To borrow from Ray Charles, I’ve got Georgia on my mind…but not in a good way. I’m a Georgian through and through and although its been a number of years since I’ve lived there (4 years), I still consider it home. Even when I was living all the way out in Death Valley, I pined for home with its Southern accents, hospitality, and oh-so-delicious food. But, second to all of that, I’m an archivist. And the news about the closing of the Georgia State Archives on November 1st left me feeling for the first time like saying, “What the hell, Georgia?! I thought we were cool.”
Although I don’t have personal experience working with or visiting the Georgia State Archives, I do have experience and knowledge pertaining to southern state archives. For three years, as part of a graduate assistantship, I worked with Teaching American History in South Carolina which was based out of the South Carolina Department of Archives and History (SCDAH). I think, before anyone criticizes any archives, the work an archivist does, or berate their job in any capacity, go and visit an archives and talk to an archivist. I’ll admit, archivists are a shy, quiet bunch but that doesn’t mean that they’re any less hardworking.
For three years, I watched as the SCDAH endured budget cuts and layoffs. People I had gotten to know were told that they had been laid off. Even crucial jobs within the archives were hit too. That knowledge and those skill sets are gone now. This is a sorry state of affairs that when budgets take a hit it’s the agencies and programs that nurture a higher level of skills that get hit first. By that I mean, the prevailing mentality that prefers to cut the arts, education, and liberal arts and artistic minded institutions. These are agencies that foster and nurture creativity and critical thinking, intangible skill sets that, at first glance, don’t seem to offer an immediate, monetary return. But, its what keeps our culture going, thriving, and continually moving forward….not back.
Because guess what? These are the enduring qualities of any civilization. When we think of ancient Greece and Rome we don’t think about the money or their financial institutions they had but the things they did. How they built their nations, their culture. And, we learn of of these things through artifacts and archives.
In the hear and now, archives hold a larger purpose of accountability. Archival documents such as letters, legislative acts, land deeds, etc document what we’ve done in the past. The good. The bad. And, the down right ugly. We need them in order to fully understand who we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going as a society. To cut off the people from this information is to foster a society of the uneducated and the uninformed.
As someone who has written on the development of southern state archives, in particular South Carolina, I learned that our forebears had the good sense to say…hey, we should preserve this stuff, keep it around for future generations, and provide access to it. These forebears may have had their faults (ie. racist, sexist attitudes) but from where I’m sitting…they seem a helluva lot smarter then the politicians threatening to close the Georgia State Archives. A helluva lot smarter.
From a Georgian to her home state of Georgia, get it together! Keep moving forward Georgia and not back. Make me proud because I’ve spent a life time making you proud of me.
To learn more about the plight of the Georgia State Archives, click here.
To sign the petition to stop the close of the Georgia State Archives, click here.
Great op-ed by Dr. James Cobb, historian at the University of Georgia about the larger implications of the closing of GSA, click here.