useful and useless archives

In class this week, my role is the antithesis (I almost put a shopped image of myself with an evil Spock beard. Almost.) on the topic of archives in DH. Based on the readings, I have created the following matters of concern:

If one of the goals of DH work is to expand the audience beyond the academic sphere to the public sphere, how can archives be used to accomplish this? If ownership, authorship, and interpretation are factors, and DH makes strides to incorporate its readers as collaborators/builders/authors, how can the “public” (i.e. those outside of an academic institution physically or conceptually) gain access? Considering: location of archive, design of archive as user centered, permissions and data standards for collaborating, purpose of the archive project. Why should the public be interested? What are their stakes? What are they to gain?

Do we make archives? Do we make databases? Do we make collections? Do we make interfaces? Or do we make something similar, but just different enough? The conceptual usefulness in borrowing concepts come with shortcomings and pitfalls. With DH projects often blending and borrowing from established disciplines under the coherence of DH what might our work be complicating for the disciplines we borrow from?

How can DH address concerns of trained archivists, as expressed by Kate Theimer in Archives in Context and as Context, “What concerns me is that in the broadening of “archives” to extend to any digital collection of surrogates there is the potential for a loss of understanding and appreciation of the historical context that archives preserve in their collections, and the unique role that archives play as custodians of materials in this context”? Particularly when the conceptualization of the project and the design of the collection is often meant to expand as fluid, as ecology, as networks? If archive differs between DH and archivists, how does context hold up?

What are DH scholars doing to learn from archivists and librarians? How does a DH scholar interested in archives become an archivist-scholar?

What are the lifespans of DH archives? Who/what/where/how keeps them alive?

Are our archives just archives of our work?

Thinking of our readings made me recall Jeff and Jenny Rice’s 2012 CCCCs panel with Geoffrey Sirc, “Everyone Knows This is Nowhere: Writing in the Musical Age.”

Useless Archives: From Jeff Rice’s Useless Dylan

“The archives – in a university library, on a university website, in a university special collection – provides access to knowledge. Teaching the archives teaches a method for acquiring ideas, contextualizing ideas, and framing ideas anew. In the age of new media, archives, however, are institutional practices, and thus, they shape what is or is not important to a given research project. What about the peripheral items not featured in a given archive? How important are they to research?”

Do we view artifacts in an archive at a different scale? A different point of focus?

“How can I call “useless” what I value? Value is the wrong way to look at subject matter, whether musical, political, or some other item. Instead of value, I want the scraps, the outtakes, the speculation, the guesswork.  If I am to understand anything when I assemble a useless archive (and I do not promise any understanding), it is how the fragments of experience, when juxtaposed, allow insight previously prevented by what Vilem Flusser called the programmability of the political experience in the age of media”.

Can we make useless archives as serious scholarly pursuits? What are the potential consequences of the useless?

“The useless archive merely brings together. What I get from that combination, juxtaposition, linking, etc. depends. I may get a series of patterns. I may get a surface level “cute.” I may get affective response. I may get nothing. Whichever I get, that doesn’t mean that useless is “no good.” My archive is virtual. It is based on arrangement.”

How does arrangement get at/not get at selection—”archivists select materials for acquisition and accession” (Kate Theimer)?

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