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How a state archivist decides what Flint water crisis artifacts to preserve for posterity


On April 25th, 2014, officials switched Flint’s drinking water supply from the Detroit city system to the Flint River. Without proper corrosion control treatment, the river water corroded the city's pipes, leaching lead into the drinking water of thousands of Flint residents.

This Thursday will mark the fifth anniversary of that historic moment for Flint. 

One of the people working to preserve the history of that and other important moments from the Flint water crisis is Michigan's state archivist Mark Harvey. He joined Stateside to talk about collecting and recording details and artifacts from the past five years in Flint. 

"We see our role as the gatekeepers of information the public needs, or wants, or should have," said Harvey. 

To that end, the Michigan History Center has collected and documented a wide range of artifacts from the water crisis such as water bottle kits, t-shirts, and other ephemera. Harvey also acquired a lab coat, a stethoscope, and a chandelier made out of old plastic water bottles from Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who played a key role in raising the alarm about increased levels of lead in the blood of Flint children. 

Harvey explains that his role is to “preserve those stories that have occurred in Michigan so that we can reinterpret them at some later date, to be determined, so that people don’t forget.”

Collecting these artifacts from members of the Flint community, Harvey says, required building trust with residents, which was not always easy.

"We're a state institution, there's a real trust factor going into a local community and saying hey, let us record this story that many feel like the state has helped or created," Harvey said. 

Harvey hopes the artifacts will help future Michiganders see a fuller picture of what happened in Flint, from the perspective of everyone involved, including researchers, doctors, and government agencies.

"We're trying to give as wide of a focus as possible. We're not trying to predetermine what people think, just give them all the ingredients to look at what happened and make their own judgement," Harvey said. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Katie Raymond. 

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