- New West Anchor
- Uncovering New West's archives through sci-fi
Uncovering New West's archives through sci-fi
Archivist Erin Brown-Osterman is putting a new twist on how we watch sci-fi films
City archivist Erin Brown-Osternman in the viewing room/Brianna Reeve
When you walk into a dark room in the Anvil Centre, you probably aren’t expecting to see a group of people watching Rogue One and talking about how heisting the Death Star plans relates to archival work.
For New West city archivist Erin Brown-Osterman, however, pairing science fiction movies and archival work is a natural match.
“It sounds like an unusual pairing, but it’s also a kind of intuitive pairing, if one has a keen and firm understanding of what sci-fi is, which is speculation of what the would could be, sometimes what the world be should be, sometimes what the world shouldn’t be but speculation of the world based on what we have to work with now,” she explains, “but I paired that with archives by saying ‘What are archives? What could they be? What should they be? What have they been?’”
Once a month, you can find Brown-Osterman running similar screenings and discussing how archives are integrated into science fiction movies with her Archives in Sci-Fi program, including movies like Ghost in the Shell, and the Blair Witch Project.
The program is designed for beginners to start learning about what archives are and the role they play in the movies that so many people love.
“It’s a sort of introductory of ‘Here’s a place you see it in popular culture, through my passion, and we can bounce ideas off of one another using this as a medium,’” says Brown-Osterman.
Attendees watching Rogue One/Brianna Reeve
When you picture what an archive is, you may be thinking about movies that have crumbling old pieces of paper and old-school librarians. This is just one of the things that Brown-Osterman is trying to debunk.
“There’s a perception that if you’re going to be in an archive, or do archival work, that you have to know exactly what you’re looking for right away, you have to be an expert. And I want to blow that out of the water completely,” she explains.
Archives in Sci-Fi is just one of the ways that Brown-Osterman is re-imagining the archives and how the public can interact with it too. For her, archival work is less about the formalities and is driven by curiosity and a desire to know more about the world.
“I don’t want this place to be a stodgy place. And hopefully, this program is showing people that it doesn’t have to be stodgy. It, in fact, is not stodgy. (...) You don’t have to be [a] high academic to be in this place, and hopefully people can start seeing themselves in this place and building community that way.”
Part of opening up the archives more to the public includes moving away from the idea that the archives are only a place that looks back at the past.
“[The archives] are very living, it is very present to people’s lives, just like the photograph that you keep as a memento, or anything that you might keep as a memento of ‘I got this five years [ago], but it means something to me,” she explains, pointing out the way that we were both wearing necklaces and their importances to us.
This train of thought was picked up again in Brown-Osterman’s opening speech to the viewing group about Rogue One, where she talked about how archives, science fiction and heist plots often come together.
“You don't really think of an archive as being valuable, like jewels, or gold, or money, or things like that. But there's something valuable there, that you feel it necessary to get through the mechanism of a heist,” she told me and later reiterated to the group.
Brown-Osterman chats with attendees during a movie break/Brianna Reeve
As the group chatted post-movie about the role of archives, the conversation turned to the ideas of information keeping and secrecy that is explored in Rogue One.
“Archivists are not historians, nor are we really anthropologists or any of the other disciplines. We’re information managers, so we make sure, or we’re supposed to make sure, that the information is findable for you all to come in and do your work,” Brown-Osterman shared with the group shortly after being asked if she had ever experienced Death Star-level sensitive documents.
While talking to Brown-Osterman, her passion for science fiction movies quickly becomes evident, and she confirms that by indicating that she had early interests in franchises like Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
It was during her time in graduate school that she first came up with the connection between archives and their role in science fiction movies while she was helping her classmates.
“We were talking about documentation strategy, and how to do different parts of archival organization. And people came out of the class going, ‘Sure that theory makes sense, but I don't really understand it in practice, what would that look like?’ And I'm like, ‘Have you seen the movie Atomic Blonde? They are doing precisely what we were just talking about in class,’” she laughed.
While sharing her passion for archives and science fiction has been fun for Brown-Osterman so far, the true impact of the project has come from the opportunities she’s had to interact with the human elements of archival work.
“Archives are awesome. But that’s because people are awesome, and I think that’s something that is worth remembering and celebrating and just that wonder, that capacity to hold on to a thing to remember, a thing to draw inspiration from. That’s what archives are.”
If you’re keen on learning more about how sci-fi and archival work fits together, you can sign up for one of Brown-Osterman’s future screenings here. The next screening will be on June 15, where she’ll be showing Flight of the Navigator.