…a collection of historical records, and also refers to the location in which these records are kept.
Archives are made up of records (AKA primary source documents) which have been accumulated over the course of an individual or organization’s lifetime. For example, the archives of an individual may contain letters, papers, photographs, computer files, scrapbooks, financial records, diaries or any other kind of documentary materials created or collected by the individual–regardless of media or format. The archives of an organization (such as a corporation or government), on the other hand, tend to contain different types of records, such as administrative files, business records, memos, official correspondence, meeting minutes, and so on.
So what is a digital archive? Well, see the definition above, just be prepared to re-imagine how we will ultimately preserve, share, and find these “letters, papers, photographs, computer files, scrapbooks, financial records, diaries or any other kind of documentary materials created or collected by the individual.”
So given the definition of an archive as an “records which have been accumulated over the course of an individual or organization’s lifetime,” then the obvious question is where is your personal archive? For example, where is the record of your work here at UMW over the last X years?
Some examples of personal publishing archives (or e-portfolios)
The Wayback Machine is a digital time capsule created by the Internet Archive. It is maintained with content from Alexa Internet. This service allows users to see archived versions of web pages across time—what the Archive calls a “three dimensional index.”
Snapshots become available 6 to 12 months after they are archived. The frequency of snapshots is variable, so not all updates to tracked web sites are recorded, and intervals of several weeks sometimes occur.
As of 2006 the Wayback Machine contained almost 2 petabytes of data and was growing at a rate of 20 terabytes per month, a two-thirds increase over the 12 terabytes/month growth rate reported in 2003. Its growth rate eclipses the amount of text contained in the world’s largest libraries, including the Library of Congress. The data is stored on Petabox rack systems manufactured by Capricorn Technologies.
Rick Prelinger, famous for his Prelinger Archive on the Internet Archive, wrote a post last year titled “Taking History back from the storytellers,” in which he argued that the tremendous emergence of personal historical perspectives like home movies and other “unofficial materials” need to be preserved and stand on their own, rather than being run through a storytelling Cuisinart, which documentaries today are increasingly reflecting. Why not let these works stand on their own? Here is an extensive quote from that post:
he last 20 years have witnessed the emergence of new kinds of documentation, such as home movies and other unofficial materials. Much of this kind of imagery reflects personal historical perspectives, unlike other kinds of archival material that emanate from institutions, governments, studios and corporations. This is great, but what’s happening (especially with amateur material) is that film is being used to construct histories that emphasize personal experience, that rely on the depiction of struggle and transformation at an individual level, and that constitute “stories” in a narrow rather than broad sense. I’m not advocating socialist realism here, just criticizing the reduction of world-historical events and phenomena to the story of “a day in the life of my cranky grandfather who survived the war and is just about to get evicted.”
Many of us who collect or take care of moving images and sounds feel that original materials tell pretty good stories on their own. Aside from some courageous DVD collections of uncut archival films, a supplement here and there, and several sketchy sites presenting downloadable archival materials, most original materials don’t reach the public without being run through the storytelling Cuisinart. While context is essential to really understand and work with most moving images, overbearing narration, emotionally invasive music and highly personalized visions of history don’t constitute context. Bits and pieces from our collections are being woven into works that don’t really speak to the value of their components.
Additionally, Prelinger suggests the following as a potential way to deal with the cuisinart of storytelling known as the documentary:
Archives are part of the system of cultural production. So are archivists. Which brings me to a second suggestion.
We have all noted that the cost of production and distribution is going down quickly, even though it isn’t zero. Why then aren’t archivists making more documentaries, and why isn’t production seen as an integral archival mission? Why on earth do we observe invisible barriers of specialization that cause producers (whose interests are often fleeting and superficial) to become the chief interpreters and contextualizers of our collections?
Librarians write books, too. Museum curators make text and media. Why don’t we make more movies? Everyone else in the world feels entitled to.
As more and more archivists become curators and preservers of digital files, and as working with physical moving image materials becomes an unjustly underfunded artisanal specialty, we may have to figure out what exactly it is that we do. I suggest we consider becoming moving image authors too.
And to this end, Rick Prelinger himself recently made a movie from found footage over the course of 50 years about Detroit, Michigan titled “The Lost Landscapes of Detroit.” And it is a fascinating take on one of America’s failing cities:
For the past four years I’ve been putting together bits of archival footage (especially amateur and home movies) that show vanished places, people and events in San Francisco. The past two compilations, sponsored by Long Now Foundation, are free to view here.
Now I’ve been given the chance to do the show I’ve always wanted to do: Lost Landscapes of Detroit. It’s happening February 10 at Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit.
This isn’t going to be a narrative of urban decline or the “ruins porn” that’s become fashionable. Rather, it’s a collection of amazing and almost-all-lost footage that celebrates a vibrant, busy and productive Detroit from 1917 through the 1970s. The idea is to bring these images back to Detroiters for their contemplation and use as they rebuild their city for the future.
In that spirit, at the screening I’m going to give out copies of the show so people in Detroit can reshow and remix it, and it’ll be online at the Internet Archive after the screening.
From BoingBoing here: http://boingboing.net/2010/01/27/lost-landscapes-of-d.html
So, to round out this discussion, here is an 8 minute clip from Prelingers’ footage: