Reading Response- TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record by Jefferson Bailey

Warning: The original article contains images of wounded soldiers and weapons.

Jefferson Bailey’s article, “TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record,” focuses on how a historical record has its’ own history. The TAGOKOR file refers to Korean War Dead and Wounded Army Casualties. This file contains thousands of documents on U.S. officials and soldiers who were casualties of the Korean War. Bailey traces the history of this record and uses it as a case study to understand “the interplay of historical event, administrative custodianship, media preservation, public accessibility, and continuing interpretation.” The goal of this blog post is to lay out what the history of TAGOKOR is and provide points of discussion.

Why is it called TAGOKOR?

TAGO refers to the Adjutant General’s Office, the office who originally collected the documents.

KOR is just a shorthand for Korean, since the documents are about the Korean War.

Acronyms

Because the article has a number of acronyms, I have included a list of the most common ones to make everyone’s lives easier.

  • AAD – Access to Archive Database system
  • AERIC – Archival Electronic Records Inspection and Control
  • APS – Archival Preservation System
  • ASCII – American Standard Code for Information Interchange
  • BPI – Bits Per Inch (number of bits stored in an inch of linear track on a disk or tape)
  • CER- NARA’s Center for Electronic Records
  • EBCDIC – Extended Binary-Coded Decimal Interchange Code
  • ERA – NARA’s Electronic Records Archive
  • NARA – National Archives and Records Administration
  • NPRC- the National Personnel Records Center
  • MRU – Machine Record Units

History

  • 1950s – 109,975 casualty punch cards were created to catalogue all the casualties of the U.S. military during the Korean War.
  • 1964 – the file was converted to magnetic tape and two copies were made. Both copies included a file that was used as a key to decipher the data.
    • one was given to USADATCOM and another to the Army Records Center
    • The ARC sends the files to the AGO’s Data Processing Division and the Department of the Army
    • The Army’s copy eventually ends up at the NPRC.
  • 1989 – NARA acquires TAGOKOR but does not have the equipment to read the file.
  • 1999 – the file is preservation copied by the NARA.
  • the World Wide Web allows the files to be accessed by the public, but at first it is only a fraction of the documents.

Bailey’s main argument boils down to two things: records are not stagnant and they are influenced by wider cultural changes. Whether it is my own bias against technological jargon or Bailey’s writing style, it took reading the article a few times before I could fully grasp what Bailey was trying to say. Although some of it came off repetitive, his ideas do merit further discussion.

Questions to Consider

  1. Do you think containers of the file, such as websites or archives, should correct obvious mistakes so it is easier for viewers to understand? Is this a violation of historical accuracy or does the need for accessibility outweigh this issue?
  2. Bailey points out that at multiple points in its history, TAGOKOR was made inaccessible because of technological changes. What are some of the examples he provides?
  3. How did the physical evolution of the record mirror technological changes? Can you pinpoint specific examples?
  4. What are some of the ways Bailey used photographic evidence in his article? (specifically relating to concepts or technologies that would be foreign to college aged students)
  5. Relating to one of the broader themes of the course, do you think the internet has made it easier or harder for historians to document and preserve sources?

3 Replies to “Reading Response- TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record by Jefferson Bailey”

  1. To answer the first question, I think websites and archives should correct the obvious mistakes on the documents. However, it should be a completely different entity than the primary source; I’m thinking a corrected transcript on the side or footnotes. These elements would definitely increase the accessibility of the source and help unexperienced students understand/analyze the document. The original mistakes on the document also serve an important analytical and contextual purpose (difference in spelling, significance of what was left out, etc.), so websites and archives should definitely not distort the original document!

  2. Hello!
    I think you did a wonderful job with your discussion post. I found that this article was very interesting and I think the Korean War is often forgotten which is a shame. I like how you laid out the article in a way that was easy to understand. I especially liked how you included acronyms to help us understand the article. To attempt to answer one of your questions I think that it is possible for sites to correct obvious mistakes and that this doesn’t really diminish historical accuracy, but I do think they should note what they changed and why. That way future historians and the public are able to follow their logic in a similar way that we use footnotes.

  3. Hey Evie, thank you for this great rundown of the article as well as the thoughtful questions. The whole article seemed to me like a weird version of a historiography, or at least the discussion of one. What is the history of a historical project, and what’s the significance of understanding that historical arc? I think the project itself is fascinating, but it’s just as interesting to examine what has happened to the project as time has gone on and technology has changed. It does make me wonder if there are other projects similar to TAGOKOR that have had different journeys through time.

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