Earth Day 2021


Written by Itza A. Carbajal

In 2020 many of us experienced loss. The loss of life, touch, moments, potential memories, missed opportunities, and time. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic also took away our attention from other ongoing pressing issues such as the still critical Climate Crisis. The year 2020 also marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Earth Day, a widely recognized celebration that first began in the United States in 1970 now considered a global day of observation.(1) Despite origins in just one country Earth Day now sees other countries celebrating this important issue with perhaps the most cumulative celebration occurring in 2016 with the landmark Paris Agreement signed by over 120 other countries.(2) Now midway through 2021 as the world tries to adjust to the changes brought on by the pandemic and its aftermath, attention again has begun to shift back to our planet’s most pressing issue – climate change with Earth Day, always observed on April 22, 2021, serving as an opportunity to refocus.(3)

As many may remember, 2019 represented a cataclysmic year for environmental movements with the largest recorded strike and protest occurring in over 150 countries. The Global Climate Strike organized primarily by young people captivated our attention and highlighted for many the demand for commitment from world leaders towards concrete Climate Change action.(4) With the wind of support pushing many people to act and increased pressure on governments and governing bodies, 2019 represented a chance for concrete change. For archivists, the global strikes also reignited a fire in the work, writing, and thinking of many archival practitioners and scholars on the intersections of archival practice, theory, and environmental studies. Efforts such as the Archives and Climate Change Teach-Ins brought to the forefront the urgency of Climate Change and disasters on archival work.(5) These initial conversations paved the way for ensuing publications, presentations, interviews, statements, workshops, and ongoing conversations each setting the stage for ripple effects in workplace practices, viewpoints, and field standards. Unfortunately, the start of the pandemic shortly after caused drastic shifts in working and gathering practices such as the cancelation of conferences, as well as financial, emotional, and personal struggles such as mass layoffs or forced isolation. These unfortunate consequences diverted much of the attention away from the urgency of Climate Change action towards more immediate fires. But for many archivists, the time to refocus is again upon us.

Now as a doctoral student at the University of Washington Information School, my own perspectives on Climate Change action have shifted slightly. While no longer a practicing archivist, I continue to value the role education plays in encouraging and enabling others to feel confident and prepared to take action. During this first year of my PhD program, I developed a research project titled “Everybody is Welcomed, Everybody is Needed: Using Archives in Interdisciplinary K-12 Teaching and Learning,” with the Technology & Social Change (TASCHA) group at the University of Washington.(6) Now through this opportunity to investigate in depth the impact archives and archival practice can have on the education of younger generations, I look to incorporate myself again into conversations on improving the future by using the past. This study focuses on the relationship between K-12 education on environmental issues and the use of digital archives in order to uncover and define the role archivists and archives can have in educating younger generations on the environmental past, present, and future of the world.

With the unveiling of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010 and adoption in Washington State in 2011, educational expectations call for an increased use of primary sources.(7) These sources used within teaching curriculums set out to build student skills such as critical analysis, source comparison, persuasive writing, and research. My research project then seeks to contribute to a number of fields and scholarships including archival studies, K-12 education, and childhood and youth studies. Findings on how different areas of study utilize primary sources to address the connections between the past, present, and future would benefit conversations on designing teaching and learning with primary sources programs that also address teaching standards. Given the limited time and resources of K-12 educators, many depend on access to these primary sources via online digital collections. Insights on how historic records can best be used in the K-12 classroom through interdisciplinary pedagogy also allow for improvements and alignment with national expectations and directions. In many subjects taught through grades K-12, overlapping topics related to both the planet and its inhabitants merit increased attention. For example, high school students in classes like history, chemistry, politics, and engineering could study the lasting impact of environmental changes on societies, the environment, and energy producing structures. Topics like land erosion, rising global temperatures, increased greenhouse gases, and human migration could be studied as part of biology, literature, geography, and mathematics. These convergences would facilitate multiple reiterative opportunities for students to learn and understand the ways humans enact, interact, memorialize and conceptualize one of the most pressing issues of our time.

As technology advances, access to information increases, and political strife spreads due to limited or restricted resources, there exists a fundamental need to evaluate and adjust how students are preparing themselves with technical, emotional, and intellectual insights and skills. In addition, now with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic obstructing in person instruction and access to resources, the need for digital access to primary sources has increased dramatically. My research project aims to explore these issues as well as identify new approaches or improved practices for both archivists, teachers, and students. Through surveys and observations of distinct populations including Seattle-based archivists, teachers in training, and Seattle Public School teachers and students, I plan to investigate current approaches and viewpoints on teaching environmental studies topics through the use of digital archival records. An emphasis on environmental studies in particular pushes forward scholarship on how K-12 education can incorporate discussions on sustainable and responsible ways of life through the lens of the environment and people’s relationship to it. By focusing on the use of primary sources, this research contributes to a growing area of pedagogical concern – how to use manifestations of the past embodied through physical records in order to better understand the present and predict or shape the future.

My hope as expressed in the blog article hosted by the Society of American Archivist Electronic Records Section as part of their Another Kind of Glacier series, is to continue putting pressure on myself, my colleagues, and others in the archival field.(8) Education alone cannot undo or reroute our practices alone, but I at least can set the stage for more to come.

1. “EPA at 50: Progress for a Stronger Future.” EPA. March 05, 2021. Accessed April 19, 2021.
2. “What Is the Paris Agreement?” The Paris Agreement. Accessed April 19, 2021.
3. “Earth Day.” EPA. April 16, 2021. Accessed April 19, 2021.
4. “Over 4 Million Join 2 Days of Global Climate Strike,” Global Climate Strike, September 21, 2019, accessed October 6, 2020,
5. Itza A. Carbajal and Ted Lee, “If Not Now, When? Archivists Respond to Climate Change,” Archival Outlook, November/December 2019,
6. Itza A. Carbajal. “Archives in the Classroom.” Itza Carbajal Portfolio. April 19, 2021.
7. Rich Cairn. “Primary Sources and the Common Core State Standards.” The Teaching with Primary Sources Journal 5, no. 2 (Fall 2012).
8. Itza A. Carbajal. “The Conversation Must Go On: Climate Change and Archival Practice.” BloggERS, December 15, 2020.

+ Feed Your Mind & Nourish Your Soul on Earth Day curated by Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

+ Against Environmental Disaster Teaching Activities curated by Archivists Against History Repeating Itself

+ Climate Change and Cultural Memory Material Memory Podcast series created Council on Library and Information Resources

+ United States Environmental Protection Agency Archive maintained by the EPA

+ Activating Special Collections for Climate Change Research poster presented at Rare Books & Manuscripts Section 2019 conference