This week, we take a look into the conceptualization of digital archives. Digitizing archival materials and expanding public access through the internet allows archives the power to expand the accessibility and usability of their archives. However, as Spiderman will attest, with great power comes great responsibility.
In our first reading for this week, Jefferson Bailey argues that the advent of digital archives bring the opportunity to reexamine and reimagine the organization of archives. Bailey begins his article, “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives,” by exploring the origins of respect des fonds, which is a principle of grouping records according to the generating bodies or donors. Respect des fonds seeks to preserve provenance of physical documents by grouping them by agent of transfer. The origins of this archival management system date back to the French Revolution, as records of the monarchy were destroyed and systematically reorganized by the revolutionary government. Digital Archives present an opportunity to reconsider Respect des fonds because, in the digital world, arrangement is “no longer a process of imposing intellectualized hierarchies or physical relocation.” Rather, it is automated by a computer system. Digital Archives have the ability to draw attention to collections’ inter-related nature and facilitate more dynamic exploration. While researchers still romanticize physical archives as the ideal place for research, Bailey argues the Digital Archive has the potential to alter the ways which we organize and access information.
The authors of the next three readings focused on the ways that archives can and should engage in community activism. In the first of these readings is “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia” by Kimberly Christen. While the digital archive has the ability to democratize access to archival materials, Christen argues that aboriginal Australians still lack access to archives where their culture’s histories are stored and shared. Christen details her work with the Mukurtu Project, which strove to make a new management system using Warumungu systems of knowledge and cultural protocols. The resulting digital archive categorizes users according to how much access aboriginal cultural protocols would allow them. For example, some sacred object are only accessible by elders. The archive’s website is navigated by clicking on photos which indicates categories. The Mukurtu Project demonstrates one among many possibilities for imagining digital archives that effectively collaborate with indigenous and aboriginal communities.
In “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories,” Jarrett M. Drake tasks archives with responsibility approaching the preservation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He defines two tasks which archives must carefully consider. First, Drake argues that archives must confront their roles in upholding the patriarchy and white supremacy through two problems. To do so, he suggests evaluating the accessibility of archives and whether the Black lives matter in the existing collections. Secondly, Drake argues that archives must build trust with the people around whom the #BlackLivesMatter movement is centered. This trust, according to Drake, must be built from a perspective of allyship, which focuses on making room for the impacted to be centered and heard. While Drake believes that independent, community based archives are the best repositories for preserving the #BlackLivesMatter movement, he believes these steps would help traditional archives be more responsible in their collecting.
Lastly, Bergis Jules writes in “Preserving Social Media Records of Activism” about the centrality of social media in today’s social activist movements. Jules argues that social media allows for an unprecedented amount of unfiltered experiences to be preserved in vivid detail on widely accessible platforms. According to Jules, the ability of any person with a cellphone to record anything is empowering. Social media is able to record the raw and personal reactions of individuals in social protest in astonishing numbers. With all that potential, Jules argues that it is necessary to develop preservation tools for this wealth of information and data that also respect people’s right to express themselves publicly.
All of these readings present arguments on how information on the internet challenges the historical uses of the archives, the ways they are organized, the people represented within then, and the people who use them. Do you know of any archives which take innovative approaches to organizing their information? What other considerations should archives make when attempting to document ongoing social movements?