Reflections on GIS, Archaeology, and the Spatial

Thinking ahead to our meeting and conversation with Dr. Craft, I’d like to consider a theme across the readings and some resulting questions that occurred while I tried to take in and make sense of an immense amount of research on a topic that I admittedly know little about.

The prominent theme woven across most of the texts was the notion that GIS, as traditionally conceived, constrains the options of those representing not only the data, but also the lived realities behind that data. The prominent response seems to be that those in archeology and geography should reconsider the role and means of visualization, whether that be related to virtual reality, geovisual analytics systems, or an approach such as inductive visualization.

In terms of dealing with questions and representations of space, GIS is useful, and Jo Guldi provides a list of concerns common to the “softer” disciplines, including “spatial questions about nations and their boundaries, states and surveillance, private property, and the perception of landscape, all of which fell into contestation during the nineteenth century.” While GIS offers itself for aggregating data and analyzing it, it contains limitations when attempting to address the embodied nature of places.

Gary Lock discusses a shift beyond the phenomenological in VR, noting that there has been a shift “from observational representation toward a representation of inhabitation, a dissolving of the subject/object dichotomy”—yet VR hasn’t been able to fully productively embrace the affordances of phenomenology because the technology still reifies the “detached gaze” of the observer (98). Instead, he argues for theories that continue to push at what it means to represent, theories in which “[t]he focus falls on how life takes shape and gains expression in shared experiences, everyday routines, fleeting encounters, embodied movements, precognitive triggers, practical skills, affective intensities, enduring urges, unexceptional interactions and sensuous dispositions” (Lorimer qtd. 99).

Lock highlights approaches to non-representational mapping using digital technologies that allow for the layering of data and images and improved searchability as well as for increased collaboration among users—these tools allow for inhabitation, for human experience and activity, in maps. Regarding collaboration, too, I found a post on the Antiquity À-la-carte blog noteworthy for its emphasis on the Creative Commons license and commercial uses of content without additional purposes, which seems to illustrate, in part, Lock’s point.

Gupta and Devillers are sensitive to a similar problem. Although GIS has allowed researchers to bring together data, analysis, and representation, its information-centric nature stifles the messiness intrinsic to depicting places where humans have lived and continue to live. The authors note that GIS fails in this regard “because [the] tools are often inadequate in facilitating an understanding of complex real-world processes and events. […] [Consequently,] archeologists too often reduce phenomena is size and complexity to match the capabilities of existing tools.”

To combat this effect, they turn their attention to advanced analytical geovisual, or geographic visualization, approaches that foreground researchers’ own “cognitive abilities (rather than equations and algorithms) to process information and generate new knowledge.” Interestingly, these efforts don’t only help return lived experience to maps—they also return human cognition and experience to research methods. Is this also a benefit of a shift towards more human-oriented methodologies and more embodied methods?

Anne Knowles et al.’s inductive visualization serves a similar purpose to Gupta and Devillers’ advanced geovisual methods. Considering the inherent shortcomings of methodologies supporting technology such as GIS, they find fault with GIS for “the loss of meaning or the invention of meaning” when representational approaches have to contend with qualitative data (236). As such, they offer an approach that they term inductive visualization, in which researchers’ perceptions and intuitions suggest the most productive method for sorting through, analyzing, and representing data: it is a “creative, experimental exploration of the structure, content, and meaning of source material” (244).

Among their visuals in the article, one that seemed especially helpful to me in reflecting what the authors are arguing for is figure five, Erik Steiner’s graphic representation using grouped letters to show “relatively how much the women said in relation to the places and stages of their traumatic journey” (246). Yet I wonder then about the role of such visualizations in research (and I’m thinking here of scholars like Johanna Drucker and N. Katherine Hayles): what kind of weight do we give to more innovative representations when they appear, for instance, in work being reviewed for tenure? In rhet/comp, online publications are often valued less than print publications—is this a comparable phenomenon that we see in light of digital technologies’ effects on research?

Each of these approaches seems, to a degree, to answer Llobera’s assertion that an interpretive methodology makes room for rich, messy relationships and situations more fruitfully than the less flexible GIS-based methodologies, and I think we see the results of more integrative, “expressive” approaches in examples like Pleiades and ORBIS. Pleiades I find interesting for how it distinguishes between “places” and “locations” (even though the links direct to the same page, intentionally or accidentally), which might speak to how those in archeology, geography, etc. differentiate between cultural sites and movement and physical spaces.

Yet, I have to wonder about the interactivity of the site, as it struck me as less user-friendly than I would have liked. When considering the design of humanist GIS efforts, how important is ease or intuitiveness of use? And do we ask that specialists like archeologists also function as programmers and designers? While Pleiades is intriguing, ORBIS seems more capacious in its features, and one feature of ORBIS that surprised me but, the more I worked with it, struck me as exceedingly useful, is the ability to define the month or season of the route. Thinking of layering, searchability, and inhabitation over representation, I think ORBIS most exemplifies an effective humanist map—the consideration for how expensive a route would be, for example, gestures to the humans and culture of the time and place.

