Sea to Rising Sea: ProjectARCC at the Keeping History Above Water Conference

Our tour of the coastal Point neighborhood in Newport, Rhode Island covered colonial history, architecture, and a recent neighborhood concern: flooding. Heavy rainfall and storm surges in Narragansett Bay flood the streets and the basements of houses, leading some homeowners to raise the foundations of their centuries-old homes.  As activists we focus on preventing climate change, but Keeping History Above Water, sponsored by the Newport Restoration Foundation from April 10-13, presented a disorienting idea: climate change has already happened, and sea level rise is a problem now.

Preservationists, scientists, architects, activists, documentarians, public sector workers, politicians, and others addressed sea level rise from a multitude of perspectives. Adam Markham highlighted the National Landmarks at Risk report created by the Union of Concerned Scientists in partnership with cultural organizations. Attendees from the Netherlands, Iran, Italy, and Kirabati as well as towns all over the United States shared the impacts of climate change on their homes and heritage. Project ARCC presented a poster and had excellent conversations with attendees, many of whom had not thought about the role of archives in preservation and scientific efforts. You can read more coverage of the conference by checking out our Storify or the #historyabovewater hashtag on Twitter and Instagram. (The NRF Instagram featured a great image of Rose viewing one of the displays!)

Project ARCC’s mission to protect collections fits into efforts to protect built, inhabited, and natural environments. Matthew Pelz of the Galveston Historical Foundation used historical photographs and maps to illustrate how Galveston’s landscape has changed, and how a culture once incredibly adaptable and accustomed to moving houses has become more permanent and therefore less resilient.  The example of Galveston raises some questions for archivists – how can we be more resilient in our actions, and how can we better document flexible communities?

Marcy Rockman, Climate Change Adaptation Coordinator for the National Parks Service, echoed Pelz’s inquiry of how people in the past dealt with environmental change. The NPS has taken a stand to “say the C word” in its planning and advocacy, publishing Using Scenarios to Explore Climate Change in 2013. Cultural heritage was not considered in major reports and frameworks regarding climate change risk until recently, but efforts such as the US/ICOMOS Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction have made strides to incorporate cultural heritage preservation into the global climate change agenda.

Archaeologist Tom Dawson spoke about his work with Scottish Coastal Heritage at Risk documenting, protecting, and even moving archaeological sites threatened by erosion caused by changing seas. Citizen science reports and 3D models are vital to SCHARP’s work. The variety of data that supports preservation projects are vast, and archivists have an opportunity to facilitate the access, preservation, and use of information by people doing this important work.

Preserving the narratives of climate change requires cultural sensitivity. Pam Rubinoff of the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Resources Center presented an image depicting houses on arks, prompting an audience member to ask, “Whose culture gets to go on the ‘ark’ of preservation?” Documentarian Sara Penrhyn Jones addressed this concern in describing her interviews with people in the island nation of Kirabati, already suffering the effects of sea level rise. She argued for the adoption of the language of human rights when discussing climate change.

The development of climate change communication and narratives is key; open communication channels must develop between different geographies and disciplines. Keeping History Above Water showed us the vastness of the spectrum of work addressing climate change, and the need for archivists to support the information and communication needs of these efforts.

— Genna Duplisea & Rose Oliveira

Going Big: Successes Back from SAA 2015

Members of ProjectARCC converged upon Cleveland, Ohio last week with fellow archivists from across the United States and beyond, sharing ideas, new projects, and best practices on the preservation and access of historical materials for current and future generations.

This was ProjectARCC’s first national opportunity to share news about our work, our concerns about the impact of climate change on the archival profession, and ways we think archivists can make a positive climate impact.

Prior to the conference, ProjectARCC published a blog post sharing tips on reducing our carbon footprint while at the conference, in addition to recommending some sessions that were relevant to archivists concerned about climate change.

On Wednesday, Eira Tansey, Chair of the Protect Committee, spoke about ProjectARCC to the SAA Human Rights Roundtable. We received suggestions about possibly establishing partnerships with the Human Rights Archives Roundtable, the International Archival Affairs Roundtable, and the Latin American and Caribbean Cultural Heritage Archives Roundtable (LACCHA). Eira will follow up on these suggestions in the next few weeks and reach out to them.

At the Forum on Archival and Special Collections Facilities led by Michele Pacifico, ProjectARCC members raised questions about how archives can prepare and build facilities understanding that climate change will impact different regions across the country in a variety of ways.

The Regional Archival Associations Consortium’s Disaster Planning Committee, led by Daria Labrinsky, decided to focus this year’s efforts on climate change impacts.

Casey Davis, Chair of the Preserve Committee, attended a session on Thursday to learn about how the SAA Council makes decisions on advocacy and policy issues, including which issues SAA is willing and interested in taking a position on. From this meeting, Casey had the idea to develop an issue brief for SAA to review and hopefully make an official statement on climate change on behalf of the Society’s membership. Later during the conference, this idea was further discussed with members of the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy. Over the next couple of months, ProjectARCC members will work on an issue brief for review by CAPP and the SAA Council.

A few ProjectARCC members gathered on Thursday at Lola Bistro in Cleveland. At the meeting, member Genna Duplisea shared her idea about the need for a ProjectARCC records retention schedule and implementation of records management best practices. Everyone agreed!

On Friday, ProjectARCC members were honored to be selected by the membership to host a PopUp Session titled “Somewhere to Run to: Acting on Climate Change within the Archival Profession.” Panelists included Genna Duplisea, Eira Tansey, and Casey Davis. Frances Harrell reported from the Reduce Committee. Many suggestions from the audience focused on assessing the climate impact of archival facilities and programs as well as researcher carbon footprints. Attended by equally concerned archivists ranging from early career to seasoned professionals, the most valuable takeaways from the sessions were contributed by the people in the audience, all of whom gave extremely helpful advice and recommendations on how ProjectARCC should move forward with its goals and how those goals could be refined. Tweets from our pop-up panel were tagged with #s509.

Following the session, Casey gave a presentation on climate change and ProjectARCC to the Issues and Advocacy Roundtable. She shared a few ideas about possible opportunities for collaboration, including co-authoring or endorsing the SAA issue brief on climate change; collaborating on a template letter or conversation with legislators, which archivists could then use to urge their elected officials to take action on climate change; and collaborating on a carbon incentive program for SAA 2016 in Atlanta.

Overall, the conference was hugely successful. ProjectARCC members made new contacts and advocates across the country. Archivists are understanding that the issue of climate change affects everything that we do, as professionals, as individuals, as communities and across the world. We’re honored to be part of this movement to better understand climate impacts on our profession, and equally as importantly, what efforts we can take to act on climate change within and beyond it.

A Storify of our time at SAA15, with tweets from the Human Rights Roundtable, our Pop Up Session, and the Issues & Advocacy Roundtable can be found here!

— Casey Davis, Eira Tansey, and Genna Duplisea