Both the Researcher & the Archive

Both the researcher
and the archive.
Webs of innanets,
your conversations
meditations and memories too
are essential to the accuracy
of historical accounts.

You are a better source of information than you might allow yourself to be.


A meme stating that Important first sites of research are soul, spirit, mind, body. They are also primary sources of information.
“Lea(r)nings from being an active researcher,” Graphic design by the author. Click the meme for more on my Instagram account.

I was in an active trauma cycle with the library from early 2019- mid 2020.

Reviewing articles, books, and ephemera kept by institutions founded by people who participated in the enslavement and torture of human beings has, for at least 20 years, been a nagging feeling, stinging my back like embers flying off of a fire. My communities’ histories being kept in buildings (built by institutions) that are gentrifying Philadelphia, one of my most beloved cities, saddens me. The tensions became trauma as a library employee managing an important resource mislead me into working for free in exchange for access to that resource. My anger about the manipulation was compartmentalised and went unresolved as I didn’t have time to do more unpaid labor with the institution to hold that person accountable for their theft.

I managed the compounding negative experiences, but as I shifted deeper into the historic past, the exploitation that I experienced became visceral. Examining archival materials predating 1900,  I was fully experiencing the pain that I had rationalised away. As I inched closer to being in contractual relationship with the library system, my resolve to fully own myself, my work, and my experience was steel placed into a fire. My soul pushed my intuition in as well to be strengthened. We were forging a sword and a shield. And as with so many warriors, I realise that the energy was not just for myself, but for the collective of brave spirits who dare use a white institution as a vehicle for time travel.

Simultaneously, my research was shifting away from the Black Power movement and the food work of groups like MOVE and the Black Panther Party. My project the FREE BRUNCH PROGRAM  was not only using the materials I was finding to inform the aesthetic of our promotional material. We were prioritising the actual practices of our predecessors by redistributing food resources. Aftering curating a meal and installation on February 29th, 2020  we were thrust by COVID-19 into hyper drive, lifting up the mutual aid practices of contemporary groups to the people of Philadelphia. I fully utilised my research, partnered with my study of cooperatives and Ecumenical societies to further cite the foundations of this practice for Black communities in particular.

As the world shut down, I continued the shift into pre 1900 results for food partnered with the words -Blackness, -slave, -indigenous. An article from JSTOR met me in the complexity of engaging with the institution, and encouraged me to continue the work. “Early Saint Domingan Migration to America and the Attraction of Philadelphia” brought forward the Haitian rebellion and a perspective on its relationship to Philadelphia. I allowed myself a few additional rich, divergent searches to cleanse my memory and prescribed myself a break from the research. I will not allow the historic or modern failings of the institution (the library or racism) to kill my curiosity. And if I am to make this long journey, shield, sword, AND stamina will be my support.

I should mention that my educational background is in Sociology and Diasporic Black studies. My professional training is in education, community crisis response, and organisational development. It ranges in issues from reproductive health, sexual abuse, domestic violence, and poverty, to food and land justice. Since 2005 I have studied the intersections of deep historical trauma and the use of art to heal and transform human awareness and experiences of the now.

Trauma-Informed practice asks the question “What happened?” instead of “What is wrong with you?” This distinction makes emotion and story the significant details. This is the foundation of my archival research. This affords both the researcher and the subject being researched to be alive in soul, spirit, mind and body. In fact, I designed a form for myself in the initial phase of this project to document my first reactions to items reviewed. Here I organised my feelings about articles written by white people about Black youth, watercolour portraits of Indigenous people, books by formerly enslaved people. For me, the first reaction and any subsequent charged responses are as important as the factual information we garner from a piece. These emotions give me access to hearing the souls of people related to a piece of documentation; often I am cued that there is a voice missing. 

Experiencing the violence of having labor stolen from you isn’t to be forgotten. For me, it has shaped a sharp ability to question everything. It keeps me and my family safe, sometimes my collaborators. I’m curious, remember? I stay with projects like this one, to observe and name, categorise, and file the experience in a manner that can, too, be archived. My ancestors are asking for me to do as much. Each spirit that I engage with in the beholding of history asks as well. Even the white enslaver is begging to be freed from the clutches of institutions that replicate the harm they caused. Stolen labor is bad for everyone.

My intention with this project is to be as honest as possible as I move with time. I will examine my responses to the process, the content available to be examined, those whom we are interacting with and the interactions themself to create an intuitive guide. I’ll allow this reflection to progress alongside my research findings and the creative outputs that I utilise over the course of the next year. I have too many questions to list at this early phase of the process, but I know for certain that:

You and I are

Both the researcher
and the archive.
Webs of innanets,
y(our) conversations
meditations and memories too
are essential to the accuracy
of historical accounts.

You are a better source of information than you might allow yourself to be.


Copyright 2021 by Charlyn Griffith-Oro. All rights reserved.