BLM, Social Media, and Hypertext

(Disclaimer: Sorry this is late!)

In his article, Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories, Jarrett M. Drake explains the brief history of a community archive, A People’s Archive of Police Violence in Cleveland. This was executed in 2015 in Cleveland by volunteer professional archivists working with Puncture the Silence, and was intended to document and disseminate the stories of people who had been impacted by or witnessed police violence in Cleveland. Given the widespread police presence in Cleveland and recent acquittal of Michael Brelo in 2015, a police officer involved in the shooting death of Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, creating this archive was necessary and important. However, this project highlighted brought up the question of whether larger, established libraries and archives should cover police brutality, and more importantly, the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Drake had previously made the argument that traditional archives and libraries should avoid documenting Black Lives Matter altogether for fear of all the ways it could go wrong. But knowing that this was likely unrealistic, he instead gave guidelines for how to do this correctly. He lists two steps libraries and archives have to take to responsibly document Black Lives Matter.

First, they must “confront their complicity in upholding patriarchy, white supremacy, and other structural inequalities.” Drake explains how rooted these spaces are in patriarchal white supremacy, and how their location and language are indicative of this. Archives are typically found on private college campuses, open Monday through Friday during regular business hours, and require you to leave you things at the front desk and go read in a surveilled room. Aside from being physically inaccessible to many, the additional barriers within the space disinvite certain people from coming in and participating. Additionally, these spaces have likely done very little in the past to support black voices, thus making any efforts now seem disingenuous. It is important for libraries and archives to denounce the practices of the past and abolish anything still supporting a system of oppression.

Second, they must “build trust with the people, communities, and organizations around whose lives the movement is centered, a trust they should pursue not under the guise of collection development but under the practice of allyship.” If libraries and archives choose to do exhibits or add materials from this movement, they must consult those from the movement on how best to honor them. It is irresponsible to add to your collection only to expand it and appear to be involved. There has to be genuine interest in telling these stories correctly and collaborating with those impact in order to do so.

Overall, Drake would rather white librarians not try to tell these stories because of all of the opportunities for them to go wrong, but if they do it has to be earnestly and with the help of those leading the movement. As a traditionally white, exclusive space, libraries and archives have to work even harder to document Black Lives Matter correctly and with integrity, which will only happen through collaboration, respect, and listening.

In another article about documenting black movements, Bergis Jules discusses the uses for archiving social media documentation of movements like the Ferguson protests in 2014 and 2015. Although there is history on many black rebellions against police violence and brutality, there isn’t a lot of primary source material from the community that was impacted. It’s hard to find many websites or sources that have first hand accounts or many photographs, especially the further back you get. There is also very little in the way of regular people’s reactions to these events, and the aftermath they caused in communities.

Twitter and other social media platforms offer a unique opportunity to disseminate information, reactions, and photographs easier than ever before. In real time, people can tell the world what’s happening, how they’re feeling, and what it all looks like. The Ferguson protests gained much of their traction because of their ability to reach out to wide networks of organizers to keep the momentum going. The internet has also been one of the biggest mediums of the Black Lives Matter movement to plan events and share their message. Without this, it likely wouldn’t be possible for these movements to gain so much traction and make such an important impact.

There is a bit of caveat to actually setting up digital archives of online documentation because of privacy and working with private companies like twitter to get permission. Despite collecting over 13 million tweets about Ferguson, Jules and his colleague are unable to share them, according to the article. But it is important to work towards finding an ethical way to showcase this digital documentation because it makes the storytelling of an event so much richer, and actually opens people’s eyes to what was happening to those on the front lines.

Now shifting gears, I’m going to discuss Jerome McGann’s article on The Rationale of Hypertext. This article was fairly dense and full of jargon that made it difficult for me to read, but the main idea that I took away from it is that traditional forms of literary analysis and republishing are now going to be happening on the internet, and it will actually make this work far better and easier to produce. Many pieces that have been turned into critical or facsimile editions have not been able to properly incorporate all mediums or perspectives of that piece. The visual and audial components of pieces of music, plays, and even poetry are integral parts of the experience, but traditional codex’s fail to include them properly if at all because of the limitations of book format. Thus, the ability of hypertext to connect and imbed these different components creates a much richer experience for the viewer/reader and allows critical commentary to be included as well.

From the tone of the article, it seems that many people were skeptical about digitizing these works at the time. But as technology has gotten better and hypertext has developed, it’s possible to transcribe all of these works online and make the interaction much better for the audience. McGann gives a few examples of this possibility, including Emily Dickinson’s poems that often included a stamp or other visual component that influences the meaning of the poem. Having this visual available as opposed to simply printing the text of the poem in a book can give the reader a better perspective on the meaning and stay truer to the original form. He also mentions Robert Burns’ ballad “Tam Glen” and how having either just the text of the piece or just someones rendition of the song aren’t necessarily sufficient in expressing the totality of the piece.

McGann believes that hypertext and hyperediting are the future of literary analysis. Being able to include all components of a text and critical analysis, all through hyperlinks on an online platform will improve the user experience of the analysis and make it considerably easier to work on. Instead of using directory methods like an index or glossary in a book, online resources can be searchable, with different tabs directing the user to different parts of the work, and hyperlinks to complementing media. This development successfully simplifies and streamlines the process of creating reprints and critical editions of works, all while making it considerably more available to the general public and other literary analysts.

2 Replies to “BLM, Social Media, and Hypertext”

  1. I think this is really crucial information! Thanks for a great post. Specifically, it’s really important to underscore that being an ally is good in many ways, but in some cases, it is better to just step back completely to let communities tell their own stories. These conflicts of interest rear their heads when it comes to activism, and I think its a lesson that is really important to learn.

  2. This is a very nice summary of the reading! Thanks. The fine line that public history institutions walk between helping communities and narrating for communities is crucial to understand. I echo what Sarah said above, it is important to be an ally but know when it is not your place to interject or speak on their behalf. A little help goes a long way, too much help goes too far

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