A Home for Forgotten Words
Archive Recovers Speeches From Marginalized Groups
A Native American leader signing over his tribe’s land to the government to be turned into a dam. A Polish immigrant speaking about women’s and workers’ rights. An activist championing better living conditions for the country’s elderly.
In a project launched yesterday, communication Professor Shawn Parry-Giles and graduate students gathered these speeches and more by historically marginalized people in an archive intended to be used in classrooms to teach students about speeches not as well-known as the Gettysburg Address or “I Have a Dream.” The new Recovering Democracy Archives focuses on how those “seeking to fight injustice are really working on behalf of the public good to promote democratic practices,” said Parry-Giles.
She and a group of graduate students have started collecting speeches from universities, archives and historical societies across the country, authenticating the speeches with other primary sources, adding context and compiling them into one resource. The archive also accepts submissions of speeches for possible inclusion.
“There’s so much work to be done—there are so many speeches buried in archives that could easily be lost to time,” said Parry-Giles.
Not all of the 18 speeches currently housed in the archive are from unknown entities. A lesser-known speech from President Theodore Roosevelt in Egypt sits alongside a speech from Marie Watson, a Planned Parenthood field worker on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Many of the speeches deal with a social justice issue of the time. In one of the most powerful examples in the archive, Native American tribal leader George Gillette speaks at the 1948 signing of the Garrison Dam Agreement, in which native people’s land became a dam. “With a few scratches of the pen, we will sell the best part of our reservation,” Gillette said. “Right now the future does not look too good for us. We are worried and we wonder whether everything will come out all right in the end.” In an accompanying photo, Gillette weeps as the document is signed.
Parry-Giles and her team, including co-editor Lauren Hunter, a Ph.D. candidate in communication, hope that the archive will expand the range of speeches taught to students in K–12 schools. “We’re really proud of being able to recover these speeches and make them accessible to … diversify textbooks,” Hunter said.