Paris Archivists Preserve Memorials of Paris Terrorist Attacks

MARA Blog

Published: November 16, 2016 by Anna Maloney

One year after the terrorist attacks in Paris, archivists reflect on their efforts to preserve the makeshift memorials, including letters, candles, and musical instruments.

Twenty-first century archivists face many new challenges with the prevalence of electronic records. But since the terror attacks in Paris one year ago, French archivists have faced another new challenge: how to best collect, preserve, and share the mementos left as memorials at the sites of the attacks. In an article from Public Radio International, City of Paris archivist Audrey Ceselly reflects on the process: “We felt there was a sense of urgency. You are there, you leave a note.”

Archivists are accustomed to living in the realm of the past. For Parisian archivists, cataloging the remembrances of such recent events was both emotional and unfamiliar. “We rarely work with contemporary documents, about events that are still living.”

The new era of archiving could perhaps benefit from more expedient collection and preservation of our history. Just four days after the U.S. Presidential Election, the Internet Archive posted a call for submissions of websites and online materials. This effort follows campaigns to collect web documents recording the Occupy Wall Street Movement, the 2013 shutdown of the United States government, the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, and the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Can archivists find a way to balance the simultaneous preservation of the past and the present?