Welcome back to our regular series, Historian’s Histories, where we examine the historiography of historians! If you’ve spent any time on the internet lately, then you’re likely already familiar with our next
victim historian, Krista McCracken! Krista is well known as one of the fantastic editors behind the Canadian history powerhouse blog, Active History, and is a model for how to do public history in a socially responsible way. So I am exceptionally grateful and pleased to feature her work here! Enjoy!
Krista McCracken is a public history professional currently working as an Archives Supervisor at Algoma University’s Arthur A. Wishart Library and Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre. Krista’s research primarily focuses on community archives, residential schools, access, educational outreach and Northern Ontario. She lives and works on the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe and Métis people.
What is your background (education, life experience, etc..)?
I have a BA in history from Laurentian University and an MA in Public History from Western University. I’ve held a variety of positions in the heritage field which have involved a whole range of things including: research for land claim litigation, community based digitization projects, curation of art and museum style exhibitions, grant writing, and archival administration.
What drew you to history in the first place?
When I was really young history was something my Dad and I bonded over. We would watch documentaries, talk local history, and the history of the farming community we lived in. That spark of interest grew throughout elementary and secondary school when a couple of great history teachers inspired me to pursue history at the post-secondary level.
Why did you decide to become a historian?
By the third year of my BA in history I started to think about career paths and by that point I realized that I had zero desire to be an elementary/secondary school teacher. I also had no idea what else you could do with a history degree. My initial instinct was to develop skills which allow me to work in a museum and engage with both the public and history on a daily basis.
Why did you decide to focus on your particular area of study?
I love how diverse public history is, the range of possibilities for history outside of academia, and the power of community engagement that is found in so many public history initiatives. Public History is rooted in solid historical knowledge and research but it is often public facing, community based, and active.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I changed my mind a lot and wanted to be everything from a speech pathologist to a mortician. By the end of high school I had decided that I wanted to be a history or English teacher and as I mentioned above, I’m very happy I explored other options beyond the role of historian as teacher.
What kind of work do you do as a historian?
I currently work as the Archives Supervisor at Algoma University. I work with the Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre archives and the Engracia De Jesus Matias Archives and Special Collections. I am also the Assistant Archivist for the Anglican Diocese of Algoma Archives which are held at Algoma University. I consider myself both a public historian and an archivist.
One of the things I love most about my job is the diverse range of work that I get to be involved in. In the past year I’ve done everything from archival administration, archival processing and description, digital outreach, display creation, event organization, community outreach, and instruction. I also spent a lot of time working with students and researchers to teach about residential schools, introduce folks to archives, and manage reference requests.
What is the coolest and/or strangest thing you’ve ever found or learned while doing research?
I’ve appraised a number of archival collections before they were accessioned or arranged. This at times has meant seeing a whole range of strange things and seeing items that folks definitely don’t want to have as part of their permanent archival record. Basically, think of emptying a whole attic or office into boxes without removing personal effects first, you’re going to get a bit of everything. This highlights why talking to archivists before donating material can be a great idea.
What is your favourite part about being a historian? And what is your least favourite part?
My favourite part about being a public historian is having the opportunity to connect individuals and communities with their history. The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre has done a lot of work with residential school survivors and Indigenous communities to facilitate the reclamation of history and include archival photographs in community based healing activities. I am extremely grateful to be part of this work.
What is the most surprising thing you’ve ever learned about history?
No book in the world could have prepared me for working so closely with residential school survivors. The Children of Shingwauk Alumni Association and other survivor based organizations that I’ve had the opportunity to work with constantly amaze me with their resilience, personal experience, and strength. I’ve also learned a lot about the power of community, the need to listen, and I’m still constantly learning how to be a better ally.
If you could go back in time, whether to live or just visit, which time and place would you pick and why?
The late 1960s or early 1970s in Britain. Mainly so I could see a Beatles show live and watch episodes of classic Doctor Who that are currently unavailable and considered lost. Plus think of the wardrobe possibilities!
What is your favourite historical book/film/museum/etc, and why?
My favourite museum that I’ve visited to date is the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. I visited this museum a number of years ago and it still sticks out in my mind as a fantastic experience. The museum’s permanent exhibits were curated through Indigenous partnerships and with the input of the communities they represent. Additionally, the museum involves Indigenous people in much of its interpretation and educational programming. When I visited the museum I participated in a tour of an exhibition that was led by an Indigenous man from Peru and it was one of the best guided tours I have ever participated in.
A big thank you to Krista for participating in the Historian’s Histories series! If you don’t already, you should absolutely follow her blog (http://kristamccracken.ca), where she talks about her work as a public historian and archivist, particularly on the subject of Indigenous history in Canada. I would also highly recommend checking out some of her excellent blog posts on Active History, particularly her practical advice on decolonizing the classroom. Finally, definitely make sure to follow her on Twitter @kristamccracken. I hope you enjoyed this post! If you did, please consider sharing it on the social media platform of your choice. If you are interested in participating in this series, please get in touch by emailing me at unwritten histories [at] gmail [dot] com or by sending me a message on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t forget to check back on Sunday for our regular Canadian history roundup! See you then!