Those who survived Indian Residential Schools, Mennonite Church Canada members and South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission participants all have one thing in common.
The three groups rely on archival institutions to collect, preserve and make accessible profound stories of their cultural identities. Whether found within the new University of Manitoba Centre for Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s records, the Mennonite Heritage Centre or the National Parliamentary Archives of South Africa, a rich history is available to users for a variety of purposes.
Archival institutions are often the silent partner in the stories we share. Archives are rarely the first place people consider when beginning to research new projects, but they offer a rich source of material and “lived” history that cannot be found on the Internet.
The Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives is no exception. The combined records of MC Canada congregations and other Mennonite institutions held at the Archives play a large role in shaping us as a body of believers now and into the future. Accessing that material allows us to draw upon the collected wisdom of those who walked before us.
Physically, the Archives is a protected storage space with many boxes, an indexed selection of records on its website and knowledgeable staff. Practically, the Archives is so much more. The records kept within our building communicate values, detail important church decisions and serve as repositories of generational Mennonite experience.
The Archives is a time machine that takes young people back to the past to eavesdrop on stories waiting to be heard.
The Archives is also a specially created space where university disciplines come together. For educators, it is a place of discovery, an opportunity to engage with multimedia materials. When used in conjunction with textbooks, archives offer students the opportunity to routinely evaluate original source material, formulate arguments and learn to defend their research.
With increasing access to digital archives, students develop the skill to approach history critically, actively and creatively. New projects for theology, immigration and gender studies, music, literature, sociology and history are readily available. Students of all ages have open access to source materials such as personal letters, diaries of farm and family, and a large, growing database of memorable photos. Access to researchers who work directly with historic documents also transforms and enhances the way students learn.
Our leaders, mentors and family role models continue to provide examples for us today through historical evidence. Exploring the Archives allows us to benefit from that evidence. It helps us to continue being faithful in challenging times, now and into the future.
Korey Dyck is director of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Archives and Gallery in Winnipeg.
--Posted Jan. 29, 2014