Mason doctoral student uses archival practice to unfold the present

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As part of a military family, Timmia King, a doctoral student in history and art history at George Mason University, was exposed to various cultures during her childhood. These experiences made her eager to explore new topics and gain insight into different people and their lives.

I’m interested in community archiving, which is where community members participate in archiving and documenting their experiences,” said King. “It’s a way for individuals to take control of how they’re represented and put it out there for other people to participate or view.”

After earning a BA in Afro-American studies from Howard University and a dual MA from Indiana University-Bloomington in library science and African American and African diaspora studies, King chose Mason to pursue a PhD.

“The program I’m in focuses on not only pushing students into academia but also into the public history sector. I thought this would be a good place to gain academic training while being in an environment where it isn’t expected that you’ll solely go toward the academic route,” King said

The community environment at Mason was a strong selling point for her, as were projects the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media (RCHNM) had conducted in the public history field.

GIA Scholar TImmia King
The community environment at Mason was a strong selling point for PhD student Timmia King. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

Along with community archiving, King is highly interested in African American studies, especially the ways in which African descended communities have documented themselves and their archival practices over time. She is focusing primarily on how and why they choose to document their customs and represent themselves in certain ways. This includes memories, naming practices, cultural practices (e.g., dances), and other traditions that are passed down (e.g., recipes). 

“I think what really influences my research interest is the strong desire to understand how and why people, particularly of African descent, have chosen to document themselves in certain ways outside of archival structures,” she said. “One way I’m exploring this topic is through naming, choosing individuals last names after enslavement, how they inscribed the memories on themselves, and what that means for them and future generations.

Gabrielle A. Tayac, associate professor in the history and art history department, serves as King’s advisor. “Timmia's focus area on African American archives with community ties cultivates attention and value to overlooked and obscured experiences. Her research uplifts people whose lives and actions reveal essential experiences in history,” Tayac said. “Timmia brings wholeness and brave truthtelling to archival scholarship.”

King wants to help others learn about history and spread knowledge through her own passion in exploring that realm. Her thesis “Strategies and Approaches for Building an African American Digital Archive” displays a deeper look at the theoretical underpinnings of online community archiving. 

“I am honored to be able to support Timmia’s innovative, compassionate, and rigorous work that uplifts African American community memory through archival practice,” Tayac said. “I feel inspired and encouraged that her community beneficial archival work will recreate historic understandings.”

In 2021, King was accepted into the Graduate Inclusion and Access (GIA) Scholarship program at Mason, a competitive scholarship awarded to new PhD first-generation college student applicants in need of financial aid. 

“The scholarship is a recognition of the work you’ve been doing and also a way to say that you have people that support you, believe in you, and let you feel that what you’re doing is important,” King said. “Being a part of this community has given me more confidence in myself and my work.”

Laurence Bray, associate provost of graduate education believes Timmia’s work is already having a significant impact on American history, culture, and memory. “Through the GIA scholarship, I am delighted to see that Timmia is able to pursue her research interests and accomplish her professional goals,” Bray said.

Currently, King is involved in an ongoing research project titledHistory and Culture Access Consortium” as a graduate research assistant at the RCHNM.” 

“The project’s goal is to provide visibility to the collections at various HBCUs [Historically Black Colleges and Universities] around the country, King said. Her work includes helping to make a public website using Omeka S to share these collections, 

King is interested in expanding her journey into the public sector, possibly in a job with a library or a government archive. 

“Whatever position I end up in, my goal is to be available as a community consultant so that I’m able to help and maintain archives and provide guidance to others with their own archival journeys,” King said.