Respect des Fonz!: Institutional and Personal Archives

It’s actually fonds. But you knew that, right?

In today’s class we’ll think about the roles that archives play in constructing institutional memory and identity. We’ll consider the following questions:

  • What is the value of institutional records — from both Records Management and archival perspectives?
  • What value does an archive – a memory – have for an institution – say, a corporation, or an educational institution?
  • What do archivists need to do to better convey their relevance to their “host” organizations?
  • Where does an organization’s history /memory lie? What are various sources from which we can piece together this memory?
  • In what “bins” might we find traces of TNS’s own institutional memory?
  • And how might we “curate” (as Paulus emphasizes) that historical data, those memories, to appeal to the archives’ myriad publics – and to attract new ones? Of course the behind-the-scenes organization of the archives – which Glushko says encompasses the “logic” and “storage” tiers – has to adhere to particular standards, which we’ll learn about over the next several weeks – but how might we employ different organizational schemes, different modes of presentation, to reanimate the archives for different publics, to promote different kinds of interaction? (Glushko 14, 16)
  • What are some of the most commonly used schema for organizing records?

And then, in the second half of class, we’ll apply some of the ideas generated through our discussion to think about our own personal archives. Here’s the scenario…

From Bert Haanstra's personal archive; via Eye Film Institute, the Netherlands

From Bert Haanstra’s personal archive; via Eye Film Institute, the Netherlands

Yowza! You’ve had quite a year: a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and a Nobel Prize and a Golden Lion AND (seriously?!) a Pulitzer – all before finishing graduate school! How’d you pull this off? For real – how? I’m positively baffled. And jealous.

Anyway… The Library of Congress called. They want you to promise to bequeath your archives to them upon your death. (Come on, just play along with me here.)

Knowing now that all your records will be in the collection of our national library within, say, 60 to 80 years, you’ve decided to be more deliberate about how your organize those records now. So you set out to develop an organizational schema, and this endeavor requires that you consider:

  • What distributed variety of resources – both those in your possession and those outside of your possession – might be able to collectively represent your identity and chronicle your life’s work?
  • What media formats and “genres” are among those records?
  • What various devices do you regularly use, and what kinds of records are stored on each, or across various platforms?
  • What subject matter and themes are most prevalent in these records?
  • What different functions do these records serve in different dimensions of your intellectual and creative work, or different realms of your life?
  • What other variables – or even aesthetic considerations – might reflect your personal ethos, taste, identity, etc., and heretofore guide the organization of your records?
    • Consider some of the case studies we examined last semester: the Prelingers and their geographic organizational scheme; the Adobe Bookshop’s chromatic structure; the Reanimation Library’s contrarian “anti-functionalist” approach; Aby Warburg’s “cosmic” ontology (i.e., image, word, orientation, action)
    • Be irreverent if you want. Break the rules. Or don’t. Play it straight, or do a parody. Whatever.

Take some time to think about the above questions, then develop a five- to seven-slide presentation outlining the organizational schema for your personal archives. Be prepared to discuss how your proposed scheme serves both functional and aesthetic purposes in reflecting your work and your identity.