October 5, 2021

“The future is not yet written,” as author Matt Myklusch once wrote. But the past is. And Multnomah County’s Records Management and Archives Program wants to make that written history more accessible and fun.  

On Sept. 30, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed October 2021 as Oregon Archives Month as a way to bring the county’s written history to the people. Started in 1989, the event works to increase public awareness of archival and historical records, educate people and organizations about preserving their own records, and encourage people to explore and use local archives. County Archivist Terry Baxter briefed the board on special activities planned this month and reminded the public about his program’s year-round services.

“Our Archives Office has continued uninterrupted operations for the last 18 months,” Baxter told the board. “We recently re-opened the Archives for in-person use.” The County also has digital archives the public can access remotely at any time.

Poster promoting Portland suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway
Poster promoting Portland suffragette Abigail Scott Duniway

The County Archives team is bringing county history to life in creative ways this month:

  • “We’re participating in National Ask an Archivist Day on Oct. 13. You can tweet any question to @MultCoArchives and get an answer,” said Baxter.
  • “We set up a Tour de Multnomah, a self-guided tour of the inner east side of Portland using our photos and documents,” he said. People can take the tour in-person or virtually, and learn about brave suffragettes, a grisly murder, and one of the region’s oldest cemeteries.

The Records Management and Archives Division is part of the Department of County Assets.

In briefing the County board, Baxter noted that Archives Month had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Before voting on the proclamation, commissioners commented on the importance of preserving our history and doing so in an inclusive way.

“My favorite job at Whitman College was working at the archives,” recalled Chair Deborah Kafoury. “I loved working with the college archivist and getting to know the history of the college and the town of Walla Walla. Archives contain personal treasures and communal lessons, both good and bad. They give us a chance to wrestle with questions, such as whose history is preserved, in what ways and why.”

“Today, we are living through a pandemic,” Commissioner Lori Stegmann noted. Referring to the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918, she said archives can help us learn “what happened then and what lessons we can learn. The data you are collecting now can inform future generations.”

“Today’s proclamation resonates with me,” Commissioner Sharon Meieran said. “It expresses what is so important about the archival records that we keep, how they are crucial to our understanding of the past so we can move forward to a better future.”

“If we don’t remember our history, we’re never going to make the changes we need to make in our present and in our future,” said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

And Commissioner Susheela Jayapal made a plug for visiting the Archives collection in person.  “This takes me back to when I joined the board and had a chance to visit our Archives. I love the tours Terry provides. You keep our records fresh and accessible.” (The Archives are open for in-person visits but in-person tours are not offered now due to the pandemic.)

To learn more about County Archives, check out these resources: