Building the “Unite the Right Rally and Community Response Collection” at the University of Virginia Library

Even before the events of last August 11–12 were done unfolding, the Library was gathering both physical and digital materials related to the weekend when white supremacists marched on the Lawn and in and around Charlottesville and left our community devastated. Community members and others have donated protest posters, ephemera handed out on the downtown mall, leaflets distributed in neighborhoods leading up to and following the events, and much more, including searing reminders of the violence such as tiki torches and tear gas canisters. The City of Charlottesville donated dozens of items that were sent to the City Council from well-wishers across the country. Digital contributions include photos, audio and video clips, and personal testimonies. We are also archiving websites and social media related to the August 11–12 weekend. All together, these materials form the “Unite the Right Rally and Community Response Collection.”

As part of those collecting efforts, we launched a website where community members can contribute digital material. As the anniversary approaches, we are still collecting material, and users can also now browse the digital collection. Please note that the collection contains strong language and imagery. Items in this collection were donated to the Library for research and teaching and the images, stories, videos, etc. are the work of the donors themselves. We will add resources to the site as we continue to process materials and receive new donations.

Curator Molly Schwartzburg of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library is also mounting a short-term exhibition of selected physical items donated over the last year, which will be on display in the First Floor Gallery of Special Collections through September 25.

In addition, the Library has recently received a Catalyst Fund grant from LYRASIS, a non-profit organization supporting access to the world’s shared academic, scientific and cultural heritage, for “Digital Collecting in Times of Crisis.” We hope that some of the lessons learned from this ongoing effort can help other institutions to be better prepared to implement digital collecting strategies during and after rapidly evolving social events, such as natural disasters, controversies, and public emergencies.

The effort to collect, describe, and preserve materials is ongoing, and we actively seek submissions. We are interested in a diverse range of materials. Schwartzburg notes that although the collection is growing steadily, there is still much room for growth, and she encourage community members to look back on their phones and other devices for photographs taken on that weekend, and also afterwards—including images of memorials, Emancipation Park and the Lee Statue in the months following the events, and so on. Schwartzburg is also interested in adding more textual documentation to the collection: diary entries, narratives of what happened that weekend, and reflections on the implications of the rally.

This mural appeared on the downtown mall's Freedom of Speech wall following the events on August 12, 2017. It depicts: the initials of the three individuals who died on August 12 (Heather Heyer and Virginia State Police officers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates) and the Statue of Liberty vanquishing a Nazi alongside the Virginia state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis."

Anonymous, “Mural on freedom of speech wall”

If you wish to donate physical or digital materials, please visit the collection website at: Contributors to the digital archive have the option of hiding their name from public view, and only need to identify themselves with a name and email address in order to donate materials online. The page also contains information on how to donate physical materials and media.

If you have materials to share, please consider contributing. The Library is grateful for any contributions you may have, large or small.

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