Faculty Profile: Heather Soyka, Ph.D. – Archival Studies

From being a research fellow in Australia to studying data with ecological scientists in her post-doctoral fellowship, Dr. Heather Soyka’s career in archival studies has allowed her to draw connections between communities and important records. 

“Archival studies is special because it gives an opportunity to really think about how people are connected over time and space,” Soyka said. “That’s something that I find really important.”

With its rich history of impactful strategic thinking, Soyka joined the iSchool in hopes of attracting students to an in-depth archival studies program.

“I was excited to expand the archival studies program and connect it with a research data management program that is being developed,” Soyka said. “To see those things being interconnected has been very interesting.”

With constant evolution, the field of archival studies has grown tremendously since Soyka began specializing in it. 

“The field has changed from being technical to more theoretical,” Soyka. “We are now thinking about the implications of what we collect and how these choices affect various communities over time.” 

In addition, keeping track of representation in records allows communities to become more connected with working archivists. 

“It’s important to be aware of language being used and descriptions being created. We need to make people feel welcome to access records in the first place.”

The link between sustainability and archival studies is another topic that has evolved over the last decade. With rapid climate change and threatening natural disasters, Soyka said archivists must take these factors into account when record-keeping.  

“We must think about if we are collecting too much stuff, if they will be able to persevere over time, where will they be stored, who has access to them and more,” Soyka said. “Bottom line, thinking about collecting sustainably is making thoughtful decisions and who can take care of them.”

The same questions arise when training people to collect records for their community, Soyka said. 

“Empowering people to work with their own personal records, their community records and family records is a large part of the discussion between sustainability and archives,” Soyka said.

Soyka further explored the link between sustainability during her post-doctoral fellowship with Data One. She said this experience served as a defining moment in her research and career.

“It allowed me to put myself in other contexts, which was really rejuvenating,” Soyka said. “I was put in unfamiliar situations and I think that’s really good for everyone to learn.”

Adapting to unfamiliar situations also allowed Soyka to establish a broader network. 

“When you stay within a narrow band, you meet the same kind of people,” Soyka said. “Getting outside of that band and expanding your network can only help you.” 

With an emphasis on sustainability and inclusivity, Soyka is excited to see how the future of archival studies progresses within the next few years. 

“I hope this expansion of thinking and connection with data management allows future professionals to continue making ethical decisions about records,” Soyka said. “The future of archival studies is more inclusive and community-based.” 

Continued knowledge of cultures, interests and experiences is also something that will advance current archival studies students, Soyka said. 

“The more you can think about the connections between people and communities, as well as the records they generate, the better you can help people,” Soyka said. “It all comes back to thinking about what records can do in other peoples lives that nothing else does.”