Failure to Care; Digital Social Media

The Digital Social Media; Failure to Care video intrigued me because I am also interested in preserving blackness and black culture while confronting archival digitization for future generations. Particularly for marginalized people,  social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are proving to be a challenge.

Digital Archiving has proven to be a complicated nonlinear process that has many inter-tangled issues that drastically effect preservation dynamics for people of color and other marginalized communities.

Bergis Jules and his panel all make key points concerning the future of protecting, accessing and controlling the process of archival reporting and documenting Black culture. One particular statement that made me more curious about protecting the records of black contributors was how individuals have a right to not be included. Black people’s language and cultural traditions both spoken and unspoken, is often overlooked within the colonial background of exclusion and erasure from the historical record. People of color who are activist, artist and controversial figures are often targeted and eradicated.

One example the panel used was the murder of Korin Gaines, who recorded her illegal home invasion by police on Facebook.  She was shot and killed in front of her child. Facebook allowed police to sensor and remove her record of proof of what was occurring in that moment. Another case the panel mentioned was Philando Castille who was murdered by police while in his vehicle with his child and girlfriend present. His girlfriend used Facebook live as proof and protection of the ‘record’- that her boyfriend was not a criminal or was never guilty of any crime. She also used this record to describe context as the incident unfolded, only to be silenced later.

Stories such as these occur often among black and brown communities and are what make it obvious that black culture must take on the task to set their own records straight. Black culture and it’s “failure of care” for itself is very concerning and alarming. Though there are efforts to correct and address the concerns of exclusion, there is no sense of urgency. I agree that marginalized communities and their erased or silenced histories must be revisited and recreated for the digital age.  The work to be done is not so much for a white centered validation within the archive but for their own historical record and web archival approach.

Risks that people of color take to share their stories, art or ideas is daunting. Examples include the Coin-tel program created by the FBI to surveillance The Black Panther Party on the 1960s or the numerous assassination attempts on black leaders whose life work was to liberate and free people of color.   When it comes to black cultures documenting and reporting misconduct by police or government practices it becomes a dangerous and deadly task. The “white space” of web archives, as one speaker suggests, shed light as to how this is very intimidating practice is not taken into account when preserving narratives and history surrounding black people.

Does digital archiving for under-represented communities become this daunting task that nobody wants to do?  How do we listen to these voices of desperation and frustration; and single out what is important to the digital archival of blackness and what to leave out of the archive of blackness- for protection.


My focus on Ann Stoler’s work, Colonial Archives and the Art of Governance and Foucault’s The Archaeology of Knowledge has in some odd way given me a tremendous understanding of both the history of record keeping and the language that factors to authorize those records.  These reading and others, like Trouillot’s book, “Silencing”, which exposed the greatest lie of the U.S. archives from slavery. This realization, though I had heard stories of the great Haitian Revolution, brought an awareness that was not there before. Before reading these works, I personally not comprehend the practices that for over a century have kept archivist tormenting with the idea of how to better perfect this apparatus called the “fonds”, so that it reflects true society as a whole. I discovered that not only was archival science an intentional and manipulated practice of memory retrieval and making, but also a potential and proven socio-political weapon created as a way to control and rule over populations and to claim provenance.


A few key points hit home for me and my interests in the political nature of archives as well as the practice and language that creates them. I was pretty surprised to discover the three Canadian Dutchmen who, in 1898 presented a shiny new rule book on how to ensure the integrity of the “fonds” and how to conduct thorough analysis of it’s contents. The “Dutch Manuel” set the president for what archiving is today.  The most important rule of this ‘Manuel’ was to not be altered or delineated from, was rule number one, ” “the whole of the written documents, drawings and printed matter, officially received or produced by an administrative body or one of its officials …”.  Though others have attempted to revamp this record production system, many continue to use this out dated method still today.

I explored a lot of Ann Stoler’s ideas as well as the cited references from her works.  I have realized that I am one of those “students of culture” she speaks about in her writing. She speaks directly to the questions that have plagued me since embarking on my own journey for true representation of my self and factual historical records of ancestors and events surrounding family. I am questioning the very same issues she points out and reading her thoughts gave me relief, that I can be candid and open about my same frustrations with silence and erasure within and around the archive.

