Graduation Date

Fall 2022

Document Type



Master of Arts degree with a major in Applied Anthropology

Committee Chair Name

Dr. Mary Scoggin

Committee Chair Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Second Committee Member Name

Dr. Rebecca Robertson

Second Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Third Committee Member Name

Dr. Marissa Ramsier

Third Committee Member Affiliation

HSU Faculty or Staff

Subject Categories



We select what we value as history creating collective memory that can obfuscate or devalue other threads in the story intentionally or unintentionally. Through collections of material culture, curated and described by archivists, we receive information that constructs our collective memory of self. These cultural artifacts reflect and reconstruct the past. Material artifacts in the archives depend largely on the story that is told about their provenance to provide meaning. This paper takes photographic collections in archives as examples of material culture to demonstrate how archival presentation affects the stories of collections items, and examines modalities and subverted stories in archival collections. Often acting as boundary objects that create, subvert, or erase cultural memory, archival collections are subject to interpretation and in turn affect our collective memory. Text-based documents, manuscripts, were traditionally considered the core medium through which knowledge is transmitted in archives. The evolution of photography as a mode of recording the human experience impacted the archival approach and photographs soon became part of the historical record.

Archivists are trained to treat collections objectively, taking cues for description from the context of the source, and to minimally interpret these objects. Instead, archivists largely leave interpretation to the researcher who visits the archives specifically for that purpose. However, as other scholars of archives have addressed elsewhere, archives are far from neutral. Addressing the gaps this supposed neutrality leaves, I take an ethnographic approach to further interpret and pull from the hidden stories within the collections by examining three archival collections processed over the past ten years. Applying an ethnographic lens to “read” the photos, multiple narratives become evident. Emphasized here is the impact of archival records on what we remember about ourselves as a society, because we are as much what we forget as we are what we remember.

Citation Style