The board of the Archivists Round Table of Metropolitan New York (ART) condemns in the strongest terms the attack on the United States Capitol by those seeking to block the certification of electors in the recent presidential election.
We abhor the violence that resulted in five deaths at the Capitol and exposed members of Congress to COVID-19. We are thankful that our elected officials were not injured and commend the service of guards and staff who protected them at great risk to themselves.
We denounce the actions of those who continue to baselessly object to the election results, claiming without evidence that the results were fraudulent for their own political gain, which threatens to further inflame violent actions by their followers.
As archivists and historians, we are well aware that the events that unfolded on January 6th are not without precedent; archives of the United States bear witness to many instances of violence perpetrated by those with white supremacist views seeking to wield political power. Indeed, the contested election of 1876, which some lawmakers disingenuously cited as grounds for objecting to the certification of electors of key states, is notorious for having brought about the end of Reconstruction, paving the way for Jim Crow laws and violence against Black citizens of the American South. The stakes of bowing to violent actors and those who would subvert the public will through disenfranchisement cannot be overstated.
One of the core values that archivists bring to democratic society is the preservation of documentary evidence in order to hold our leaders and institutions accountable for their actions. We safeguard the authenticity of historical documents from vandalism and manipulation, and strive to support transparency in our institutions by making archives broadly accessible to the public. Yet, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has suffered years of underfunding and closures of regional branches, making records inaccessible to numerous constituencies throughout the country. NARA staff have also been targets of political retribution for attempting to gather presidential records that the previous administration sought to destroy. Actions taken to limit access to historical documents are occurring against a backdrop of increasingly widespread misinformation and distortions of our nation’s past and present, further hindering the public’s ability to discern fact from fiction.
In the weeks and months ahead, as we reckon as a nation with the events of January 6th and their consequences, it is critical that the new administration take steps to support the National Archives and Records Administration and the work of local archivists throughout the country. Archives are vital to our collective understanding of past and present violence, and to restoring confidence in our democratic institutions.
As an organization representing a diversity of cultural and governmental institutions, collections, and archivists in the New York metropolitan area, ART affirms our commitment to upholding democratic values towards the promise of a more just and free society.