Politics

National Archives places ‘harmful content’ warning on Constitution, all other founding documents

The National Archives Records Administration (NARA), which is in charge of protecting and preserving documentation of American heritage, placed a “Harmful Language Alert” in a header on its search catalogue; the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence, among other documents, are now labeled as “harmful or difficult to view.”

The change comes as the NARA works to implement new policy at the recommendation of an anti-racism task force that was instituted following the death of George Floyd.

In its official statement on potentially harmful language, the NARA noted that historical documents may “reflect racist, sexist, ableist, misogynistic/misogynoir, and xenophobic opinions and attitudes; be discriminatory towards or exclude diverse views on sexuality, gender, religion, and more; include graphic content of historical events such as violent death, medical procedures, crime, wars/terrorist acts, natural disasters and more;” and “demonstrate bias and exclusion in institutional collecting and digitization policies.”  

“NARA’s records span the history of the United States, and it is our charge to preserve and make available these historical records,” said the administration. “As a result, some of the materials presented here may reflect outdated, biased, offensive, and possibly violent views and opinions. In addition, some of the materials may relate to violent or graphic events and are preserved for their historical significance.”

The NARA is also considering benching the term ‘charters of freedom,’ claiming the founding documents did not grant liberty to everyone (Daily Mail). In a report released earlier this year, the anti-racism task force determined that the Rotunda in the flagship building of the agency is an example of “structural racism.”

The report reads that the Rotunda “lauds wealthy White men in the nation’s founding while marginalizing BIPOC, women, and other communities.” Authors of the report also claim the framed murals in the Rotunda depicting scenes like the signing of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are not balanced with similar depictions of Native Americans being driven off their land.

The Federalist also reports that the task force pushed to include ‘trigger warning’ signage around the physical displays of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.

“Providing an advisory notice to users gives us an opportunity to mitigate harm and contextualize records. It also creates a space for NARA to share with the public our ultimate goals for reparative description, demonstrate our commitment to the process, and address any barriers that we may face in achieving these goals,” the task force wrote.  

ARTICLE: ELIZABETH HERTZBERG
MANAGING EDITOR: CARSON CHOATE
PHOTO CREDITS: MUSEUM ARCHIVES

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