Author Archive for borona

Accomplishments for the Summer

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately. As I enter into the summer working for the Oak Park Neighborhood Association I hope to accomplish many things. I hope to help the community build capacity to tell their own stories, I hope to make connections with people within the City of Sacramento, and I hope to produce something that is meaningful and helpful for the community I will be serving. But ideally, I’d like to produce the start of a digital humanities tool that lasts for many years. That can be used toward advocacy and as a tool to build community capacity.

The start of this is daunting. I am still working with OPNA to fully define the scope of the project. Much of this on my end is managing my own expectations. What can I reasonably due over the summer when I also have other obligations? I am hoping, at the very least, to conduct five substantial oral histories for OPNA that can be incorporated into a digital mapping project. The project will stretch over the course of the next year to incorporate more stories and to build a platform that the community can use after I leave the project.

This may seem ambitious (or not ambitious enough) but the oral histories will include detailed histories as well as research conducted with the community to better understand the history of Oak Park. I hope to better define the history of the area away from the traditional histories of Sacramento. Ideally, I’d like to focus on the history of gentrification, environmental justice, and social justice advocacy that is so rich in this neighborhood of Sacramento. Oak Park is where the Sacramento chapter of the Black Lives Matter and the Black Panthers started where many environmental justice battles were waged, and where the neighborhood now is grappling with the impacts of development to their community. I want to focus on these stories as well as gain the perspectives of new residents who now call Oak Park home. Through this project, I hope that the community will be able to tell their own stories, using their own voices, to provide a richer and more substantial history of the Oak Park neighborhood.

Community-based learning: Why I am here

I came into public scholarship long before my formal education began. I am a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in northwestern California and our community based education begins early in life. We sing to each other, dance, and grow up knowing our histories and stories before we step foot inside of a classroom. Growing up, I noticed that the stories I heard day to day in my household, about our culture, people, and contribution to the world around us, were never told accurately or fairly in academic settings: American Indians were relegated to the past. I remember vividly in kindergarten making “macaroni Indian necklaces” and receiving the name, “Princess Cactus Flower” and reflecting, even at five years old, how that vision was wrong. I also remember my grandfather’s anger and him coming into the classroom to “set the record straight” much to the chagrin of my teacher.

It is this desire to set the record straight that has brought me here. I have an undergraduate degree in History, a Master’s in Public History, and now am embarking on Ph.D. in Native American Studies in the hope of privileging the stories of indigenous and people of color through public humanities work. Native American Studies is a very community based field, it is the main reason I decided to join the program (aside from the amazing faculty, of course), and the support from the program to tell our stories, in our own way, has been invaluable. Outside of the NAS program, however, I find that public humanities work is looked down on and disregarded. My hope is to demonstrate that community based scholarship is as rigorous, as research intensive, and is as valuable as any other academic endeavor. I have always believed that education, and what is produced from that education, should be given back to communities. I hope to make my own contribution, in a small way, through the Mellon Public Scholarship program this summer.

Social Justice, activism, and the Ph.D. Student: Engaging with communities with a goal

I am currently attending the National Council for Public History Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana and many of the sessions have been grappling with the same themes we have in our Public Scholars class. How do we privilege communities without sacrificing academic integrity? Should that be the concern of an activist scholar? What do we call this work anyway: public history, public scholarship or something else? And the most important question (to me at least) why so much anxiety between public and “academic” scholarship? All of these questions have been at the forefront of the conference discussions without real answers but many lively and engaging ideas. This week’s readings came at a perfect time for me because they help to frame some of those discussions into a theoretical context.

As Hale notes in his introduction, activist research can be seen as the “praxis” side of the theory-and-praxis combination and that underlying political alignments do not undermine scholarly rigor. I find in my own research that my political and cultural understanding through indigenous and environmental justice advocacy makes my scholarship more rigorous because of the responsibility I feel toward the community I am working with and for. As an academic and community scholar, I echo the sentiment of Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey who wish to make activist scholarship as a viable model for both intellectual inquiry and pedagogical praxis (Sudbury and Okazawa-Rey, 3). As they also note, education for social justice is not a new practice. It has played a central role for social change and the departments that have come out of this social change, such as women’s studies, queer studies and Native American studies. I continuously think about whom we are writing for a why. Who is the public? What is the point of academia if it is not to be accessible to people outside of it? It has taken me coming to UC Davis to see that there is this anxiety (perhaps I have put myself in the bubble of public history) between the public and the academic. For example, the University of Utah: American West Center engages in public history, academic and public scholarship, and openly works with communities to help with cultural projects. As far as I can tell there is very little anxiety about their methodologies  within the wider university.

So the anxiety question still haunts me. Why is the dynamic between public scholarship and academic scholarship so tenuous? There is a whole group of academics (public historians, ethnic studies scholars, etc.) that have embraced this model of scholarship as both necessary and important to understanding the communities we write about. I’m still curious about this anxiety, the history of it, the discussion of it, the theory around it, because it is not my own.


Space in the Archive: Decolonizing Critical Scholarship

This week, the readings for class focused on issues related to the role of universities, archives and interdisciplinary studies as critical scholarship. The idea that public scholarship is outside of the realm of critical scholarship has never occurred to me. As I read Guzman’s article, I thought about how public history is inherently a collaborative process. Guzman’s participation in the South El Monte Arts Posse, a collective of artists, writers, and urban planners reflects collaboration, memory, space, and community based scholarship.

Guzman’s reflection of space is especially interesting to me. The El Monte Arts Posse reminded me of the work of British scholar, Peter Burke as he reflects on collective memory through different forms of media. “Historians are concerned or should be concerned with memory as a historical phenomenon, with what might be called the social history of remembering.” He acknowledges that memories are affected by social organization and different media forms are shaped by different groups of people. Five different media forms are of importance to Burke: 1.) Oral traditions, 2.) traditional province of the historian, memoirs, and other written records, 3.) images, pictorial, or photographic, 4.) action transmit memories as they transmit skills from master to apprentice, 5.) space.

As a student in the Native American Studies Ph.D. program, a very interdisciplinary and community based department, I think a lot about space, memory, and how archival institutions tell community stories. Who tells these stories and for what purpose? What is the role of a community based scholar in “truth-telling”? And how do we use archives, inherently flawed because of subjectivity of archivists who define collections, help tell a community story? In Native American communities’ memory, collaboration and space is especially important. Many indigenous community scholars use methods of memory, construction of space, art, and oral history outside of the realm of the archive to create collaborative public history projects much like the South El Monte Arts Posse. For generations, the archive has been the hub in conducting critical scholarship across the humanities. Ferguson’s assertion that the archiving placed former colonies into a “kind of house arrest,” where “freedom signified genres of subjugation and domiciliation” questions the origins and objectivity of the traditional archive. The use of traditionally western methods to privilege the history of colonized communities is known as decolonization. Increasingly, it is important for communities to define their own scholarship through community based work to decolonize the academy.