilizing a white knowledge structure. As Dr. Christen noted in class, however, the Bracero Archive doesn’t make it obvious what gatekeeping is involved once an artifact is submitted. It is very possible that there is a very traditional archiving selection process behind adding new voices and artifacts, and however good the intentions, such a process would be once again subjecting these sources to a kind of white authority in that way, if not more directly through oversight by white archivists. This isn’t (as much of a) problem with the Slave Societies archive, because the materials are ecclesiastical and mostly found in church storage, not directly submitted lived experiences. However, source criticism issues such as selection bias and traditional archival practices do come into play as potential colonial influences.
Another similar problem lies in presentation of the Bracero archive’s artifacts: when one opens the “archive” tab and is met with a long list of names in alphabetical order and nothing else, it feeds into the idea that these workers and their experiences are interchangeable, and that deprives them of their meaning and potential impact. Moreover, this design reifies a white discourse which seeks to hypersimplify the vast range of lived experiences of people of color down to one, or at most two stories (Honma 17). It is all the more problematic considering the stated goal of the archive, which is to inform current debates about immigration. A far better approach would be to highlight several stories of different experiences under the program on a rotating basis, combating the white narrative of the single immigrant story. As it stands, these stories seem a bit like the hermetically-sealed and contained artifacts within a Western archiving framework which Cushman lays out on page 117, instead of the interactive elements of a living history in a decolonial setting.
The Slave Societies archive does seek to provide an almost overwhelmingly wide, stratified range of experiences from the get-go, however, ranking it in my mind as a much better approach. Still, once one accesses the actual files, the listing of individual scans can be almost as disappointing as that of the Bracero archive. There is a noticeable shift in design from the landing pages to the actual archival lists, which (to my mind) brought back that Western aura of clinical separation which Cushman is addressing.
Overall, the work of both of these archives is clearly important and very useful, especially if you know what it is that you’d like to find when you enter their web portals. However–and I hope it is no surprise that design is about more than pure aesthetics in circumstances like these–these projects deserve a more imaginative user-end experience if they are to make more of an impact on a wider audience. For those seeking to engage with the stories of their parents or grandparents, finding them listed as more than a name in an alphabetical list would surely enrich the experience. For scholars or educators and their students, a more creative approach would also help to provide a web of context for artifacts and thus present them in a more analytically and emotionally accessible framework. I envision exploratory pathways or mapping, as a start. Such approaches would counter a dominant white discourse which is routinely “collecting and preserving artifacts from othered traditions” (Cushman 118).