Can archival praxis be an act of resistance? Blogpost

I found the readings and projects for this week interesting. They show a potential for making new ways for doing archival work. These approaches are inspiring and in this blogpost I will reflect upon the readings and highlight the project DocNow for providing tools for archivists, activists, researchers to gather social media data.

As described in the reading “Towards Slow Archival” by Kimberly Christen and Jane Anderson the history of collection is the history of colonialism. They reading raises the question about “how do we recognize and rebuild archival practices, structures, procedures, and workflows that allow for relational, reciprocal , respectful , and restorative connections to knowledge, kin, and community within their frame?” Their specific method is slow archiving and by doing collaborative archiving. I find the work of Michel-Rolph Trouillot relevant to this call for a new decolonizing praxis. Trouillot was a Haitian American Professor of Anthropology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago and he contributed with many books to the field of anthropology. He is best known for exploring themes of origins and application of social science in academia and its consequences in the world. He discusses the study of the “other” in anthropology and how this has led to theories of inherent distinctions between Westerners and non-westerners. He argues we need to look upon the categories and concepts we think with as something that shapes our experience but that very experience also shapes in turn the categories and concepts. It gives space for reflection and for questioning some of our fundamental assumptions when doing research, and I see this as another way to try to decolonize knowledge production. For example, Trouillot uses this approach to work with these ideas to reimagine the Caribbean peasants as agents of their own history instead of as victims. In a similar way Christen and Anderson call to move archival works away from preservation and towards “processes of opposing imperial and ongoing forms of collecting and classifying which isolate the relational, deeply embodied, practiced, and dynamic processes between people, belongings, land, and communities that make, remake, and unmake cultural heritage, knowledge, and traditions.” (page 100) How does digital humanities create new ways of archival work towards as an act of care and resistance?

One of the selected projects for this week DocNow, tries to deal with this struggle. The Documenting the Now (DocNow) project’s primary aim is to help preserve and chronicalize historically significant events and other digitally relevant content found on social media sites. It focuses on providing a variety of digital tools, as well as acts as an appraisal of content, to help analyze social media content. A strong focus on ethical collection and preservation of social media data adheres to Twitter’s notion of honoring the user intent as well as preserving the rights of content creators. In many ways the site offers a large range of tools and additional resources to create a way for archivists, activists, researchers to gather social media data. The website consists of six different tools created by the DocNow project which are all accessible via GitHub, a software development platform. Utilizing GitHub allows the organization to create a more open and accessible participatory environment, which agrees with their community-based approach. I see the project as trying to be a way for not only collaboration between cultural institutions and people, but trying to give the tools to the people to conduct their own research. As the report “Beyond the hashtags: #Ferguson, #Blacklivesmatter, and the online struggle for offline justice” partly concludes the primary goals of social media use among their interviewees were education, amplification of marginalized voices, and structural police reform. The report shows how movements can learn valuable knowledge from analyzing their “own” data. I believe it highlights the relevans of making the tools of archival work more accessible. This example might be a less traditional approach to archival praxis, but I think it manages to go beyond the idea of preservation and instead deals with the concepts of ownership of history and data. I’m curious if we are gonna see more similar research in the future and how it might affect the power relationships and knowledge production within archival works.