Three Questions: Pat Galloway


Pat Galloway worked as a medieval archaeologist in Europe in the 1970s and then became involved with humanities-oriented computing, which she supported in the Computer Unit of Westfield College of the University of London, where her primary interest was text analysis. From 1979 to 2000 she worked at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), where she was a documentary editor, archaeological editor, historian, museum exhibit developer, and electronic records program director, while at the same time creating the MDAH’s automation program from scratch as manager of information systems. She is the author of Choctaw Genesis 1500-1700 (1995) and Practicing Ethnohistory (2006). From 1997 to 2000 she directed the NHPRC grant-funded project at MDAH to create an electronic records program for the state of Mississippi.

Since coming to the School of Information, Pat has developed a suite of courses designed to prepare students to become what has recently been referred to as “Archival Engineers,” capable of managing and maintaining digital cultural objects indefinitely; she also teaches archival appraisal and a course on historical museums. Her research interests to underpin this work include institutionalization of digital repositories and appropriate appraisal practices for digital records. In keeping with her interests as a historian, she is also interested in understanding how archiving and cultural preservation in general fit into their historical and cultural contexts.

Her bio, blog, and more can be found here:

What contributed to your success?

Oddly enough, the fact that I emerged from graduate school with a PhD in medieval studies/comparative literature in 1973, at just the time when that made me least likely to get a job, derailed me from academia and forced me to “think different.” I decided to go to Europe, take a chance, and volunteer for a related field that I had secretly admired. Over a period of four years in several countries I became an archaeologist specializing in processing archaeological finds for permanent keeping and analytical use. Being involved in archaeology, where provenance (usually called provenience and related to find location) and physical relationships among archaeological objects are at the heart of the discipline’s practice, was an absolutely wonderful training for a pretty Jenkinsonian attitude toward archival work: since the archaeological site is destroyed as it is unearthed, and since the finds have already been through many years of disintegration, that experience formed my inclination to keep all of the archival sliver that is left to us.

My work as an archaeologist led to an opportunity in working on computer applications in archaeology, which led back to working on computer applications in my original field of literature—so that in 1977 I landed a job in the University of London as what is now called a digital humanist, charged with assisting humanities faculty and graduate students with computer-aided research; I even taught a little in the Computer Science department that hosted my office. When I decided to return to the United States I was fortunate enough to go to a family friend for advice on whether I might find interesting work in an archives. She turned out to be the former director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and she had a temporary job for me editing and translating French colonial documents. I took that job and the first thing I noticed was that there was only one computer in the building, on the director’s secretary’s desk. I persuaded the Mississippi Historical Society to buy a microcomputer for running their mailing lists in 1980, then built from there until four years later I became IT manager for the department and had the pleasure of building out a digital infrastructure that culminated in my last work for the Department, which was to put in place a state digital archives in 1999. Finally, as I was contemplating how I might pay forward what I had learned, I was recruited by David Gracy II to come to the University of Texas and create a digital archives track in the School of Information, where I have been from 2000 until now.

All of which roundabout story stresses three things: never stop learning; take chances; no whining.

What do you see as the challenges for women interested in leadership/management roles?

I think women are now better off in archives than in many other fields, but leadership can be elusive in larger archives, where women are frequently entrusted with less responsibility than men. It made a great difference to my career that I was recruited into archivy by a woman, Charlotte Capers, who had led the agency herself for many years. It was also important that I had then-scarce skills that made it possible for me to engineer the automation first of the administrative activities of the archives, second of the tools for access to our archival holdings, and then finally the digital archive that will be crucial to government archivy going forward. My digital skills also made it possible for me to serve on the government-wide personnel committee on standards for computer-related jobs and thereby make the special requirements we had at the archives be seen as valuable so that I could grow my section with jobs that paid well. Another aspect of my experience was brought to bear when I represented my department on the government-wide Geographical Information System Mississippi was building and was thereby able to help construct an automated support for my department’s archaeological fieldwork.

Under this other roundabout story lies the fact that leadership is always a scarce commodity, and there is one sure path to it: find a solution to a problem, and volunteer.

What changes would you like to see happen in the field?

  1. I think one of my real hopes is that archives will move to reveal our work to the public by adding the “colophons and annotations” that a pair of our colleagues advised; and that archives will indeed choose to go farther by opening to researchers and the public those parts of holding records that are not risks to privacy or security.
  1. As an archival educator for fifteen years now, I think it is time for the field to increase its professionalism even more through continued formal education at the graduate level. But I also reflect on a conversation I had with Helen Tibbo a couple of years ago when we discussed the need for that formal training to include rigorous practicums and internships at the very least—to my mind, perhaps going so far as to include a year-long paid internship as part of the education, a feature common to many conservation training programs.
  1. Finally, I hope to see the directors of archives remove their heads from the sand and realize that the future of recordkeeping and indeed of most communication lies in that very silicon. It is time to recognize that digital records are what we will have, now and going forward, and we must not pretend any longer that someone else will do it unless we want to hand the lion’s share of our work over to that someone else.

“Three Questions” is an ongoing series of interviews with women who are leaders in the profession. The interviews, limited to three questions, will highlight women in the field who have made an impact, whether through their role in management, mentoring, research, or other leadership capacity. This series of interviews responds to WAR member’s interest in promoting women in leadership roles, as identified in WAR’s survey of its membership in August 2013. WAR welcomes suggestions for future interviewees – please contact us with your ideas.