Diasporas and Archival grand challenges

Ashwinee Pendharkar, Anne Gilliland, Joanne Evans, and Gillian Oliver


If defined as ‘minority communities within a majority community’, the scope of the term diaspora can be extended to include all historically or contemporarily marginalised and displaced communities. However, here we focus on the diasporas of people and records formed due to voluntary and forced displacements, or due to shifts in borders, across communities, territories, countries, and continents.

The phenomenon of diasporisation is global and continuous, and poses some of the greatest challenges to the archives and records management processes of the time in terms of theoretical approaches, professional practices, policies and development of technological frameworks. The current global refugee crises and the political situation in the United States lend an urgency to the need to engage with these grand challenges.

As diasporas of people struggle and strive for integration in the host societies, their
archival and records needs range from legal to psychological. “Records make or break peoples’ lives” (- Anne Gilliland). The danger of symbolic annihilation that the diasporas face (- Michelle Caswell) through othering, alienation, marginalisation and silencing in the historical archival and national discourse is as real as the danger of deportation due to lack of records and the danger of living as undocumented migrants. Their need for evidence is as real as their need for socio-cultural inclusion and archival representation. Diasporas of people result in diasporas of records and archives in their home and host societies. These fragmented and scattered records and archives face and present a range of practical problems.

The workshop ‘Diasporas and Archival grand challenges’ will engage with current projects theoretical approaches, and issues of professional practices, development of policies and technological frameworks.

Questions and issues to be explored will include:

  • Reasons for, needs for, and conditions of, the dispersal of people and of archival records
  • Relationship of dispersed people and records to their source and host communities
  • How have diasporas of people and of records come to be understood, used, or assimilated into the institutions or communities where they currently reside?
  • The relationship between the diasporas of humans, experiences, and records
  • How can we reimagine records at the individual or personal level, rather than at the community or aggregate level? What are the related tools, concepts, elements, frameworks?
  • How do records tie directly to outcomes in people’s lives? How do they validate transactions, experiences, lives? What are the conversations that need to occur around these evidential, transactional, and other needs, and how they change over time?
  • What are dark archives? Need, complication, justification for dark archives. Ethics around records decisions by records scholars and others. Moving ethical records knowledge into policy and practice.
  • The right to remember and be remembered, The right to forget and be forgotten
  • The need to preserve and the need to destroy
  • The role of social media in documenting historical events, collective and personal experiences of the diasporas and their potential archival value as evidence and collective memory

Length: 3 hours

Prerequisites: none


  1. Understanding the scope of this grand challenge by steering attention towards different ways in which people, records and archives are displaced and dispersed – internally and internationally and the issues around identity, memory, accountability and the need for evidence.
  2. Identifying responses from within the field
  3. Thinking of ways forward in terms of technology, theory, policies and practices.

Maximum number of participants: none


Ashwinee Pendharkar – I received an MIS from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, in August 2016 with specialisations in Library and Archives and Records Management. I have come to information studies with a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Currently, I am working as a Cataloguing and Metadata librarian for the Royal New Zealand Foundation of the Blind.
Anne Gilliland (www.dunrunda.co) is Professor and Director of the Archival Studies specialization in the Department of Information Studies, as we​ll as Director of the Center for Information as Evidence, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). She is a faculty affiliate of UCLA’s Center for Digital Humanities. She is also the Director of the Archival Education and Research Initiative (AERI). She is a Fellow of the Society of American Archivists and recipient of numerous awards in archival and information studies. She is an Honorary Research Fellow of the Centre for Global Research, RMIT University in Melbourne and has served as a NORSLIS (Nordic Research School in Library and Information Science) Professor (with Tampere University, Finland; Lund University, Sweden; and the Royal School, Denmark), and as an Honorary Professorial Research Fellow, Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute, University of Glasgow. She has also taught courses as a visiting faculty member at Renmin University of China in Beijing and the University of Zadar, Croatia. Her interests relate broadly to the history, nature, human impact, and technologies associated with archives, recordkeeping and memory, particularly in translocal and international contexts. Specifically her work addresses recordkeeping and archival systems and practices in support of human rights and daily life in post-conflict settings, particularly in the countries emerging out of the former Yugoslavia; rights in records for refugees and other persons displaced due to factors such as conflict, politics, climate change or economic hardship; the role of community memory in promoting reconciliation in the wake of ethnic conflict; bureaucratic violence and the politics of metadata; digital recordkeeping and archival informatics; and research methods and design in archival studies.
Joanne Evans – I am an ARC Future Fellow in the Faculty of IT at Monash University, with my research relating to the design and development of archival information systems, with particular emphasis on recordkeeping metadata, interoperability and sustainability. I am particularly interested in exploring the requirements for archival systems in community environments using inclusive systems and research design approaches. With digital and networking information technologies throwing down many challenges for archival and recordkeeping endeavours, in both my teaching and my research I like to explore how they may help us develop better archival and recordkeeping infrastructures, in turn enriching our understanding of records, archives and archivists in society. My Connecting the Disconnected Future Fellowship research program is investigating the development of a participatory archival design methodology.
Gillian Oliver currently teaches and conducts research in records and archives at Monash University, Australia, and was previously based at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her most recent professional experience prior to this was as part of the foundation team established to initiate digital archiving capability at New Zealand’s national archives. Gillian’s PhD is from Monash University, and this doctoral study was the catalyst for her ongoing research agenda in organizational culture and information culture. She is a co editor-in-chief of Archival Science.