I have a history of using meme’s to announce exam period is beginning. I confess to using bleak cultural reference to do this because it makes me giggle. Hopefully a bit of humor breaks up the test taking stress. I know I always appreciated it as a student. Here’s to finals season. May the odds be ever in your favor.
For some reason, hubris, scholarly ambition or possibly madness, I’ve begun an extremely slow and careful reading of Archive Fever by Derrida. Often times postmodern issues, this work in particular, crop up in classes, research and impolite conversation, and I felt that it was needed to really give it a careful reading and test my scholastic mettle. If you’re not familiar with this work which began life as a lecture, the major premise of the pieces is that it’s essentially a “fever” or a disease to believe that the archive is a reputable repository for information. That in essence the archive is a poor place due to many complications for our collective memory. Derrida explains this by investigating Freud, and his many concepts of individual memory.
Unknown to me was that as I approached finishing the “Exergue”, I noticed that Derrida began what I consider a hasty conversation about how electronic records and their impact on archival veracity. He calls technology, ”these radical and interminable turbulences.”1 He further posits, and suggests that technology today causes issues with what is archivable and the process of archiving itself. Derrida seems to imply that older documents are more reliable records than modern records by implying that their creations had a certain intentionality, and that the intent to create them makes them more trust worthy. Where as, more modern records have been impacted extremely by technology and “archival structure”, which lessens their reliability. This is an interesting point, if this is Derrida’s intent, with this short aside on technology and archives. Unfortunately, it is quickly introduced and left with the reader more left to ponder such ideas as the “Mystic Writing Pad”.2
Derrida does promise to return more to this issue later in his work, but really this is an interesting premise that begs an important question. Does the fact that new technologies exist that remove some intentionality from the creation of archival record somehow remove trust in the archives? My opinion is no it doesn’t, but I reject much of the idea behind Archive Fever the more I read of it. This doesn’t mean that their aren’t unexpected questions that can be asked of the archival profession from engaging with this complex piece. So just as Derrida promise to explain himself better, I too promise to keep reading.
- Archive Fever, 18. ↩
- This Atlantic piece discusses the concept of the Mystic Writing Pad in a better context than does Derrida.http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/01/the-mystic-writing-pad-what-would-freud-make-of-todays-tablets/272512/ ↩
To know the world, one has to penetrate it as deeply as possible.
I recently came across this quote by Ryszard Kapuscinski in a Vice article. I was completely unfamiliar with Kapuscinski either the journalist or the author before stumbling into this bit of text in a, but this quote really got me thinking about the course on appraisal I started teaching on Monday. In some respects, this quote gets at the heart of the issues surrounding a appraisal.
Appraisal of records for some is a task so daunting that it cause that is cause physical anxiety, and can lead some to not wish to appraise at all. To these thinkers, it’s impossible to know what to select. This mind set also could lead to an over reliance on schedules and systems that seem to completely remove the archivist from the decision making process. In this scenario the archivist becomes passive, and seemingly unbiased, but even schedules have to be applied by someone.
To others decisions can be made on feelings and gut reactions. A sense of knowing what’s right for collections just comes quite naturally. To this person whether through actual research and study or a perceived understanding of a subject, they are guided by their knowledge/feelings to make their decisions for inclusion. This mindset can often become stale or over reliant on outdated or incorrect knowledge of a subject. Bias is often most prevalent for this type of archivist. They often doesn’t understand new trends in research and may even diminish voices that are not as prominent in the records they regularly see.
Each extreme perspective is flawed deeply. One rejects the archivist agency in the appraisal process, and suggest that they’re role be eliminated. The other relies to much on the archivist. Of course there’s a middle ground and this is where I come back to the Kapuscinski quote. I feel that when we examine materials for inclusion in archives we need to find a way “to penetrate it as deeply as possible”. To me this idea of “penetrating” a subject deeply could be used to frame a discussion about how we accomplish a systematic appraisal of records and involves an examination that can include functional analysis and other traditional and historical focused appraisal techniques. Kapuscinski suggest that we go into a subject as far as we can so that we can fully understand it. This is what archivist need to do, and not settle for just one approach when it comes to appraisal.
I’m calling in now just a few days into 2016 that this year will Anachronism, mainly technological anachronisms, and lets just say I couldn’t be happy. While many of the trends I’m feeling gearing up have been around for a couple of years now, things are just about to get really anachronistic and that’s great for archives and preservation professionals.
The vinyl hasn’t just reemerged it has been given space reserved for CD’s and other sundries in stores from every end of the consumer spectrum. Barnes and Nobles and Urban Outfitters. According to Noisey, one British retailer sold one turntable per minute during this past christmas season. That’s a lot of vinyl spinning capabilities. What’s driving this resurgence is hard to say, but it’s doubtful that its entirely driven
The penutultment sign is Dogfish Head’s Beer to Drink Music To, which becomes available just in time for the now annual Record Store Day which occurs on the third Saturday of April. Though is revival isn’t without controversy. There are few facilities that are still outfitted to press records, and with the boom in demand, these factories have been overwhelmed causing delays. This has massively hampered the ability independent artist to find ways to get their music published in this now in vogue format, causing some to even call for an end to Record Store Day. Again Vice’s Noisey blog has that story.
