In Sessions on November 4, 2015 at 6:30 pm



  • Digital potpurri demonstrations by Natty B, Corey, Sarah, & Val
  • Discussion of “Archives” readings

Assignment for Next Week:

  • Be prepared to demonstrate a draft of your online teaching portfolio during class next week.
  1. Matthew Kirschenbaum’s “.txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary” was interesting to be because it got me thinking about how we quantify information in the digital age. Physical objects themselves are by no means permanent; libraries can burn down, paintings can be stolen and subsequently lost, and even books that exist in an air-tight, fireproof vault slowly disintegrate as the carbon molecules inside the paper break down. While the permanence of inanimate objects may be an illusion, there is a sort of romanticism that we project onto physical objects that does not exist with digital media. When we can pick up a book, feel its weight and put it back on the shelf, we have a level of awareness that it exists in the same reality as we do. While this may not influence how we read the text itself within the book, as an object the book does offer a sense of security. We can touch it, smell it, and it takes up space; therefore, it is real.

    As we move further into the digital age, however, I believe this level of intimacy with language is evaporating. As Kirschenbaum puts it, “questions about objects, materiality, and things are once again at the center of a vibrant interdisciplinary conversation, driven in no small measure by the obvious sense in which digital objects can — demonstrably — function as a ‘primary records’ (in the MLA’s parlance), thereby forcing a confrontation between our established notions of fixity and authenticity and the unique ontologies of data, networks, and computation.” The real question is the consequence this loss of intimacy will have on future generations that (presumably) will only archive their work in the digital world. Is it even your writing when you create and store it entirely on a public server? Perhaps even the concept of assigning personal identity to writing will disappear as the creation of language enters a more surreal realm divorced from any one specific object that exists in our own reality.

  2. I know this is shocking, but I very much appreciated Kate Theimer’s piece this week. Her opening paragraph made me feel like I had found a kindred spirit and bosom friend, to borrow Anne Shirley’s language. Crossing disciplines isn’t easy, and language barriers crop up in odd and unsettling ways.

    Among her many arguments about paying attention to the usages definitions of the word “archive” and the need to create and share precise definitions of this word, Theimer admits that no one owns this word, and the professionals who have used it as the name of their career and their workspace can’t control the way that others outside the field will co-opt the term. I agree with her. However–and now I’m going to temporarily align myself with my information professionals and also become a little combative–why must we so resignedly accept the drift of this word’s meaning? Why can’t or don’t we fight harder to have it used in its more precise and limited definition? Why don’t academics as well as information professionals more aggressively promote the usage of the word “collection” to name the assemblages that are created by non-archivists? There is a precise understanding of this word that is being diluted; why are we just letting this happen? And if you think it’s not happening, I’d like to point out that the Blake Archive is highly unusual among the scholarly community in acknowledging that the term doesn’t quite fit their endeavor.

    Theimer points out that the difference between the two meanings of the word “archive” are not trivial, and a traditional archive differs significantly from the digital collections that scholars are (honestly rather casually) creating nowadays. The traditional archive, in a sense, pre-exists its scholarly need. The materials are stored and waiting for the scholar to come and work with them. The digital material assemblages, on the other hand, are created in response to the research interest of a particular scholar/group of scholars, and the pre-existing information need creates a bias in the selection of materials–a bias that, by the way, information professionals are trained to sense and avoid in their own collection development. Information professionals want to keep everything. Scholars only want to keep the things that they need.

    So, this hasn’t really led up to this question, but as an information professional who is admittedly slightly grumpy, I do wonder how many of my current classmates would have a problem with using the term “collection” instead of “archive” for any assemblages of material that they create? Are you willing to practice the limited understanding that is used by archive and information professionals, or do you want to maintain the fuzzier definition that has become a common practice?

    And, before anyone mentions Derrida, his philosophizing on the existential impulse to archive also has very little to do with the reality of the archive as it is practiced by contemporary scholars, although it has more to do with how it is practiced by information professionals.

  3. I’m interested in Liza Potts essay on archive experiences in the Rhetoric and Digital Humanities text. In general, I have a lot of interest in the concept of usability when it comes to the kinds of artifacts produced in digital environments. While the concept of usability is quite loaded (usable to whom, and for what purpose?), and the concerns of disability advocates are important, I’m interested for the moment in discussing the general issues of “audience, appeal, and interaction” that Potts uses to frame her essay (255).

    I want to take a moment to highlight the Writing Studies Tree, a digital archive that, I think, highlights the issues Potts discusses. (Or perhaps I’ll start to see what I may be missing). The tree is an elegant approach to visualizing the connections and relationships between members of the discipline. It’s fairly comprehensive, partially maintained by crowdsourcing. And in many ways it’s a usable archive, providing multiple channels through which users may enter the archive — through an interactive network visualization or through textual search fields that produce lists of members along with their “ancestors,” “descendants,” “siblings,” etc.

