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It's All History by Jon Malek

Preserving the past: Archival studies in the Philippines

By Jon Malek

There is a strong and long-standing connection between Manitoba and the Philippines. Since 1979, Winnipeg and Manila have been “Sister Cities,” a bond that was reaffirmed by then-Mayor of Winnipeg Glen Murray in 2000. The Province of Manitoba has two bilateral labour agreements, known as a Memorandum of Understanding, with the Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) in the Philippines to assist with the movement of Filipinos wanting to work in Manitoba. These Memorandums can be viewed at http://www.poea.gov.ph/lmi/agreements.htm. As well, there is education curriculum sharing between Manitoba and some schools in the Philippines. This is all in addition to the strong Filipino population living in Manitoba since the late 1950s, which maintains its own ties with the Philippines.

In this month’s column, I’d like to bring the community’s attention to another bond being made between Manitoba and the Philippines, in particular between the University of Manitoba and the University of the Philippines.

I met Mary Grace Golfo, currently a student in the Archives Program at the University of Manitoba (http://www.umanitoba.ca/history/archives/), a few months ago. I was fascinated to learn of her mandate: to get an MA and PhD in Canada so that she can help establish the first archival studies program in the Philippines at the University of the Philippines (UP).

Mary Grace recently presented some of her research at the Annual Conference of the Association of Canadian Archivists, which was held in Victoria last June 26 to 28. In this presentation, she lists some of the major issues that face archives, archivists, and archival materials in the Philippines:

  1. As a nation relatively young in its independence, it’s colonial past has left it with a rich documentary record, but one that is largely unorganized, uncategorized, and scattered throughout the world.
  2. The relative youth of the archival profession in the Philippines is another complicating factor in the creation of a strong archival system. While the Spaniards and Americans were good record keepers, and the establishment of the first Bureau of Archives was in 1901, the National Archives of the Philippines Act of 2007 suggests that before this, records were scattered and handled without a central mandate.
  3. The environment of the Philippines can present unique challenges to the archival care and preservation of historical documents.
  4. As the need for an archival system is acknowledged in the Philippines, more and more trained archivists are needed. The small size of this professional group means those records from Spanish, Japanese, and American occupations, as well as the documents that independent Philippine governments have created, are in need of archival organization in the hands of trained archival professionals.

Currently, the School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) at UP only offers elective courses in Archival Studies, but there is no dedicated program. Mary Grace’s enrolment at the Archival Studies Program at the University of Manitoba was the result of the SLIS’s commitment to develop a dedicated curriculum in Archival Studies to prepare archivists to tackle the country’s unique archival problems. Mary Grace’s mission in Canada is to acquire the necessary education for the SLIS at UP to offer a Master in Archival Studies degree and to develop a curriculum based on a strong foundation of archival theory, and grounded in the Philippine situation.

As Mary Grace points out in the paper she presented, the development of a strong archival program is vital in the growing knowledge-based economy of the Philippines, as well as the preservation, understanding, and education of Philippine history and culture. Archives are public institutions that allow society to trust that their heritage is being preserved, while also providing a controlled space for those documents to be viewed. In Canada, archives play an important role in society. They provide government and public officials access to documents needed to develop proper policy, and allow researchers vital sources of information as they work to understand Canadian society. But archives are also a sign of a strong democracy, because they are open to the public. Families seeking to learn more about their family’s history or the neighbourhood they live in, frequent the Manitoba Archives, accessing documents free of charge and with the assistance of trained archivists.

Archives should remind us that they are not only the repositories of government documents, but also of personal histories, and that indeed the two are intertwined. Individual lives are lived within the context of the time, which is often the result of decisions and actions made by governing bodies. Archives are thus sites of preservation that not only maintain government documents, but also the memory of a nation and its people. Manitoba, in its small part, is playing a role in the development of this tradition in the Philippines, and Mary Grace’s hard work and dedication to her mission reflect the spirit of archives and archivists, and her coming to the University of Manitoba is a further affirmation of the strong bond between Manitoba and the Philippines and how each can learn and benefit the other.

Mary Grace’s work and the unique connection she represents between Manitoba and the Philippines caught the attention of the University of Manitoba’s newsletter, UM Today, and an article written on her work can be read here: http://news.umanitoba.ca/archivists-shrewd-history-savers/.

Jon Malek is a PhD candidate in History at Western University, and is a member of the Migration and Ethnic Relations program. As part of his research on the history of Filipinos in Winnipeg, Jon would be happy to talk to members of the community about their life experiences. He can be contacted at jmalek7@uwo.ca and information can be obtained at www.pearloftheprairies.ca.

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