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ACA 2023 Belonging: An Interview with Adam Williamson

13 Jun 2023 10:30 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

The ACA 2023 Annual conference is fast approaching! The ACA blog, In the Field, is featuring the profile of a few members who will be presenting at the 2023 conference. Today we are featuring the profile of Adam Williamson, a 2nd year master’s candidate at the University of Toronto’s iSchool.

Q: What is the title of your conference presentation? Tell us about it in 1 or 2 sentences.

Adam: The title of my presentation is “Empty Buildings and Burnt Records: Cultural Destruction and the Threat to Ukrainian Identity during the Russo-Ukrainian War.” The somber title reflects my exploration of the Russo-Ukrainian War’s impact on Ukraine’s cultural sector and what that means for Ukrainian identity. I make comparisons with the former Finnish province of Karelia during the Winter War (1939-1940) to draw parallels to better understand the impacts on Ukrainian identity. 

Q: Can you walk us through your academic and professional path? 

Adam: I am currently going into my second year as a Master of Information candidate at the University of Toronto. Prior to my master’s, I studied history at Brock University, which influences my research interests concerning archives. Professionally, my career has taken me in many interesting directions ranging from Parks Canada and the CRA to a research assistant at Brock University for a digital oral history archive. Currently, I am back at the federal government working for the National Research Council as an Information Management Policy Advisor. 

Phorotograph of Adam Williamson

Q: What brought you to the field of archival studies and practice? 

Adam: For me, it was my exposure to oral history and digital archives as a research assistant that pulled me into the archival world. Listening to people’s stories, helping preserve them, and understanding their importance for the community’s identity connected with me. The role of identity in archives stuck with me as I continued to explore research about it. Without that first experience, I wouldn’t have found myself in the archival field. 

Q: What does the theme of the ACA 2023 conference, “Belonging: Considering archival bonds and disconnects,” mean to you in terms of overall archival orientations and practice? 

Adam: In my mind, it raises the important questions of how archives should serve their society, who they represent, and who falls through the gaps. This can be seen in discourses on community archives, both in terms of where they fit in the archival community and as a response to historical and current archival gaps. Archives help build community bonds through a sense of self, and this raises the question of what is the best way that archives can help build these bonds based on the communities they serve. I don’t have any answers, but I believe attempts to answer these questions are central to shaping and improving archival best practices.

Q: Can you tell us about your research approach and perspectives? 

Adam: Two major challenges shaped my research approach: my inability to read Ukrainian and the length limitation on the paper. To overcome this, I opted to select three case studies that had English-language articles written about them and used them as snapshots for the larger picture I was exploring concerning the Ukrainian cultural sector. I also decided to make comparisons to Finland during the Winter War to draw parallels and contextualize what is happening to Ukrainian identity in the short term. Underlying all of this was my use of archival theory, including the concept that archives, and other cultural institutions, are a powerful force in helping a society anchor its sense of self through the memories they hold. One perspective I brought, likely due to my history background, is that while the conflict is the result of modern politics, the question of Ukrainian identity has roots that run centuries deep.

Q: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s conference? 

Adam: Just attending is exciting, as this is the first academic conference I will be attending, let alone presenting at. The great thing about this conference’s theme is how it allows archivists to have different interpretations of what exactly is meant by belonging in an archival context. This is what I am looking forward to: seeing how emerging and professional archivists approach this theme and taking their perspectives with me as I continue developing as an archivist.

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