13 Replies to “They Were There. They Can Speak For Themselves.”

  1. Many thanks for bringing in the Baltimore Uprising archive project example. It’s very much in dialog with and illustrative of the trends that Drake and Shilton and Srinivasan are focusing in on. You use this example nicely as a way to unpack some of the differences in how Drake and Shilton and Srinivasan are articulating a new approach to thinking about building collections.

    1. I thought it was a cool way to try and apply what we read this week. It’s easy when it’s presented to us by the authors, but maybe through comparing and applying the concepts they discussed some more insight or related ideas can come from it.

      I thought it was interesting how Baltimore Uprising project seemed to be very “lassaiz faire” in their approach to giving the community the power over what is preserved and shared. They really didn’t seem to put any kind of spin or influence on the information. They asked for the individuals involved to share their experience and they got it. It’s almost like the individuals are letting the archive participate in their documentation, than vice versa. That may be more control than Shilton and Srinivason had in mind, but it certainly ended up being a more accurate representation of the events that occurred during the protests.

      Also, its interesting that in this article from the Balitmore Sun about the online exhibit, a Morgan State historian and a local activist were both somewhat disappointed that there was no political context and that the social factors that were involved in the protests weren’t addressed. It’s a tough balance to try and tell the story but not steer the story away from the community its about. I wonder if the more “hands-offs” approach made it easier to run since they weren’t concerned with deciding which content to share and which to leave out.

  2. That’s interesting that you brought up the Baltimore Uprising archives to illustrate the points of this week’s readings. I talked about the event also, but in response to Jules’s article, “Preserving Social Media Records of Activism.” At the end of the article, he brings up the point that the Baltimore mayor called for the use of people’s social media to prosecute rioters, who were members of their own community. I have several thoughts on this subject, the first being a question of ethics. Is it fair for the police to commandeer people’s personal records of an event, records they very well may have wanted to archive in the Baltimore Uprisings archives, to use as evidence? We’ve visited this variations of this question before, notably in the controversy surrounding the Belfast Oral History Project. A major difference, however, is that the Belfast Project was a concerted effort by professionals to create oral histories. They interviewed people, recorded those interviews, and archived the material. But now, we live in a time when everyone whips out their cell phone to record significant events. By posting that content to social media, are they automatically allowing those in positions of power to use that content in a way they didn’t originally intend?

    My further thought is more relative to digital preservation. If the police acquire social media records to use as evidence, they have to jump through a number of hoops. Mainly, they have to prove that the evidence they have is an authentic record of an actual event. They have to trace ownership of a video that may have been shared millions of times. Additionally, they’ll likely need to use facial recognition software to identify persons of interest, which undoubtedly changes the record. Their interpretation of authenticity has nothing to do with the digital object; it’s all about using that object to meet their own ends. And once they have accomplished that end, what happens to the record? Does it survive in various copies? Is the “original” file sent back to the person to whom it belonged? Do the police have their own police evidence archives some place where they institute the NDSA levels of digital preservation?

    Should these records be preserved in places like the Baltimore Uprisings archives, a project in which the stated mission is to “gather and preserve as many perspectives and experiences of protest and unrest as possible”? From an archival perspective, I’m inclined to think so. But mine is only one of many voices in this debate.

    1. Thanks for the response!
      On the topic you brought up of these personal accounts of the events being used as evidence against their intent. That is such a tricky question for me because I definitely don’t know the actual legal side well enough. When I first thought about it, my guy told me that since the information was shared publicly, then its fair game for the police to use. While I can’t think of any legal reason (but see previous point about my legal knowledge), it doesn’t sit well with me that the power of record that these individuals created can be twisted and spun out of their control. I guess that’s why folks go to law school.

      Also, I think your point about proving the authenticity of the evidence is really interesting. I’m a little cynical and worry that the courts wouldn’t be as stringent as an archivist or other informational professional in ensuring the authenticity of it. This technology changes so quickly and our governing bodies often catch up with it last. I’m concerned about the prosecution steam rolling their way through with potentially inauthentic records, but justifying it to the court and public that it’s “putting bad guys away.” This is no good, especially at risk of inauthentic material being used against an individual, guilty or innocent.

