Archival Science

, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 169–203 | Cite as

Archival representations of immigration and ethnicity in North American history: from the ethnicization of archives to the archivization of ethnicity

Original Paper


This article traces the representations of ethnicity and immigration in mainstream American and Canadian archives since the 1950s. It identifies three main periods of evolution of these ethnic archives: the era prior to the civil rights movement, the 1960–1980s and the 1990s and beyond. Relying on an understanding of archival collections as social constructions anchored in specific historical contexts, the article considers the various political, economic, social and technological factors that affected ethnic archives over time, especially as they relate to changing scholarly and popular conceptions of ethnicity in North America. It pays particular attention to the impact of historical scholarship in fields related to immigration and ethnicity and of postmodernist archival theories that challenge the traditional view of archives as evidence of the past. It suggests that the relationship between ethnic archives and their historical context is dialectical: not only are they affected by the context in which they are developed and managed, but they also have an impact on that context as they favor certain conceptions of ethnicity and types of ethnic groups at the expense of others. Both curators and users of archival materials should therefore pay closer attention to the history of the processes that went into the construction of these archives to avoid falling victims to the illusion of ethnic authenticity.


Ethnicity Immigration history Participatory archiving History of archives Postmodernism Historical research methods Ethnic identity 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oakland UniversityRochesterUSA

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