Focault’s quote on asking questions about “how” this happens, gave me the spark to go digging. He states, “I don’t believe the question of ‘who exercises power’ can be resolved, if the question of ‘how does it happen’, is resolved at the same time.” Focault’s “system of formation and transformation of statements”, “enunciative function”, and his “historical a priori” all shed valuable light as to what is occurring as the archives are being structured. What Focault stresses is nothing more than the “language of the privileged” and how the archive becomes what it is when archivist begin to talk over, about and around the truth.

Who has the authority to make selections to be placed in archives? How does this process work? What processes exactly are at work? and “What criteria is chosen to either store or discard?”  What is classified as evidence of truth? and what are reliable sources?– since some believe that history has no power without it’s source.

So many questions began to come to me as I became anxious about the possibilities for future archival work and ways to improve and build new ideas to make it all inclusive for everyone and everything- for the sake of correcting history. I wanted to compare what was already in the archive to what part of my heritage and others in this ‘whole’ had been erased, silenced or omitted completely from the record? As I dug further into the history of record keeping, I began to discover many examples of errors, omissions, deliberate erasures and just flat out manipulations on the public record. How can the archives represent the whole of a society when clearly what is and remains within it, is only a fraction of what is factual. Is this why the three amigos of archival science felt compelled to publish in 1898 an official rule book on properly describing materials? Were they driven by the frustration as I am today? I had to know more and with a few more questions I went a little further.

Focault has greatly influenced me if not as much as Ann Stoler. Stoler’s points which reminded me of Derrida’s truth that “there is no political power without control of the archive.” It seemed true. Who has the power to decide?  Stoler rightfully explains how the “arch”, “archi(v)a” means magistrate in Greek and Latin and how ‘etymology’ rules for those who control it. As Thomas Richards Hilton states in “Lost Horizon about the Archive”, it was a “prototype for a global system of domination through circulation, an apparatus for controlling territory by producing, distributing and consuming information about it.”  This statement suggests that the archive was invented for the sole purpose to circulate information (repetitiously), and to also consume what was being spoon fed to the public itself.

Here is where my application to Political Epistemology begins. I address questions of authority and provenance, the questions of diversity and culture and the questions of access and truth. Erasure, silencing and ostracizing culture in and throughout history has become seemingly the norm for archival practice. Is this behavior inevitable among future archivist or can it be corrected with new innovative approaches to this science?  With so many new technologies, data sets, creative minds springing up, I am wondering why no one has made a way to drastically challenge the of silence to marginalized populations and manipulated evidence of statements and events of the past.

This newest challenge with the art of record keeping is with vast databases of electronic records which will make or break of future archiving. Will archivist create a whole separate practice for digital records? Will they incorporate old practices and processes with new materials and what problems come with them?

Stoler cites author Michel De Certeau’s challenge to question and rethink the archival process. I too will take on Certeau’s call to “prowl” the landscape of what kinds of piece meal knowledge has been blindly entered into the archives and how that information has affected me directly and collide with the future of others. Today with more communication  modes and access to a fair amount of knowledge of the past (not enough), marginalized communities are asking these questions and will ultimately find answers. The taxonomies of race and rule have been unchecked and have persisted for too long.  If legitimizing the epistemology of society is the true mission of any archivist, there must be severe improvements in the areas of provenance and historical cultural claims (not negatively).

Archivist must certainly know the difference between “what happened” and “what is said to have happened” when preserving knowledge. The source is the most important mode of understanding of the process, and the words to describe them has become a nuance for the practice and must be carefully considered before applying them to any new material. It is in the context and the process that create the original record that is more trustworthy and reliable.

