*A call to action was issued on the arcan Listserv the other day to comment on dramatic changes to the Master of Archival Studies program at the University of Manitoba. Below is the letter I wrote in response. If you would like to make your own comments, click here to see the Call to Action.*
Dear University of Winnipeg and Manitoba History Departments,
When I was investigating graduate programs in archival studies, the University of Manitoba’s Master of Archival Studies program was described to me as the “gold standard” for such education. I fear that proposed changes to the program will threaten its ability to produce competent archives professionals in the future and will damage the prestige of its program whose quality is comparable to those of the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia.
Specialized archival educators are essential in teaching the complex principles of archival science. The expertise of the historian is fundamentally distinct from that of the archivist. While historians are experts in utilizing the archives, the archivist is expert at organizing and operating the archives. It is an insult to the archival profession to assume that a historian can jump right in and teach courses in a field in which they have no background, no publications, or any professional practice. While practicing professional archivists such as myself can provide valuable lessons to students in class, they occasionally lack the ability to see the “big picture” of the profession (e.g. where the profession came from, where it’s going, the issues, biases etc.). Only a tenured professor who can take the time to study these topics can speak with authority on these issues. Practitioners find themselves pigeon-holed due to their experiences and the type of archives they run. If the UManitoba wants to continue its tradition of archives education excellence, reducing its tenured faculty is not the answer.
In a world is that demands universities to modernize and be practical in its teaching, removing the opportunity to work is counterproductive. While I did not attend the University of Manitoba, one of the highlights of my graduate school experience was in obtaining in-field experience under the tutelage of archival practitioners. Thanks to my internship, I not only had an excellent experience, it also led to my first job after graduation, effectively launching my career in government archives and information management. High employment rates after graduation can only help the reputation of your program.
As an employee at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, one of the stumbling blocks for many indigenous communities is a lack of knowing their past. I encounter people on a daily basis that simply want to know where they came from, and needing to access this information via the Federal Government because the information is not available in their communities. While there are countless problems in indigenous communities, this does not need to be one of them. It would be wonderful if we could enable indigenous people to keep their own histories and bulid their own archives so that they are not at the mercy of a third party to access their history. In addition, the archival community lacks diversity and if the UManitoba can attract First Nation and Métis students to its program and train them, it will give a new segments of the population a voice in building Canada’s historical narrative.
Thank you for considering my opinions and ideas. Should you wish to discuss any of this with me further, please contact me at email@example.com.
Joel Sherlock, MLIS, MA