How do you use a digital archive?
Digital archives are not just compiled archives by professionals. They can be created by archivists, librarians, historians, amateurs, non-profit or for-profit companies. Because digital archives can be created by a host of individuals, the purpose and criteria for the particular archive are important to know. When searching a digital archive, you should always be prepared with questions: “where does this content fit in the digital collection?”, “why were some items excluded?”, “how was this archive created?” As Kate Theimer says in her AHA conference paper, digital archives are making an argument, just like any other archive, and we must approach it the same way.
Digital archives can also contribute to breaking down the historically white, male dominated archive. In Kimberly Christen’s piece “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia,” we see how a digital archive both saves important Aboriginal historical and community based information while limiting what information is available to outsiders. This allows the Aboriginals to control how their history is saved and who has access to it, a courtesy that archives have historically denied native communities. Similarly, Jarret Drake’s piece “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories” brings up valuable insights into the traditional limitations of archives (language, distance, cost of travel, etc.) and practical subjects like needing a state-issued ID to gain access to the documents. He also touches on the importance of working with the community being archived to build trust and make sure that the archive is accessible to those whose history is being recorded.
Susan Sontag’s “born digital” collection is an excellent example of exploring the fine line between electronic preservation and the privacy of her personal life, as examined by Jeremy Schmidt and Jacquelyn Adram. Sontag kept a massive collection of her works, digitally, saved on her computer and hard-drives to be accessed by the public upon her death. Sontag was committed to protecting her privacy during her lifetime, yet she opened up her life to the public, in a digital format no less, after her demise. Sontag’s born-digital archives demonstrates the journey from traditional archives to born-digital, yet leaves room for users to explore these new digital archives. However, Sontag’s born-digital archive opens up room for questions about what should be preserved and what, if anything, should remain private?
The question of privacy is also explored in Jules’ article, “Preserving Social Media Records of Activism.” Social media accounts, particularly Twitter, have begun to play a larger role in documenting reactions of activism (largely in situations of race). Twitter has been thought of as a personal bubble and space where individuals can document their thoughts and feelings. But now Twitter, has become its own sort of digital archive, with tweets being viewed as primary source documents that can be preserved for future generations to see reactions and feelings on incidents of activism and social movements. The social media platforms, like Twitter, have also brought a spotlight on situations that otherwise would not have been recognized and have brought forth preservation of these events.
How do digital archives help break down the race/gender/class barrier that traditional archives have historically created? Do any authors (thinking of Drake in particular) offer practical solutions to addressing these issues with physical archives, or is this simply something digital archives can fix?
Should spaces like Twitter, preserve documentation of events, like Ferguson? What would that look like? Is it even feasible (thinking legality, privacy, etc.)?
Do tweets made by political figures, like Trump, count as archival material? What would the different authors say?