I’m a Super 8
Super 8 film, and film in general, is making a come back. Just this week Kodak announced the revival of the presumed dead format with a bit of a digital twist. Made this week at the annual Consumer Electronic Expo, this new device will combine 8 mm film that must be developed by Kodak, but buyers will get a digital copy in addition to the developed analog film. This new product won’t be available until late 2016, and doesn’t necessarily signal a revival of film. The first commercially available “new” super 8 camera will start around 400 dollars, and film cartridges will cost around 50 dollars to process. That’s a steep price for a nostalgia trip, but Kodak promises to release less expensive version in the future for the average film enthusiast on a budget.
This new development alone won’t bring analog film back, but the interest from the film industry may help encourage it. An excellent example of this is Quentin Tarantino’s Road Show for the movie The Hateful Eight. Tarantino, a known lover of analogy cinematography, filmed his most recent movie in film, but not just any film. He used an ultra wide-screen 70mm film that was rarely used in its heyday due to the limited number of theaters that could project it in its original size. Films such as Hello Dolly, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and Lawrence of Arabia are examples of films shot and shown in this format. Often smaller prints on traditional 35 mm film would be distributed or the films would have special “road shows” that were more of an experience than a trip to the movies. Tarantino decide to revive this experience, with his own flair and graphic violent presentation. Through special showings around the US, Tarantino’s provide movie goers the chance to see the full film projected on antique 70mm projectors. Hopefully other directors will follow in Tarantino’s bloody footprints, perhaps with a bit less blood.
Polaroid, the company, and the instant film that it’s most known for could be blamed for the current nostalgia bomb we are experience. They’re revival began years ago, fueled in part by the rise of instagram and the hipster culture. The revival began as early as 2008, when a group of insta-film fanatics sought to buy a Netherlands Polaroid factory and continue produce the film after the main company discontinued it’s production. Dubbed the Impossible project, this group began produce film for the icon Polaroid 600. This lead to camera sales, and eventually new products. Polaroid would eventually get back into the insta-film game, as well as Fuji film. Now any where trendy, you’ll find a supplier of insta-film or some analog/digital hybrid insta-photographic technology.
Archives Should Care?
So why should anyone care, let alone archivist? Many may think that these are all passing fads. Record players will gather dust. Super 8 won’t come across as so super. Even the revived Polaroids won’t get shaken any more. This may mean, there’s no reason to engage with new users of these old techs because ultimately they’ll get bored and move on to some thing new and shiny. I’d say seize the day. Find a way to leverage archival collections, preservation expertise, and other skills to encourage and participate in these various revivals of antiquated technology systems. Create workshops about proper film preservation. Upload you tube videos of Super 8 film that’s been preserved and captured in a digital format. Find some way to engage with new diverse publics who are becoming curious to many of the things we deal with. 2016 could be the year of anachronism, and that’s great for archives.
Recently in a class I provided my students with a rough case study involving a higher educational institution that asked the students to from an ethical stand point what to do with unsolicited materials that had records related to an alumni group that were both embarrassing to the institution and racially charged. I asked several follow up questions after discussing the pro’s and con’s restricting access to this question, but during class I suggested they deal with this case study in light of current student protest at the University of Missouri and Yale and does that relate to records a university collects and chooses to restrict. Many of the students found the idea that these records should be made avaliable compelling especially if the group that directly created these records had some responsiblity for raising funds for the institution. I prodded a bit about issues that could be related to systemic racism that would be relevant.
This in class exercise got me thinking, ethically speaking how should we deal with issues of access versus restriction when responding to current events, namely events embroiled in controversy. Archivist are no strangers to dealing with the ideas of social justice and documenting under-represented and marginalized groups. Randall Jimmerson’s Archives Power makes a fairly strong call for archivist to become activist social-cultural issues that are relevant and current. We should also keep in mind Mark Green’s rebuttal of this in American Archivist. Roughly stated, Green worries that archival objectivity will be impact in how collections are acquired and promoted.
So this debate has precedence in the archival field, but I want to at least begin thinking about the issue of activism in archives from a different perspective. So these are questions that arise for me at least.
- When a collection previously restricted collection shows examples of systematic persecution of a group, do you release portions of it when current events dictate it necessary or maintain restrictions?
- When a collection that documents persecution has relevance to a modern social movement, how active should an archive be in promoting use of these materials?
- In this scenario, what would constitute activism and what would constitute objective archival actives
- When a modern social movement needs to be documented, but the participants have become overwhelmed by the attention their movement has acquired, how should archive approach documenting these movement. Also how should archives approach documenting reaction and opposition to these movement.
Just some thoughts for a Friday.