This week’s readings particularly moved me as I have come across questions of responsible archiving throughout the past few years. Jessica Marie Johnson’s “Markup Bodies” articulated a festering discomfort I have sometimes found myself feeling in archival spaces (ranging from curated museums to viral social media posts) with regards to the commodification and spectacle-making of trauma. “ The brutality of black codes, the rise of Atlantic slaving, and everyday violence in the lives of the enslaved created a devastating archive. Left unattended, these devastations reproduce themselves in digital architecture, even when and where digital humanists believe they advocate for social justice” – Johnson points to a lack of critical engagement that can occur under the guise of “archiving” that ultimately leads to a desensitized and disconnected consumption of trauma through media that continues to replicate and give power to it. As we engage with traumatic archives, it’s important to question and think critically about the desired impacts of archival engagement, potential unintended consequences, emotional labor of archivists, and imagine creative, responsible ways to archive in a way that does not make light of the deep brutality experienced by real people. I found two really interesting readings when looking for more about responsible trauma-informed archiving that I think might be good for folks interested in more: Love (and Loss) in the Time of COVID-19: Translating Trauma into an Archives of Embodied Immediacy and Safety, Collaboration, and Empowerment.
Going through some old posts here and I think this is a really important comment. I experience this myself pretty regularly as a Jew; there’s a blog I follow that posts old postcards of religious buildings, and while they usually don’t contain detailed notes aside from dates and names, of course, synagogues often have notes on why they no longer exist. It fills me with a very specific, yet difficult to describe emotion when I see “destroyed on November 9th, 1938 during Kristallnacht”, or “converted to a church on XX/XX/XXXX”. It’s both righteous anger and longing, with a hint of reverence and empowerment. I’ll be scrolling my dashboard on Tumblr, which I like to fill with archival material, and be merry on my way before running into something that reminds me how many of my ancestors and my heritage are just straight up dead. And they say it so… casually. Not even a hint of “unfortunately destroyed” or any connection to the people whose lives it ruined. There is a palpable disconnect, and it’s almost kind of funny considering how emotionally affected that disconnect causes its viewers to be.
Moreover, they often document the destruction rather than the positive stories. There’s a story of a doctor who rescued a Torah scroll during Kristallnacht, and the Gestapo couldn’t find his address. The scroll still survives today. Why don’t we document these stories more? I think it’s straight up because of trauma porn.