Finally, the fact that there are less articles, reports and scholarship written on the social practices of archiving today, than there were a hundred years ago, speaks volumes on the work ahead of Archival Science. Why are there no efforts being made to master the understanding of the act of archiving or the sociology of archiving?- rather than on the rules, extraction of materials, organizing, describing, and theoretical spiel on archival practice?   What is our inner drive or “impulse” to create records in the first place? This is a totally different question from memory- or is it?

Google Books: A Metadata Train Wreck

Google Books: A Meta Data Train Wreck by Geoff Nunberg definitely made me think deeply about the serious ramifications of Google’s digital archivist and their motivations to scan quality books and literature onto the web. It made me wonder if the motivations of google’s archivists were taking this very new problem to heart.

This “train wreck” that google has made for itself, especially as the largest and more popular go to search engine, is both amazing and disturbing.  Its amazing because they have taken on a major feat for the future of digital archiving which is commendable, yet are they doing it for the right reasons?  I immediately thought of the next generation of researchers, historians and book collectors. Would these fresh minds be mislead, misinformed or be forever digging for the factual records of these works? Would these new researchers have to verify and double check dates and meta data concerning books stored by the Google?

If Google is purposely manipulating or altering meta data of books searched on their site, it is a sign that the future of digital archiving is in trouble. According to Geoff Nunberg, Google has a very large portion of it’s collections systematically mis-dated and with hundreds of thousands of classifications errors.  For example, it carries a catalog of copyright entries from the Library of Congress listed under “Drama”.   Nunberg argues that these mistakes are prevalent throughout the system but who is to blame for this? Should we blame the publisher? Should we blame librarians? or should the mislabeling of books on google’s attempt to compete with Amazon?

Google must look deeper at it’s responsibility for future digital archiving and the importance of this practice.  This important practice of storing and scanning literature can not be taken lightly and Google should understand its vital role in this effort to preserve literature and history.  Future scholars will use Google’s files and collections in the future and if Google has not decided to correct this issue, I am afraid we will continue into a world of “fake information” and just unreliable hit and miss “googling”.

It makes me nervous when Google executives are confronted with these concerns and begin to pass on the responsibility to librarians, users and providers of the materials. It makes me concerned about future meta data scanned by Google Books. Will they have the best intentions for the people or will they become this private data-mining company that harbor information?  Will they become this meta data monopoly providing books to a certain social class?

Beyond Additive Subtraction; Etch and Sketch Memories

The Aesthetics of Erasure photograph (oil on linen), He Did Not See Any American blue, by Artist Rights Society member, Jenny Holzer (ARS), was a visual symbol of how most marginalized populations feel when sorting through the historical records seeking knowledge and the missing pieces of their blotted out past. I was constantly looking to see if could possible read through the blacked out words that would reveal their true context and also to solve the mystery of why those particular paragraphs were selected for erasure compared to those words still visible. 

It lead me to the supplemental article by Ella Klik and Diane Kamin, Between Archived, Shredded, and Lost/Found: Erasure in the Digital and Artistic Contexts.  In this essay both writers point out very interesting perspectives that I never thought of as an artist and writer.  New attitudes, desires and connections on keeping or discarding artwork in the digital era, was that of “Beyond Additive Subtraction”. She examines scholars Matthew Kirschnman, Wendy Chun and Wolfgang Ernst works to describe the reoccurring act of erasure and how it is unavoidable.  These scholars in their works believed that ‘overwriting’ and and erasing was necessary to make room for new data. The act of erasing and recreating in the same space is a “habitual condition of the digital.” The idea that the relationship between the surface and the the inscription is changing with electronic media, which means a radical change in how we store and keep archives digitally is now a new “dyna-archive” compared to the classical archive. Chun stresses the duality of the digital archive, citing that erasure is habitual and continuous. 

Chun’s idea of digital media production being habitual and continuous made me think about my childhood toy the Etch and Sketch.  One of my favorite creating toys that made me feel good about my artwork. It also had a dual system of creating and erasing in order to make room for something new. I always thought on the art that had to be erased. Yet, I just happily deleted it (shook it) and poof gone!  I could always see the remnants and tiny traces of what I had just lost, yet I was more focused on the new creation that would overwrite it.

