New Leadership at Tamiment Library: Shannon O’Neill
In August 2019, Shannon O’Neill was appointed Curator for the Tamiment-Wagner Collections at NYU Special Collections, where the Howard Zinn Papers are housed.
The Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives documents histories of social movements, the political Left, and labor organizing. Prior to joining the Tamiment, O’Neill was the Director of Archives and Special Collections at Barnard College, and a librarian and archivist at the Atlantic City Public Library and the Los Angeles Public Library.
O’Neill shares how Zinn impacts the principles that guide her archival labor:
In 1970, Howard Zinn gave a speech (“The Archivist & The New Left” ) to the Society of American Archivists. In this speech, Zinn reminded the archivists in the audience that their work is inherently political. He pushed against the idea of so-called neutrality in archival work saying, “The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality…But I will stick by what I have said about other scholars, and argue that the archivist, in subtle ways, tends to perpetuate the political and economic status quo simply by going about his ordinary business. His supposed neutrality is, in other words, a fake. If so, the rebellion of the archivist against his normal role is not, as so many scholars fear, the politicizing of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft.”
Zinn’s words guide my practice and remind me that archives are a site of violence and erasure for people of color, disabled people, poor people, queer people, and so many others within and at the intersections of marginalized identities. His words also underscore that it is my role, as an archivist and curator, to resist and counteract these violences, and to work in ways that are empathetic, restorative, redistributive, and reparative. To humanize this political craft, is to shift the balance of power of the archive back to the communities whose histories are represented within it. In this way, the Zinn Papers are not merely centered within the Tamiment-Wagner collections, but Zinn’s words and philosophies shape the everyday work of the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives.
Zinn’s speech at the Society of American Archivists was published in The Midwestern Archivist as “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest” in 1977. You can read the essay in The Zinn Reader, section 5, chapter 4 or online with a library subscription.
See selected documents from the Howard Zinn papers at Tamiment in the From the Archives section of this website.