Creating living archives and platforms for undergraduate theses

“Creating Living Archives” was an interactive thesis demonstration illustrating the art of memory-keeping as it relates to personal histories. // Photo by Kennedy Arnette Mitchell Student Publications

On April 24, Kennedy Arnette Mitchell, LMC ‘24, gave an interactive, in-person demonstration of their thesis through their talk, Creating Living Archives, in the Price Gilbert Library Scholars Event Network space to an audience of Tech faculty and fellow students.

Mitchell’s work proposes a cultural solution to the problem of incomplete communal and intergenerational memory-keeping. They describe memory-keeping as the respectful, long-term aggregation of a family or community’s history through conversations and physical records or artifacts.

Their work, developed during their time at Tech, is heavily influenced by their past experiences with their family and the various communities they have been a part of.

Among the novelties of Mitchell’s work is the fact that they may be the first undergraduate student at Tech to give a live demonstration of their thesis, according to the description of the event published by the School of Literature, Media and Communication (LMC).

In an interview after the event, Mitchell gave the Technique more background on how they became involved in their research.

They describe being the natural memory-keeper in their own family as a big source of inspiration for their work.

“I had a personal project that I was working on for a long time, and I wanted to be able to devote time to it in my studies. And in that, I went to my advisor, [and] I said, ‘Hey, it’s my graduate semester, I want to do a thesis project.’ She kind of discouraged me from doing a traditional thesis and encouraged me instead to do independent study, because it is a better option. Especially for a mixed-media artist like me, it gives you more freedom in terms of what you’re creating.” Mitchell said.

Mitchell further explained how they asked one of thier professors to be their mentor for the project. 

“I went to my favorite professor, Professor Thornton, whose work I admire and class I really enjoyed, and I maintained a good relationship with him, you know, checked all the boxes, and I was like, ‘Hey. So this is what I have so far. I just want to be mentored with a little designated time,’” Mitchell said.

Mitchell came to Tech from California, where they also spent time as a horticultural educator and grassroots community organizer.

“I started writing towards this effort in 2022. But the memory-keeping efforts preceded that by many years. I was a memory keeper even when I was gardening, and I just didn’t realize it. But it was for the same feeling. And coming to Tech has given me the language and the space to expand on what I do,” Mitchell said.

The two core aspects of Mitchell’s design include a physical archive, created from records and artifacts by the memory keepers, and the memory keepers themselves as the embodiment of the archive and its practices.

Mitchell raises the question of finding the potentially lost parts of one’s history through outreach to one’s family and friends.

That includes having inquisitive and sometimes difficult conversations with one’s elders, not for the sake of judging their past, but because that past provides context for the current generation’s experiences. It also includes collecting artifacts of their lives, including photographs and documents, as artifacts of one’s own story.

In a practical demonstration, Mitchell explained one important detail of their research – the importance of context in the collection of physical records.

In the case of a photo album from their grandmother, the individual photographs it contains serve as one layer of artifacts in the history of their family. Yet, the particular arrangement of the photos within the album serves as another, similarly important artifact of their grandmother’s experience of those memories.

Mitchell showed the audience scans of the album with its collage-like pages intact. They could not remove and scan the individual photographs without destroying the context provided by their arrangement.

By taking records that have existed in fragmented and potentially neglected or repressed states and revitalizing them according to the values outlined in their research, Mitchell illustrates for the audience how such practices can impact our elders as well. Mitchell asks, “How can I offer something of themselves back to them?”

Another standout aspect of Mitchell’s work is their belief in the “power of naming” in the articulation of new ideas. They discussed the personal practice of naming as an act of empowerment as well as reclamation, and even consider the history of weaponized naming in the legacy of imperialism.

In that vein, Mitchell has coined two terms that encapsulate core concepts in their research: “mosaic appraisal” and “perennial remembrance.”

Mosaic appraisal “describes the cyclical process of investigating a memory or value system as it involves disruption, reorientation, [and/or] connection.”

Perennial remembrance “refers to a deep inner knowing that has been instilled by ancestral traditions and recent generational practices. [It] alludes to the ways we, along with the land itself, embody a memory of all that came before.”

The Technique also asked Mitchell about other opportunities they have found through their work.

“I hosted a workshop earlier this semester. I was really proud of that. I hosted it at For Keeps bookstore. It’s a Black bookstore on Auburn Avenue that has rare Black books and ephemera, and hosting a workshop there during Black Futures Month, February, really started opening me up to how this work is received and the impact that it can have on different people,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell also commented on the educational environment at Tech and how it helped develop them as a student through the years.

“Like I mentioned when I talked about my application essay, I applied and mentioned that I think learning is most valuable when done in community. And that couldn’t be truer, because spaces like the CoLab on campus, in the Skiles building, OMED, just being in an environment of learners, people who are just eager to expand on their craft and further their ideas, people who are really self-motivated also, is really nice to be around.” Mitchell said

Mitchell’s work is set to be self-published in a workbook titled “The Memory-Keeper’s Handguide” later this year.