The Public Domain Review bears witness to the state-sponsored violence and murder of Black people at the hands of police, and recognises this as part of a broader pattern of institutionalised racism and structural injustice. As for many, the protests playing out in the US, as well as the UK (where we are based) and other countries around the world, have affected us greatly and activated the PDR to reflect on the role cultural institutions, ours included, play in the perpetuation of this racial violence and what our project can do better moving forward. For us, this is about shifting from a largely passive awareness into a commitment to purposeful and directed action.
As a project taken up with and driven by history and its echoes, we have learnt (and continue to learn) how colonialism, disenfranchisement, and systemic racism form the very foundation of our present. The galleries, libraries, archives and museums — whose works our project seeks to highlight — are, of course, not exempt from these historical conditions. The making of history is very far from neutral. Only a fraction of the past's many voices are “immortalised” in the historical record, and the process by which this happens is intimately bound up with systems of power and oppression. As an English-language project focusing on public domain works (so from primarily 19th century and earlier), the PDR naturally explores periods and places dominated by white (and often racist) perspectives. Archives, in general, privilege white voices, and the PDR’s content tends to reflect this privilege. While we have striven to make historical content available to the broader public, we need to now seriously grapple with the exact nature of this content we've chosen (and will choose) to highlight and what a "broader public" really means.
A starting point for us is to realise that we can do a lot more to get Black and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) voices and stories heard — not just voices from the historical record but also the present. This is something that falls squarely within our core mission to surface and explore overlooked histories. As those familiar with the project will know, we do post content that centres on Black history and the long-history of racial oppression — see the tags for “black history” and “colonialism” for example — but we can do so much better.
- Search for and highlight more historical Black and BIPOC voices from galleries, libraries, museums and archives which are primarily dominated by white voices.
- Engage with and highlight content from galleries, libraries, museums and archives that are not dominated by white American and European voices (including those based outside of North America and Europe).
- Remain acutely aware that a lot of the material the project explores is the product (directly or indirectly) of oppressive colonial endeavours and make more of an effort to situate such content within this historical context.
- Publish more content which sheds light on the oppressive nature of these colonial endeavours and other oppressive systems, as well as highlight and explore histories of protest, subversion, and fight-back against such systems.
- Engage with and promote other projects which seek to get more Black and BIPOC histories told.
- Directly seek out more Black and BIPOC contributors.
- Think about how we can get more Black and BIPOC voices involved in the PDR on an editorial level. This is difficult due to limited budget and the small nature of the team — the vast majority of work-hours are undertaken by only one person (myself, the Editor) — but there are possibilities to explore.
- Revisit our style guide (and previous posts that used this style guide) in relation to the issues above (e.g. consulting Diversity Style Guide)
With no dilution of the vital concerns raised by the Black Lives Matter movement — and understanding the intersectional issues involved — we are also looking at how we can further amplify other overlooked historical voices, including those of women, LGBTQ persons, and those from working-class communities.
These are some initial thoughts and it is far from comprehensive or definitive. As mentioned before, this is going to be a process of learning. I’m very much open to discussion around these points so if you’d like to get in touch with comments, suggestions, etc., please do make contact — you can email Adam on firstname.lastname@example.org.