Every year, The Archivist Round Table (A.R.T.) produces New York Archives Week.  A week full of commemorative activities aimed to inform the general public of the diverse array of archival materials in the NYC metropolitan area.  A.R.T. hosts three signature events: the A.R.T. awards ceremony, the K-12 Archives Education Institute, and an all day symposium.  On October 19, I attended the annual symposium held at the Center for Jewish History.

This year, fellow Pratt LIS students and I spent the day uncovering truths about working with the “uncomfortable archive.” The symposium consisted of a keynote speaker and four panels. All of the speakers and panels focused on various aspects of archiving sensitive material, bringing to light the broader questions of what it means to preserve and acknowledge the existence of controversial episodes throughout history.


The first panel centered around curatorial choices for a exhibition surrounding the holocaust and mental health.  The first speaker was Marissa Hollywood, Associate Director at Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) at Queensboro Community College (QCC). From their website, “the Kupferberg Holocaust Center uses the lessons of the Holocaust and other mass atrocities to teach and empower citizens to become agents of positive and social change in their lives and in their community.”1  Mrs. Hollywood spoke about how the space serves as an exhibition center and a library and touched upon the importance of its accessibility to not only the students but also the community.

In 2015 the KHC hosted an exhibition centered upon the discovery of a jacket from the Dachau concentration camp. The jacket belonged to Benzion Peresecki (Ben Peres), a Lithuanian Jew, was a prisoner at Dachau for 10 months. He kept the jacket for 33 years. The exhibition told the story of his immigration to the US, his legal pursuit of reparations, and touched upon his mental health journey. Over 1500 documents, donated by Mr. Peresecki’s daughter, served as the supplemental material for the exhibition.


As Mrs. Hollywood described the overall staging of the exhibition and the design of the center, a quote in the “difficult heritage” reading by Sharon Macdonald popped into my head: “Should a representation remain coolly factual or use more emotive forms of staging?”2  In the end, I thought Mrs. Hollywood and the other speakers on this panel delivered an exhibit that traversed the line between factual and emotive very well. With this exhibition, they attempted to answer was how best to display this difficult heritage and to address the issue of trauma and mental health that proved critical in Mr. Peres struggle following WWII.

Olivia Tursi, a social worker, worked on the exhibition analyzing the mental health documents for the exhibition. Her presentation focused on Ben Peres’ mental health. She discussed the importance of the jacket as a source of a traumatic event but also symbolic of his survival. She also addressed how the jacket provided a sense of control of his narrative post WWII.


The third presenter was Dr. Cary Lane, Assistant Professor of English at QCC. Dr. Lane spoke about using student-centered approaches to engage students in difficult content. His presentation focused on the presentation of the documents and the engagement of the students with the exhibit. What I found interesting about Dr. Lane’s presentation is the focus of the diversity of the student population. As he spoke, I was reminded of a passage from the reading on archives by Joan Schwartz and Terry Cook:

“Remembering (or re-creating) the past through historical research in archival records is not simply ‘the retrieval of stored information, but the putting together of a claim about past states of affairs by means of a framework of shared cultural understanding.’”3

Dr. Lane spoke about how student involvement with the research of the jacket and the holocaust allowed them to not only understand the event, but relate its repercussions and emotions to their own lives.  QCC is a very diverse campus and while the lives of these students may not have been personally affected by the holocaust, they could identify and share the emotions associated with such a traumatic event.  I found this correlation and “shared trauma” was an interesting aspect to this exhibit.


Overall I found the entire event to be really fascinating. As library and information professionals, I believe that we hold a certain obligation to the community to exhibit the realities of historical situations that may otherwise be overlooked. Throughout the panels there were so many examples of archival exhibits that pushed the boundaries surrounding material that is “uncomfortable” to most audiences.  As I was listening to the panelists, I was reminded about our readings regarding the power of the archive.  Throughout the year we read examples of the power that archives wield. In all the examples of “uncomfortable archives,” I feel the presenters did a good job of highlighting the gravity of their subject matter with respect for those marginalized communities.



  1. Hollywood, Marissa. “About the Center.” Kaufberg Holocaust Center. http://khc.qcc.cuny.edu (accessed October 22, 2018).
  2. Macdonald, Sharon. “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still Difficult?” Museum International 265-268 (2016): 6-22.
  3. Schwartz, Joan M. and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Sceince 2 (2002): 1-19.

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