Blog Post

Introductory post

 

Hello, I'm a newly arrived HASTAC scholar.  I'm in my second year of the doctoral program in Information & Library Science at UNC Chapel Hill.  My research interests center around knowledge production and digital archives.   I've also been working on building sustainable digital preservation environments and have a longstanding interest in cultural heritage materials - how we interact with, access, and memorialize them.  

I was fortunate enough to attend my first THATCamp yesterday and thought I would use my introductory post to both comment on a few emergent themes and some resulting questions.  In case you're not familiar with it, THATCamp is an unconference which brings together humanists and technologists to discuss proposed topics in breakout sessions.   My experiences at THATCampRTP were positive on so many levels: collaborative, inter-disciplinary, local, etc.  As was my takeaway from HASTAC's Peer to Peer Pedagogy workshop last month, it's both a comfort and an inspiration to find that my research interests belong somewhere, even if they do not always align neatly with my discipline and its discourse (though my impression is that's changing).

I attended the afternoon sessions of THATCampRTP; my sessions centered on questions of public history, archives, technology, and the intersections among them.  Below are some combined notes from my sessions and some questions I've been thinking over.

Archival outreach efforts

How can we engage archival users and educate them about the contents of archives? In one session, archivists and historians traded stories of the benefits of bringing physical documents from an archival collection into the public for people to experience what was best described as "the goosebump moment" of archival work.   Archival literacy remains an acknowledged problem that persists in the digital world;  the conceptual map of what an archive is and how it can be used remains muddy for most people, despite increased access to materials online. Focused efforts to engage communities (whether it be history graduate students or local library patrons) with primary source materials "in the flesh" could help towards a greater understanding of the benefits of using digital/physical archives. "Bring the archives to the people" was the resounding call from several sessions. 

Community-oriented archives

In one session, we talked about a humanities-oriented "laboratory", inspired in part by the work being done at Duke's Haiti Lab project.  The basic idea is, again, to interact directly with the archival document as a means of grounding understanding. Former HASTAC scholar and Carolina Digital Storylab founder Mike Nutt has been pushing the idea of a community-based digital library for some time now, and is in the process of building out a framework as part of his master's degree research at SILS.  At the P3 workshop last month, HASTAC Scholar Jentery Sayers talked about creating a digital archive for some of Seattle's DIY artifacts, documented and currently held by community members.  I'm also thinking about the collected materials, primarily in the form of vinyl records and photographs, that a friend has accumulated in doing independent historical research on soul and funk music here in North Carolina.  In many cases, his curated materials are the sole existence of such documentation.Where do these belong -- in an institution's archive or in a community center?  

An interesting model for providing at least short-term access to privately-held materials is "Home Movie Day", an annual event held worldwide in communities to showcase homemovies made by amateurs.  The way it works is that community members bring in homemade movies in various formats (Super8, 8mm, 16mm) which are often in need of repair.  At Duke's Home Movie Day event a few years ago, the moving image archivists were repairing films at a triage station and then projecting repaired materials for audience members.  The site's FAQ explains the value in seeing "dumb old family movies" this way:  

"Home movies from just a few years ago show a world that looks pretty different from the one we live in now: kids  rode their bikes without helmets on; men wore hats and spats, and women wore gloves and girdles; public beaches  and facilities in the South were segregatedthese are just a few examples! Seeing this world in home movies is  useful for historians, writers, documentary filmmakers, costume designers, and even the ordinary people who live in  those same (but somehow different) places today. If your home movies depict the everyday life of people of color,  the differently abled, or others who continue to be under-represented in commercial films and on TV, we think it is  especially important that they be shown."

As our ability to produce our own cultural output has increased, the desire to access and preserve community-based cultural heritage has also increased.  Who should and who can take care of a community's cultural heritage documents?  


 

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2 comments

Hi Alexandra, I'm a fifth year PhD candidate at UNC-CH as well in the Comparative Literature program. I read through your blog and found it food for thought with respect to my own archival work. I am in film studies and queer theory. Many of the artifacts, films included, that I am most interested in are located basically in a warehouse in Germany. In any case, I have and will again spend much time in this archive literally diving through all the boxes, and I wish there were a way to convince the owners to let me (or someone else) begin building a digital archive for them. How would you suggest, or do you suggest, approaching such an archive and asking them about such a possibility? Cheers - Sam Riley

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Hi Sam, 

Nice to meet you.  Are these artifacts in a public institution or privately owned? Would you want to digitize them for your own access or to make them publicly accessible?  Are the materials stored in an adequate preservation environment? Your research goals will likely dictate what degree of collaboration the project requires. Two arguments to be made for digitizing the collection are (1) to provide access to unique and important cultural heritage materials; (2) to safeguard audiovisual materials at risk of decay and loss.

It's a short deadline (Nov. 15th), and it also may be beyond the scope of your research needs, but there is a partnership grant between NEH and the German Research Foundation which could be interesting to look at.

http://www.neh.gov/grants/guidelines/DFG_EDC.html

Best,

Alex

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