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From artifacts to archives, Keith Macknight (MI’24) is in the right place

Posted by Sonya Jampolsky on May 20, 2024 in News

When Keith Macknight (MI’24) thinks about his new position at the Provincial Archives of New Brunswick in Fredericton, he’s glad that what comes first is preservation and respect and not ‘compromise’. As the archivist in charge of photographs, he’ll be focused on providing the best possible care for each piece and the people who are connected to it.

Artifacts deserve proper documentation

Macknight was working in cultural resource management after achieving a Bachelor of Archaeology with a minor in history at Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He left there for Ontario, where provincial regulations make it mandatory for land developers to survey areas they’re changing to collect information and artifacts. But as Macknight points out, the care of the artifacts is not the priority of the companies being paid to do this work.

“These artifacts deserve to have their history properly documented,” he says. “I had to make compromises between what my academic self wants to do versus what we're being requested to get done within a certain time frame.”

Firsthand account of explosion of munitions ship

Macknight says that disappointment, and wanting to know how artifacts could be better treated, led him to apply for a position at the Charlotte County Archives in St. Andrews, New Brunswick, his hometown.

“I really enjoyed getting my hands on interesting historic material. It gives you a sense of the history of your area." He adds, “There's something I find really compelling — being able to embed myself in the community where I know the context of how it came to be. “

A series of letters are among the more memorable artifacts he came across in that position. He says they were written between two mothers who bonded during the Second World War because both their sons served in the same unit and were killed in action. One of the letters describes a first-hand account of an explosion of a munitions ship in British Columbia. Macknight finds this personal description of a historical event fascinating.

Grateful to move from theory to application

Macknight also spent time helping people with their family research. “It’s compelling work that feels important because you can tell people really value the experience of learning about their families. It's satisfying,” he says. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make the time to research his own family. But that’s something he’s looking forward to now that his studies are complete.

Propelled by these positive experiences at the Charlotte County Archives, Macknight knew he wanted to pivot from finding artifacts to caring for archival material. He chose the Master of Information program at Dalhousie with that goal in mind.

Grateful for the courses taught by Patti Bannister, the Provincial Archivist for Nova Scotia, he’s excited about applying what he learned in the classroom to his work. “Getting that insight from someone who actually works day to day in an archival environment, showing the realities of applying theory in a work environment to actually get things done — I found that to be very insightful.”

Having started his new role mid-May, Macknight already feels he’s working where he’s meant to be. The only thing he’s thinking he might incorporate into his career in the future is writing.