I was drawn to dwelling in Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy’s “Making Meaning at the Intersections: Developing a Digital Archive for Multimodal Research” because one year ago I attended their panel “Developing a Digital Archive for Research in and beyond the University” at the Networked Humanities conference at the University of Kentucky. My initial preoccupation was turning to my memory of the conference (which is laden with blackout moments due to being nervous in such awesome company of people and ideas), and then my memory archived in my notebook of that time (this one suffered heavy water damage due to a poorly designed water bottle flooding my backpack), and then to pieces of the conference in web archives (hashtag was #nhuk) of tweets (on Storify) (TAGSExplorer) (Google spreadsheet), a handful of pictures, and blog posts that recapped presentations and reflected. Why I mention this process of scouring the web for traces of the conference is because my experience (my attention, my presence, my capacity) is limited. My memory of attending this conference, as deeply interested as I was, is already mostly fuzzy, although only a year later. See my (bad) notes below on the panel:
What I can recall is the panelists making a distinction between the good eye and the curious eye in looking, but the rest provided me little to reconstruct the presentation from until I could brush my own recollection (ideas, experience) against that of others. While I hesitate to call the stored Twitter exchanges an archive, its function during events/exchanges (like conferences) brought to mind questions of non-static archives, what it might mean for an archive to be fluid and responsive to user inquiry—How can archives be dynamic in design, almost heuristic like based on the user’s interests? How can such an archive function and be maintained?
In their Kairos piece, the authors detail the development of their postcard archive at Florida State University both digitally and physically with the specific goal of making their work visible—that is, how the archive is constructed (and in the process of construction) is not hidden behind the scenes of the collection. As archivist-researchers, they ask of their work:
- How will researchers visiting this archive make meaning from within the infrastructure that we have constructed?
- How can we continue to curate a digital space designed to enable growth over time at the same time that it hopes to reflect the voices and perspectives that are engaging the archive from both within and outside of the academy?
They explain that their approach to the archive’s infrastructure and metadata is resultant from visibility, or being able to see—the postcards, their shaping of the postcards, and the interactions that users have with the postcards:
“Our approach to archiving these material artifacts of everyday writing is very much a process of seeing, of learning to see, the multiple hands and voices that shaped and continue to shape these artifacts, even as they exist digitally in this open-source, expandable archive”.
This notion of seeing, of visibility, is of particular significance to the use of the archive as responsive to user contributions (through permitted registration with Omenka, where the archive is stored) and projects that users bring to the archive. The archivist-researchers explain at length how the archive is organized, a classification scheme that permits searching by date, place, subject matter, genre, publisher, etc. to account for the ecological nature of each postcard text. This design is to emphasize the potential of serendipity, or the unexpected, by carefully coded metadata that can permit such exploration and function heuristically for potential use (metadata categories that respond to the interaction between the artifact and the archivist). Designed this way, the archive is working to be flexible enough for research projects—that is more than one and undetermined from the outset:
“Each of the metadata fields we use to describe the artifacts (or a combination thereof) is a standard for arrangement, a potential filter. Insofar as a given digital representation of an artifact is composed by an arrangement of metadata relationships, the archive and its interface contribute to the modality and materiality of that artifact.”
This is where I wonder about their distinction between a good eye and a curious eye. The artifacts must be encoded with metadata to be searchable/accessible at all, and the authors explain this process, which evolved over time in interacting with the artifacts, but these negotiations were not just focused on interpreting the postcards as static artifacts to be classified within a static taxonomy, but on interpretations:
“As we negotiate the infinite levels of address possible for each postcard in our archive, we can attempt to preserve current and future readings of the card so that those readings will not be lost in history. In doing so, our job as archivists becomes one not only of cataloging, preserving, and making accessible artifacts, but also of cataloging, preserving, and making accessible interpretations of those artifacts, the multiplicity of meanings gleaned from and attributable to our archive.”
In returning to my exploration of the tweet “archive” of #nhuk and the design of this postcard archive, I wonder if the curious eye is a new standard in archive infrastructure, that an item is not just to be found because of the careful design of the good eye, but is to be found +. As if determining classification schemes based on categories and keywords didn’t seem difficult enough, how might they be designed for interpretation?