Curation and Organization of Digital Archives

            “Big Data, Little Narration” is a transcript on digital archives and presentation by Dragan Espenschied, who defines himself as an “electronic musician and internet artist.”  

In the transcript, Espenschied discusses the differences between performance and activity, with performance being the thing that the computer does, and the activity being what the user does. However, somewhere between the two, Espenschied highlights that there can often be a disconnect. In demonstrating this, the author uses a visualization of a globe that shows users popular search terms from a certain location at a certain date (At least I think that’s what it does? There site is now down). The visualization is comparable to automated search terms or Google Maps. However, when users try to make sense of the information, such as by determining why a term was popular at a certain point in time, they are relying on pure assumption, which can lead to inaccuracies.

            To avoid this, archivists and researchers have to have a method of organization to their database. There has to be a purpose or a point to displaying information in the way that they do, rather than just posting it (not doing so would be like spreading physical artifacts on a table and telling visitors to figure it out). By doing so, users are better able to draw the lines between the “performance” and the “activity.”  

            However, it’s important to acknowledge that the internet is constantly evolving. The way that websites look, for example, are extremely different than what they looked like 10 years ago. As such, digital collections can be reorganized in order to provide users with more information. Espenschied gives the example of Artbase, which originally was a crowdsourced website where users could post their own art. Now, it is heavily curated, with introductions and categories, which provide users with more information and room for new interpretations. I assume, that this also means that someone had to go back to earlier posts and categorize them.

            However, an interesting point that the author brings up is whether updating or republishing artifacts that are native to the internet is a threat to the authenticity of the artifacts. For example, if an artist makes a graphic for Windows 5, is it right for curators or archivists to republish the graphic for Windows 10, even if Windows 5 no longer works for the art? Is it the responsibility of curators to find a Windows 5 computer to display the art properly? What if the artist does not have a say in the matter, but not doing so would risk the preservation of the graphic? What about historians or researchers republishing the artifact online for a new interpretation? Is that a threat to the artifact’s authenticity?

            Lastly, Espenschied emphasizes the importance of context in preservation. You can’t simply say “follow this link for more information,” because what if that link stops working? Something that I think is always important to consider is that you can never expect users to click on that link in the first place.

One Reply to “Curation and Organization of Digital Archives”

  1. I think the point that Espenschied makes about having a purpose or a point to displaying information is important. Mark Sample would agree in his article on bots of conviction. Bots like @TwoHeadlines is a great example. If the accumulation of tweets doesn’t coalesce into a defining theme , then what is the point of it?

    I really liked his point at the end about context and citations. There have been many times when I’ve been tracking down a source on the Internet and a dead url stopped me in my tracks. Or when I’ve been confused on how to cite something digital using Chicago style citations. I think these are important things to consider for both archivists and scholars interacting with digital artwork or digital sources of any kind.

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