    I have mixed feelings about the main attraction of the project—the network visualization. On one hand, it offers up an instantaneous account of the scholarly complexity and intricacies of the field. It makes an argument that, I think, isn’t as apparent or as convincing as a list of names, and it’s kind of fun to play with, too. But it’s attributes also seem to become constraints, too. It’s difficult to navigate, and interact with (i.e., not very usable), and for someone outside of the field, or even those in the field who have divergent scholarly interests, I suspect it has an “Neat” effect. Full stop. Not much more Or, more pessimistically, a “that’s a bloody mess I have no interest in learning to use” effect.

    Again, I really like the tree, and I’m not trying to be a critical Carl who nitpicks a great piece of scholarship because it can’t be more than it is without working toward a solution myself. I just think the visualization uts into relief the concerns Potts addresses, and it suggests an opportunity to think through how any kind of visualization (as archive or otherwise) positions itself to be most usable not only to those who share an interest, but to those who have more tangential interest—i.e., those who may be already primed to become convinced of the theoretical value and practical utility of such scholarly ventures—or even the more general public, as Potts discusses.

    So the question I pose to the class is a general, exploratory question: when it comes to digital archives, what makes them “usable” to you? (I invoke scare quotes here to recognize the limited and fraught nature of the word usable, while also recognizing the necessity of it as well.) Also, how do we deal with the tensions that arise in the issues related to digital artifacts as scholarship? In other words, how could a focus on usability work against an artifact that could also be positioned to be a scholarly argument?

  4. The approach to archives that I found most interesting in this week’s readings is that articulated by Jeff and Jenny Rice in “Pop-Up Archives.” The authors begin with the premise that archives, even (especially?) digital archives, are not permanent. This is an issue because the goal of archives is, obviously, permanence. Archivists collect and arrange with the intention that what they have collected and arranged will remain. Of course, all of their work does not guarantee that the archive will remain. For instance, just because the original versions of Emily Dickinson’s poems and letters are available on a Flickr account does not mean they will remain there. As Prom points out in his short piece, any number of issues could contribute to a digital archive (hosted by a website) disappearing. Jeff and Jenny Rice write, “If the institutional logic of archives has, up until now, been dominated by a will to permanence, then it is worth considering an archive that exists for a reason beyond preservation” (249).

    The authors refigure the traditional conception of archives by advocating for the “pop-up archive.” The authors write, “The pop-up archive’s focus is not in preservation but in the gesture and performance of archiving moments” (251). By emphasizing “gesture” and “performance,” it seems like the authors are theorizing a truly rhetorical approach to archiving. Instead of being concerned with an archive, we are concerned with the act of archiving. Instead of being concerned with a finished product, we are concerned with a process. This approach to archiving resolves the tension between permanence and impermanence in archiving not by finding a way to make archived materials more durable, but by embracing the impermanent nature of archives.

  5. Tori Reeder

    Writing Tech Response 11-5-15
    I found “The .txtual Condition: Digital Humanities, Born-Digital Archives, and the Future Literary” very informative and interesting. Though this text’s purpose “ is to locate and triangulate the emergence of the .txtual condition — I am of course remediating Jerome McGann’s influential notion of a “textual condition” — amid our contemporary constructions of the “literary,” along with the changing nature of literary archives, and lastly activities in the digital humanities as that enterprise is now construed”( Kirschenbaum), I could not help but View digital archives through the scope of the canon of memory. More specifically, thinking about artificial vs natural memory. Often, when I speak about artificial and natural memory I place them in opposition to each other, however, for the purposes of gaining new perspectives I will refrain from doing that. I would like to begin with the following quote, “We argue that scholarly remix builds on the transformative qualities of distributed authorship by shifting the “site” of the archive itself, or at the very least creating new mini archives within each remix. The word that catches my eye here is “transformative”( Kirschenbaum ). If I am correct, what is being said here is the reinvigoration of scholarly things, for lack of a better word, enhances the transformative qualities of authorship thus creating new archives each time. I think this idea can be linked to the formation of common pace with in memory. That is to say, transforming authorship or remixing a type of scholarship provides new avenues and spaces for digital or artificial memory to store new data. These common place then become spaces of “digital preservation”(. Kirschenbaum articulated it in this way, ”the public at large seems increasingly aware of the issues around digital preservation, as people’s personal digital mementos — their Flickr photographs and Facebook profiles, their email, their school papers, and whatever else — are now regarded as assets and heirlooms, to be preserved and passed down” (Kirschenbaum) . What this demonstrates is, with any type of social media, authorship is one of the main contributing factors of creating multiple and simultaneously digital pockets or archives. And from my limited understating, I think Kirschenbaum may be suggesting that with social media, for example, each new piece of archived information could be thought of as a non-scholarly remixed item, if you will, that maintains and multiplies its own space.

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