      1. Now that you mention it, I do wonder if the law would need to trace the origin of the digital content. If a lawyer thought they could provide a reasonable explanation as to why the content proves their case, then a judge or jury, assuming they don’t have a previous career as trained archivists, might not care to verify the record’s authenticity. Like you say, this is particularly troubling, especially if the record has been altered in some way that negatively affects the community being prosecuted. Maybe law students should consider taking classes in digital preservation; it couldn’t hurt, right?

        1. Mallory and Thomas,

          The legal aspect is definitely interesting. I can try to find out more at work, since I work at a law school. I am also cynical, and I don’t think there is much of anything that would prevent the police (or the NSA/CIA etc) from using any tactics they can think of related to digital archival materials, up to and including hacking into private archives. (This also has a lot of implications for digital record-keeping.) I wonder what the NSA does to archive THEIR digital content.

          But whether this stuff would hold up in court or at trial is a different question. A lot of times, it doesn’t matter, though. The usefulness of the information is more important than whether it is admissible evidence.

          Anyway, I would be interested in continuing to think about legal implications throughout the course.

  3. The Baltimore Uprising Project is a great example of the principles we have been reading about this week in the real world. Thanks for bringing it in!

    As others have mentioned, the readings this week were rather diverse, but I think your example highlights the concepts that were the main takeaways for me:

    1) By doing our jobs (collecting, selecting, arranging, describing) we interpret and make meaning, which means we have a responsibility to get it right.

    2) We archivists have a tendency to overfocus on content (fixity checks, preservation etc.) to our peril.

    As Webb asserts in the NLA’s Preservation Intent Statement “Content, connections and context are of primary importance.” Content is just one of the legs of the stool, without connection and context the entire exercise is pointless.

  4. I have to admit I find Drake’s approach somewhat problematic, specifically his call to simply not involve ourselves in documenting black lives as there are collections that would be extremely remiss to fail to do so. For example, Howard university, which has been a center for black education for nearly 150 years, is right by my library. Their Moorland-Spingarn Research Center is one of the largest and most comprehensive centers for the study and documentation of people of African descent in the world. They have a vested interest, connections, and a large degree of expertise when it comes to documenting black culture and history in America. There are cultural heritage centers throughout the country that specialize in African American and black studies, wouldn’t they be qualified to document aspects of the black lives movement?

    Likewise a local historical society near the site of say the Baltimore riots following drake’s guidelines finds itself in the double bind of possibly misrepresenting the marginalized community or worse, not chronicling those events for fear of the coloring them with privileged bias.

    Participatory archiving is a much better approach I think as it offers community members the chance to let their voices be heard in informing the archival process. Ideally this model could be adapted into other aspects of collection development. However, there is a problem of providing accurate context to many of these items if we do collect them. How many of us have ever read anything false on the internet? Do we preserve a video of a confrontation between a police officer and a black person? if so do we preserve just that video or other records relating to that video such as other videos, police documents of the incident, or body cam shots? Can we authenticate the information?

    The other problem I must admit to having is that online archives are not the silver bullet that they are often presented on, as over five million households in the united states are without internet as per this article http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/23/technology/fcc-internet-access-school.html?_r=0

    This is as effective a barrier to access as anything suggested by Drake in the barriers inherent to entering a traditional archive.

    1. Scott, I think you raise some good points.

      To answer your question about black cultural heritage centers, I do think that they would be more qualified to document an event or community like the Black Lives Matter movement, but it may be fair to argue that if they were trained or follow the practices established by”big archives” that they may be inadvertently biased towards marginalized communities. I think Drake would say that the same steps should be taken by all institutions. Institutions like Howard University should confront any potential biases they may have internally, and take steps to ensure that they are being allies. It may be significantly easier for institutions like Howard University to gain the trust and develop the relationship that Drake talks about since they are already a historically black institution. I don’t think Drake wants to exclude any institutions out right, just that they need to make sure they have taken the time to build the trust and respect of the community they wish to help. Trust and respect that the institution will assist the community in telling their own story.

      Also, I completely agree that we shouldn’t crown the online archive the end-all-be-all for preserving marginalized communities’ histories. While the Internet may be a basic human right (to the UN at least), as you’ve noted, it’s not as widely available as it should be. However, it is maybe the best option we have right now. Affordable recording devices (photo, video, or audio) with WiFi are available and public libraries are a great source for Internet Access. All things considered, online digital repositories, like the Baltimore Uprising project, may currently be the best way to let as many people as possible participate in actively documenting their own story. It is still a barrier, but at least there is a chance for a wider group to overcome it.

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