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Public Awareness and Outreach: Framing Archival Events to Bring Different Communities Together

Carefully framing outreach events that present collective histories can raise questions about systemic oppression, responsibility, accountability and mutuality.

Published onMar 14, 2022
Public Awareness and Outreach: Framing Archival Events to Bring Different Communities Together


As a diasporic Ilocana settler within the Library and Archival field in Hawaiʻi, my genealogy situates me as part of the multicultural settler communities in these islands. Through education, I have been made aware of Kanaka Maoli movements to restore independence of their nation, occupied and colonized under the U.S.  The Philippines’ own pursuit for independence after Spanish colonialism was also hampered by the U.S. The American theft of Hawaiian Kingdom lands was to create it as a military launching pad to take over other Asian and Pacific nations, such as the Philippines and Guam, as well as other nations such as Puerto Rico, at the end of the Spanish-American War (IntlForum 2013).  

My work at the Law Library is to collect, preserve, and make accessible the papers of law faculty, judges, and attorneys that have made an impact on the legal history of Hawaiʻi. We hold papers that discusses legal histories during the Hawaiian Kingdom, and after its illegal overthrow—of the U.S. Territorial Government of Hawaiʻi, and Statehood in the present. When studying these archival histories, I reflect on how U.S. settler colonialism has impacted Indigenous Hawaiian, Philippine, and other Asian and Oceanic people’s homelands, and how these differently oppressed communities have built knowledge on working together to defy the settler colonial arrangements that try to control and divide us (Saranillio 2013).  

When I plan events to raise awareness about certain collections in my archive, I place differing historical perspectives in conversation with each other, utilizing the stories within the archival materials I manage, as well as incorporating other people’s stories outside of the archive. In one exhibit entitled “Race, Labor, & Indigeneity,” I brought together Kanaka Maoli and Asian immigrant labor leaders and scholars, on how we can re-examine the significance of our labor history to help us bring together our diverse communities during the height of the COVID pandemic as our state witnessed thousands of job losses in our tourism dependent economy.  Our past labor history was about how people, divided by race and class, created strategies to overcome divisions, to improve working class conditions in the plantation society. But how can our collective goal not be about assimilation back into a modernized plantation economy, but toward an economy that is inclusive of the well being of all people, including Native people, and that cares for our environment? This exhibit and discussion was a collaboration between the Law Library’s archival repository, the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaiʻi West Oʻahu, and the Center for Oral History at the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. The outreach for this event was broad, inviting diverse communities to engage in histories that we each have a stake in.

Carefully framing outreach events is important. Presenting collective histories can raise questions about systemic oppression, responsibility, and accountability. People can be inspired to attend an event if it will speak to pressing issues circulating in the community’s collective consciousness.  The histories of place, of institutions that affect all our lives, are topics that can be used to rally different people (Saurombe and Ngulube 2018).  

Archival events may invite communities who may not see eye to eye, or who haven’t thought about their relation to the other. A decolonial, anti-racist narrative framing could challenge dominant stories that have divided or pitted peoples against each other, toward explaining the possibilities that the discussion might bring. One exhibit I led featured the archives of Jon Van Dyke, a white law professor who advocated for Native Hawaiian, Philippine, Micronesian, Pacific Islanders, Korean, Japanese, Ainu, and so many other marginalized peoples, through his research.  The launch of Van Dykeʻs archive brought together leaders from many communities that he worked with, who spoke to the interconnections he was making within and across these communities through his scholarship.

Another exhibit called the Pacific Island Legal Institute Reception & Exhibit featured archives about the history of western colonial powers interacting with customary laws across the the Federated States of Micronesia, American Samoa and Hawaiʻi. Judges and legal officials from these Pacific Islands came to our law school for professional training; at the exhibit, they engaged in a group oral history to reflect on how they manage the legacies of these intersecting legal traditions. Law students, who were diasporas from these island nations, were also part of the circle, asking these judges questions important to them as emerging legal scholars.

