Deborah Barndt archive at the York University Library

What’s There?

There are two archives at the York University Library. One is a compilation of, over 23 years of researching and teaching at York, theoretical and practical material on subjects that reflect my work as an academic, activist and artist. The second one, is my photo archive that was organized this past year. With the help of Seema Shenoy, we organized the academic archive, and with the help of a with a team of five graduate students
volunteers, we organized the photo archive and indexed this material which is now accessible to the public through the York University Library.

Academic Archive:

These are the main categories:

Streams of Popular Education Praxis: I collected both social movement material (manuals, posters, newsletters, etc.) and critical essays reflecting on the following practices: Indigenous Education, Environmental Education, Feminist Pedagogy, Anti-Racism Education, Gender and Development, Global Education, Popular Health Promotion, Labour Education, Popular Economics, Sexual and Gender Diversity, ESL/Literacy.

There are many resources (about practice and theory) in the core fields of Popular Education and Participatory Research, and more specific archives of the works of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and of the historical practice of the Highlander Research and Education Centre in Tennessee, where I worked in the 1980s.

In the early 2000s, I coordinated a Curriculum Diversity Project at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, that culiminated in a kit with videos, entitled “Voices of Diversity and Equity: Transforming University Curriculum”. Included is a DVD of video clips and the archives houses the original videos from six workshops held in 2003-2004 (on Disability, Sexual and Gender Diversity, Aboriginal Ways of Knowing, Class and Poverty, Race and Ethnicity, and Women), as well as multiple articles on these equity areas.

Over two decades at York, I coordinated two major collaborative research projects and have donated all of the original research material to the library:

The Tomasita Project (1994-2007) traced the journey of the corporate tomato from a Mexican field to a Canadian fast food restaurant, using the tomato as a code to examine globalization from above and below (focusing on women workers in the front line), and its impact on the dynamic relationship between production and consumption, biodiversity and cultural diversity, work and technology, and health and environment. With contributions from feminist academics and grass-roots activists in the three NAFTA countries, we produced two books: an anthology Women Working the NAFTA Food Chain and Tangled Routes: Women, Work and Globalization on the Tomato Trail (also published by UAM in Spanish as Rutas Enmarañadas: Mujeres, Trabajo, y Globalización en la senda del tomate). The archive includes the cassette tapes and transcriptions of interviews with workers and managers at Empaque Santa Anita in Mexico and Del Monte in Mexico, and at Loblaws supermarkets and McDonald’s fast food restaurants in Toronto. There are multiple academic resources related to the subject of food and globalization, and videos of food inspectors at the U.S-Mexican border as well as the Toronto food terminal.

Between 2003-2007, I coordinated the VIVA! Project, an exchange of eight community arts projects in five countries (Panama, Nicaragua, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada). A participatory action research project with four NGO and four university partners, the exchange culminated in a book, ViVA! Community Arts and Popular Education in the Americas (also published in Spanish as VIVA! El Arte Comunitario y la Educación Popular en las Américas). It includes chapters by eight VIVA partners and a DVD with 9 videos, one for each project as well as an overview of the exchange. This archive includes materials produced by the eight collaborating organizations, illustrated bilingual reports of all our transnational meetings, original video material, funding proposals, evaluations and drafts of the final book.

How to Access the Archive?

This material is accessible through York University’s Archives and Special Collections (CTASC). You can look through the index on the site and place a request for material you would like to access, or use this easy-to-navigate index (excel sheet): browse through the index by Category or Title, or simply use the search function if you know what you are looking for. Copy and paste and the title into the Quick Search bar on the CTASC website to locate it in the library’s archives and place a request for access.

Photo Archive and Current Exhibit Reckoning and Reimagining – Engaged Use of Photography: 

Photographs have always been central to my research, education, and community engagement. The camera has been a kind of right hand in my life journey, my lens framed by my own identity as well as by the social movements that shaped both my personal and our collective history. 

Over the past year, I had the privilege of working with a team of five graduate student volunteers in a process of “participatory archiving,” critically revisiting the places, people, and processes represented in my photographs captured over five decades of transnational research and activism. You can follow that process of “Participatory Archiving” through a video on the TV screen. 

Based on my photo archives, this remount of a 2009 exhibit, “Cross-Pollinations: Photography for Social Change in the Americas” reflects my ongoing movement back and forth between Toronto and Latin America: Peru in the 70s, Nicaragua in the 80s, Mexico in the 90s. Always with a camera in my hand to document social movements and to teach others to photograph their own lives, empowering them to tell their own stories. These photos are representative of my decades as an activist in popular education, social justice, and international solidarity movements. The narrative thread moves back and forth from projects in the Americas, cross-pollinating uses of photography for social change.

I have organized the exhibit into five sections on five walls, to be viewed right to left:

  • Peru (1976): Photo Codes and Foto-Novelas for Indigenous Migrants To The City
  • Toronto (1978-84): Photo Posters and Photo Stories for ESLClasses
  • Nicaragua (1981-84): Photo Journalism for Popular Education 
  • Toronto (1986-93): Photo Stories for Social Movements
  • York University (1993-2023): Arts-Based Collaborative Research

The first four panels feature black-and-white analogue photography used in my work as a popular educator within social movements before I joined the York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change in 1993. A display case in the middle of those panels offers examples of the educational materials (posters, kits, books, video) that show the ultimate social uses of the photos. One of the photo archive boxes is also on display.

This reframing of an exhibit I produced 14 years ago challenges me and invites others to rethink its content, form and process through the lens of the Congress theme of Reckoning and Reimagining. Revisiting these images and their shifting contexts compels me to rethink my role as a white outsider researcher, documentor and facilitator in communities marginalized by class, race, gender, and Indigeneity. The exhibit invites viewers, too, to engage with the photos to generate conversations about the contexts, content, processes, and meanings of the images.

Each section asks how the archive can be used, posing both possibilities as well as constraints. Why activate an archive? I don’t want my photos to gather dust in a vault. Archives take on new life when repurposed by researchers and educators, artists and activists in critical and creative ways. Follow examples in this exhibit of how archival photos can be activated. I invite viewers to consider others and enter your ideas in the guest book.

Now part of the Clara Thomas Archives and Special Collections at York University Libraries, these archival photographs also reflect an era of black-and-white analogue photography, superseded in recent decades by the ubiquity of digital colour photography. The relationships developed during those pre-York decades fed all the major research projects I undertook during my 30-year tenure at the University. The final panel in the exhibit refers to three more recent arts-based collaborative research projects which integrate digital, video, and multimedia online formats.

Resources and Publications:

⇓ Archiving Process

⇓ Exhibit Intro Poster

⇓ Photo Exhibit Poster