Documenting Denver Activism Archives Project Undertakes a New Method of Oral History

Documenting Denver Activism Archives Project Undertakes a New Method of Oral History

Katrina Vandeven, Director, Documenting Denver Activism Archives Project 

Following the 2016 election, Denver, Colorado has experienced a new wave of grassroots, activist activity. Citizens who had previously not interacted with the state are taking new measures to speak to their local and national governments, often en masse, in marches and rallies with attendance in the hundreds to tens of thousands. Given this new, and likely impermanent trend in Denver and nationwide, the Documenting Denver Activism Archives Project will be undertaking a case study in order to create a new methodology specific to documenting protests as they occur through a new method called ‘guerrilla oral history.’

Guerrilla, a term used to denote unconventional methods using minimal resources for maximum impact, is apt to describe this method; its intent is to create an efficient and accessible method through which both professional and amateur oral historians can document protests and attendees during the demonstrations. The inspiration for guerrilla oral history came from my previous experience co-founding and coordinating the oral history collection of the Women’s March on Washington Archives Project. After the Women’s Marches I created the Documenting Denver Activism Archives Project in order to continue documenting local protests in short oral history interviews during the rallies and marches. I found, however, the method I had been using was too unsystematic and that I should develop real guidelines for how to document a protest from the planning stage to post-protest metadata creation. This was particularly necessary because the current method did not create adequate space to document the perspectives and intersectional experiences that drove the narrators to engage with activist movements, along with the event itself. I have gauged that certain questions elicit and make space for more personal and critical responses and can extend the interview, which is helpful given the limited amount of time for interaction with protesters (usually 3-12 minutes).

The primary motivation for creating this method is combatting the public and archival silence of demonstrations as they occur; protests are highly ephemeral and most are forgotten within months of occurring. Neglecting to document or facilitate the documentation of these events creates gaps in the historical record. The dearth of documentation for these massive, yet fleeting, protests also serves to de-legitimize the political actions taken by communities. In order to effectively document these events and the people attending them, as well as assist other archivists, non-professionals and activists in documenting their local protests, a new method of oral history is required to make the process efficient, simple, and effective given the highly unconventional nature of the recording environment.

The project is partnering with Dr. Sergio Gallegos, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Metropolitan State University of Denver, in order to create a complete theory that utilizes modern social epistemology principles of intersectionality, epistemic justice, decolonial theory, and standpoint theory to resist archival silence and represent social movements within local and community archives collections.