Not ignoring, blaming, obscuring, or excluding different peoples' histories within a shared place can help us examine the intersectional dynamics of multicultural histories. Bringing diverse groups together can be an opportunity to learn under-heard histories, to correct misunderstandings, to learn the interconnection between peoples, to recognize if harm was done, and to learn responsibility/accountability/new ways to relate beyond individualism, hierarchy, or competition under settler colonialism (Goodyear-Kaʻopua 2011).  

Such an event needs to be hosted by archivists who can hold and move through discomfort and messiness the information may bring. As we observe our societies struggle with racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, settler colonialism, militarism, police brutality, climate change, and so many other divisive issues, decolonial historical reflections can be one way for archives to rally different people together, to break silences so people can recognize and take responsibility of their role in the multicultural historical present, and find out how to live in relation better. 

Ideas for Practical Action

Here are some ideas that can help initiate the technical aspects of planning and executing a public awareness and archival outreach event:  

  • Know the contents of your archive and the possible stories on historical eras, peoples, themes, and issues that can be raised for public discussion. What kind of place-based, institutional or political-economic structural history can serve as the context to explain the experiences of different groups, of historical events, of social-political-cultural phenomenon? Can stories in the archive teach concepts that affect the relationships between different people, such as racism, classism, sexism, settler colonialism, xenophobia, militarism and decolonization?

  • Connect the archival outreach event’s theme to current issues that drive the pulse of the community.  Are there current social movements or public discussions that connect to information in the archive? How can the archive event reference these current events, and their histories? What are the information needs of the community to come to a basic understanding of the issues of the debate? Can the event outreach to community leaders involved in those issues (Heron 2014)? Can those leaders be a featured part of the archival event to advocate and raise awareness about those issues (DataCenter 2021)? 

  • Sharing Archival information through exhibits & presentations. Archivists can publish brochures and flyers about archival collections. They can write about featured archival events in media press releases and newsletters.  Archival displays and exhibitions can draw people to attend, such as during archive’s open days, Archives Week activities, or special days of observance. Academic faculty and staff can work with archivists to integrate exhibits into their curriculum or conferences (Saurombe and Ngulube 2018).  Knowing an audiences’ informational needs and practices can help clarify the right methods of outreach.

  • Collaborate across repositories and organizations.  Sometimes the contextual information about a theme is not fully documented in my repository.  Other repositories or institutions can have archival materials or sources that can speak to the theme.  A cross-repository exhibit can be organized, portraying multiple perspectives on the issue. Relationships and collaboration between repositories can increase as they learn about each other's collections and needs (Saurombe and Ngulube 2018). The archivist can also collaborate with other organizations to be part of the public event by inviting their leader to be a speaker to frame the exhibit theme in a current, relevant way (Heron 2014). Partner organizations could share marketing materials for the archival event to their audiences. The talk, pictures, or other information shared at the event could be recorded and duplicates added to the archive and shared with partner organizations. 


DataCenter. “Research Justice.” 2021. 

Goodyear-Ka'ōpua, N. "Kuleana lāhui: Collective responsibility for Hawaiian nationhood in activists' praxis." Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, 5, Special issue on Anarch@Indigenism (2011): 130-163.

Heron, C. “Archives: Public Awareness and Engagement,” in Archivaria 78 (Fall 2014): 149-152.

Kajihiro, K. International Forum on Globalization - Moana Nui 2013.

Saranillio, D. “Why Asian Settler Colonialism Matters: A Thought Piece on Critiques, Debates, and Indigenous Difference,” in Settler Colonial Studies, 3: 3-4, 2013, pp. 280-294.

Saurombe, N. "Decolonising higher education curricula in South Africa: factoring in archives through public programming initiatives," In Archival Science 18 (2018): 119-141.

Saurombe, N., & Ngulube, P. (2018). To collaborate or not to collaborate, that is the question: Raising the profile of public archives in east and southern Africa. Information Development, 162–181.

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