Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility

A statement from the Council and Staff of the American Antiquarian Society

 

For more than two centuries the American Antiquarian Society has dedicated itself to promoting a deeper understanding of American history and culture. Research by scholars, students, creative and performing artists, and writers in many fields, grounded in the Society’s collections and fostered by its staff, has transformed knowledge of the past, belying any notion that there is a single or unchanging American story.

Founded principally to collect the printed record of the American past, AAS over the past forty years has also been an intellectual hub for the critical study of print culture. The creation of the Society in 1812 embodied the broader nationalist project of the early republic. In determining to collect all that had been published in what is now the United States, its founders privileged the printed word, a hierarchy of knowledge not shared by Indigenous peoples who had long inhabited the continent—including the Nipmuc people on whose ancestral homelands AAS sits—and one from which enslaved African Americans would be excluded by law in much of the nation.

Access to knowledge has served both to extend and to deny opportunity throughout American history. Americans have deployed printed texts and images both to create and sustain social, economic, and political hierarchy and to challenge inequity and oppression. The Society and institutions like it have helped to reinforce inequality through decisions and practices in collecting and cataloging, policies regarding access to the collections, and procedures of selecting members.

In 2021 we recognize that a deeper understanding must be a more inclusive one. We recognize that the best stewardship of AAS’s unparalleled collections requires us to work to open our doors to readers with diverse perspectives. Innumerable histories remain to be told by researchers—including members of groups historically excluded by intention or custom from AAS’s reading room—who ask new questions, probing the silences in the documents and amplifying the voices unrepresented in the printed and manuscript record. Therefore, the Society has begun an Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility (IDEA) Initiative with the following vision:

To welcome, recruit, support, and empower people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, AAS will confront systemic inequity, racism, and marginalization both within our institution and in the work of collecting, preserving, and sharing America’s and Americans’ diverse stories.

 

Action Priorities

Our IDEA Initiative embraces four priority areas, each with multiple goals. We are developing action items associated with each goal, as well as metrics to evaluate their achievement. This is an evolving document, and the Society’s current strategic planning process will help determine the most effective actions to achieve the goals.

1) Diverse and Inclusive Collections
We will expand the diversity of AAS’s holdings to include more materials produced by and for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian Americans, as well as other underrepresented populations in our collecting period. We also seek to make collections more accessible to more people through cataloging, conservation, digitization, and public presentation, and to interrogate and remedy exclusions that have been institutionalized through these core functions.

2) A More Accessible, Welcoming Institution and Community
We will make AAS’s physical and virtual spaces more welcoming and accessible for people of diverse backgrounds and experiences, including communities in greater Worcester, historically underserved by the Society. We will examine AAS’s own history to tell the full story of its founding and development, including the connections of founders and early donors and members to historical movements and inequities, as well as AAS’s role in purveying past and current inequities.

3) Broader, More Diverse Audiences
We will broaden AAS’s population of readers and researchers, including our fellowship programs, by creating new programs that include and appeal to more diverse populations and by communicating with institutions, organizations, and individuals not previously within our orbit nationally, regionally, and locally.

4) Internal Diversity and Equity
To create a more diverse staff, membership, and Council, we will revise our staff hiring practices and our processes for selecting members and councilors. We will also increase efforts to retain a diverse staff through internal support, professional development, and equity analysis, and will develop programs and initiatives that contribute to building the next generation of professionals in the fields represented among AAS’s staff.

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