Teresa Mora, University Archivist, University of California, Santa Cruz.
Teresa Mora is currently the University Archivist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Prior to her appointment at UCSC she worked as the Principal Manuscripts Archivist at The Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. She has also worked as an archivist at the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brooklyn Historical Society. A past Pinkett Award winner, Teresa has been active in AAC since the beginning of her career, serving as co-chair from 2004-2006. She has also been heavily involved in her regional organizations, joining MARAC as a graduate student and now serving as the Vice President/ President-elect of the Society of California Archivists.
Teresa Mora was interviewed for Archiving in Color by Angel Diaz.
What was your path to the profession?
It was very circuitous. When I was finishing undergrad as a history major, I was trying to figure out what to do. I knew I didn’t want to become a teacher or lawyer as many history majors often do. I had a vague idea that I’d like to work in a museum and a supportive professor, who introduced me to the field of public history, encouraged me to explore internship opportunities in the museum field.
My first real experience with archives was as an intern for a graduate student at the Smithsonian where I delved into the amazing collections at the Archives Center at the National Museum of American History and the Natural History Museum and actually started interacting with archivists. I loved everything about what they did, working closely with researchers to guide them to relevant collections; pouring over historical documents; and working to ensure the historical record was preserved.
I knew my primary interest was in history rather than librarianship so when it came to looking at graduate programs I made that my focus and found the perfect program at New York University where I earned a masters in United States History with a concentration in archival management.
How has being a person of color shaped your work?
In many ways it was my interest in diversifying the record that brought me into the profession. The work I did as a research assistant for a graduate student introduced me, not only to archives, but also to the way archivists shape the historical record. In my research I was looking for representations of Latinos in Wild West Shows of the early twentieth century and quickly realized that subject searches of catalog records weren’t going to get me what I needed. I began looking for the “coded” descriptions that would lead me to the evidence I was looking for… and relied heavily on archivists’ knowledge of their collections to guide me to resources I might otherwise overlook. Archivists are privileged to work so intimately with their collections and the work we do in selecting and describing material directly shapes what stories are told.
I am drawn to the idea of guiding scholarly research to untold stories, as well as re-framing existing collections to uncover stories that haven’t been told.
Were there any support systems that helped you as you developed in this profession AND what do you wish could have been available for you?
There was no single program that I can point to but I was extraordinarily privileged to have the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing mentors early on, beginning with having Dr. Lucy G. Barber—who is now an archivist—as one of my undergraduate professors. She introduced me and a number of other undergraduates to the field of public history and supported us thinking broadly about the application of history..
Deborra Richardson and the archivists at the Archives Center at the Smithsonian NMAH were also wonderful and supportive role models. It really was the relationships that I established with that team that cemented my interest in the profession. And my experience at NYU absolutely prepared me, Dr. Peter Wosh led a challenging and substantive program with a significant amount of hands on experience. From day one of grad school, I was working in an archive as a graduate assistant at the NYU Archives. It was a small shop then, led by another mentor, Nancy Cricco who had us do everything from encoding by hand, to helping her with exhibits and staffing the reference desk. Those relationships and those I developed with my cohort remain an important support network to this day.
I didn’t even realize I was missing it at the time but in hindsight, a great resource would have been something like ALA’s Spectrum Scholarship Program. I remember first learning about it when I was co-chairing AAC and thinking “SAA needs this!”
I had been so unaware of archives as a profession as an undergraduate and I was so impressed by what ALA did in terms of outreach to grow librarianship. We still have a lot to do as a profession to make students aware of this career path but I do think SAA has gotten better over the years. The Mosaic program is a good example of SAA’s moving forward on this issue but we still have a lot of work to do.
You have been involved with SAA for some time and are also in a leadership position with the Society of California Archivists. What drives you to become involved OR why should someone get involved with these kinds of professional organizations?
Community. My mentors were all very involved in professional associations (whether the New York Archivists Roundtable, the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference or SAA). My mentors introduced me to their colleagues and impressed on me the importance of those relationships. They encouraged me to get involved, get to know my colleagues and give back. I think it’s hugely important for professionals to get involved and remain involved. The day to day of the archival profession can be quite isolating, however there’s a welcoming and supportive community of colleagues out there who are willing and eager to share. Involvement in professional organizations deepens one’s sense of community and broadens one’s base.
What is/are your proudest achievement(s) as an archivist?
The relationships that I have made. It is weird to me that I’m at this stage in my career, I still feel like I started yesterday, but when I think about it I realize that I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed people’s careers start and flourish—and that has been amazing.
What advice do have for students and new archivists of color starting their careers in this profession?
Definitely to build relationships, not just with mentors but with a cohort of colleagues that you can turn to for advice and support. Again, this profession can be isolating and it’s easy to get lost in the weeds.The thing is nine times out of ten you’re not alone in your struggles and there’s a good chance your colleagues have either already tackled the same problem or are also struggling with it. There are exceptions but the same questions come up all the time, and the best way to tackle them is through conversations.