Connecting both of these concepts make the act of erasing the opposite of storing both frustrating and liberating. One goes with the other? Production and recycling all in one movement?  What does that do for long-term archival practices?  Can we deal the idea of creating something, not saving it and move on by making something to replace it?  This is an interesting yet complicated practice, yet it may be the future of digital archiving.


Principle of Original Order; Atopia, aphasia

The readings this week shed a heavy load on the harsh realities facing archivist; analysis, classification and distribution of knowledge and information. All the readings made their unique points yet one in particularly triggered memories of collecting, organizing, labeling my own historical records.

In “The Order of Things…”, Foucault, stresses some key reminders about the world of ordering, classifying and naming things. He speaks of “aphasiacs”, a person who has had a brain injury and as a result has impaired language and can not read or write nor recognize order of things.  Foucault’s comparison on a culture who has lost it’s language can be tormented in the same fashion as brain injured (stroke) person who has lost all language, reading and writing abilities. He found it suspicious and comical that Borge’s idea of ordering things was not just “linking together things that are inappropriate” (preface xvii), but that there was “no
law or geometry, of the heteroclite” (common locus) when arranging or placing them into groupings.  This practice by Borge was futile and pointless according to Foucault.

I could not help but to feel a sense of relief that someone put my frustrations into perfect metaphors. Language and origin has always been of great interest to my personal research.  A lost language is a big puzzle when attempting to preserve or rediscover secret or destroyed knowledge. As Foucault states perfectly, I have experienced that feeling of a “loss of what is common to place and name.” (preface xix)

I was not surprised to discover just how brutal and difficult it was to practice and as a principle, in “Disrespect the Fonds, Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives,”  by  Jefferson Bailey.  

Dechein termed the act of arranging materials as, “brutal manipulations”, I call it simply language and culture manipulation. As language and meaningful context disappeared, so did the origins of old records and their importance of being properly placed. For archivist with the daunting task and deep work of deciding what stays and what goes, I am wondering what is the hope for future generations who seek to reconnect with lost information–and build new connections to culture, language, objects, that have been misrepresented by racially biased library infrastructure?  Can I be hopeful and optimistic about digital archiving and the new data being collected in today’s media practices? 

I feel like an “aphasiac” sometimes too when it comes to connecting to the past.  How can archivist ensure info takes it’s rightful place next to objects and things– “next to and also opposite of each other” ? (Foucault)

It seems the evolution of archiving during the early 19th and 20th centuries, inspired archivist and librarians to innovate clever ways of organizing. Frustratingly they would arrange, rearrange, and then adopt newer ordering and classifying systems to set in place– only to repeat and improve as new technology and massive data sets demands it.


Burning human answers.. and questions.

Burning Heritage


Reading the piece by Matthew Battles, Library: An Unique History, Burning Alexandria; reminded me of a time I visited my local library to do a little research and left just as confused as when I arrived. It wasn’t that I didn’t know what to search for, but what I wanted to search for, did not exist–not even the librarian could guide my steps.

Where old books were stored and how librarians arranged content in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been eye opening. I can even understand the pressures of political and societal upheavals, experienced by archivist. Their duties to store, shelve, categorize, preserve and organize information— but the torment of deciding what data and material artifacts to cherish, immoralize and authorize, and which to just toss away, never be seen again-ever, is something totally separate.

Are we becoming ‘caregivers’ or the ‘custodians’ of libraries, as Battles states nicely with this analogy? Can we begin to reshape methods of inclusion and rigorously restore truth and history without bias?

The story of Enoch Soames in Max Beerbohm’s Seven Men (pg. 117) reminds me of marginalized cultures whose origins and great systems of knowledge may never be recounted or acknowledged, only confirmed as “conquered” or “overthrown” with no further detail. The fear of not seeing self.  I can see what is being excluded in some of this work. The whole truth can never be retold or preserved- because it does not exist. It has been burned, destroyed and being replaced by new empires, with new systems and new laws that govern the control of knowledge and information– and ultimately whole societies.