A fun post-script: Sunday night, the History Channel aired two one-hour shows back-to-back about the mystery of the lost Roanoke colony. At one point, one of the specialists consulted was a geospatial archeologist who (very briefly) demonstrated how he used satellite topographical data in combination with data about the native tribes and data about copper mines to speculate about possible locations for copper ore—it seemed a useful and relevant example of what a humanist mapping of historical human activity looks like.

GIS – Through the Archaeological Lens

Spatial analysis in archaeology today encompasses a wide range of experiential, fieldwork-based, and deterministic approaches that vary considerably in their intended purpose and theoretical underpinnings.  The rapid uptake of computational methods such as Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and related methods in archaeology from the late 1980s and early 1990s marks a disciplinary change, for enthusiasts and critics alike, increasing by an order of magnitude the quantity of spatial data that could be managed and analyzed, especially for those working at the scale of entire archaeological landscapes.

Over the past few decades there has been a large debate between two strands of archaeological theory.  A very brief summary of the argument follows.  Proponents of post-processual, qualitative, experientialist, or phenomenological landscape theory in archaeology have argued that quantitative or empirical techniques, which include GIS-based mapping methods and predictive techniques, effectively dehumanize and distort the past through an ethnocentric gaze.  In response, strong criticisms have been raised about the validity of evidence presented in the qualitative, experiential, or phenomenological frameworks, especially research methods that are characterized as highly subjective attempts to empathize with the lives of long-dead human beings.

Several of these readings illustrate the gap in theories.  As I reflect upon this divergence of theories, GIS becomes collateral damage.  The underlying argument is not about GIS, it is about the interpretation of the data that is evaluated.  GIS, by definition, is a system that keeps track of where events happen or exist and when.  It is a platform for creating and maintaining maps and a tool for querying, editing, and analyzing spatial data.  I sense in the arguments and in the preliminary articles leading up to discussion, that the keyword “analyze” is the culprit for GIS to bear the responsibility of interpretation.  While analysis is the groundwork for interpretation, data collection is the groundwork for analysis.  Any visualization of data is always dependent on the underlying data collected.

Virtually every attempt to economize process—with GIS or not—presents certain challenges to interpretation and knowledge production, and thus all attempts should be analyzed critically in terms of their methodological or interpretive efficacy.  As scholars we must ask: are we getting the right data; are we asking the right questions?  As archaeologists, we must not only consider our immediate questions, but we must be mindful of the entirety of the data collection process.  Are we limiting our data collection to the immediate research or are we collecting enough data so that future scholars can ask new questions?  This is especially true of excavation sites.  Once excavated we have changed the site and cannot restore it to its undisturbed state.

I look forward to the chance to learn about Dr. Craft’s project.

GIS and Archaeology

Thursday, March 30, 2:30-3:45 pm
Strozier 107K [map]

Spatial Patterns, Spatial Evidence: GIS and Archaeology

With the promotion of what spatial humanists call “deep maps,” historians are provided tools for charting what is amendable and excluded from any geographic purview, allowing them to look beyond what is memorable and concrete (Bodenhamer et al. 2015; Bodenhamer et al. 2013; Guldi 2014). Advanced spatial technologies afforded by multilayered geographic information systems (GIS) are growing in popularity, not only enabling the animated reproduction of ancient sites but also allowing complex maps to show cultural reflexivity through the representation of “personalities, emotions, values, and poetics, the visible and invisible aspects of a place” (Bodenhamer et al. 2013, 172). Ideally, what results are historical narratives that are more fluid than finite,  reflecting complex events or actions at any scale.

Yet the convergence of GIS with specific kinds of historical activities creates a representational challenge of humanistic proportions. Beyond the questions of cultural precision and representational accuracy, how can using certain GIS technologies do more than validate a single research agenda? How does geovisualization enable or constrain our ability to interrogate its appropriateness for intellectual work? What assumptions does GIS-enabled archaeology make about the viability of locational data, and about how historians should access or interpret it? Digital Scholars is pleased to welcome Dr. Sarah Craft, postdoctoral fellow in Classics at FSU, to facilitate discussion on these questions and to present on her work. Since 2013, Dr. Craft has been actively proposing and developing landscape archaeology projects in different regions of the world, with a special eye toward methodological critique.

Participants are invited to read the following in advance of our meeting:

and to browse the following projects:

All are welcome! We hope you can join us,


The Reality of the Virtual

The most recent group session on February 16, 2017, centered around 3D printing, virtual reality, maker spaces, and provided the opportunity for those in attendance to actually “test” the technologies.

In handling the 3D printed material, it is hard not to get excited about the possibility of using this technology as a pedagogical tool.  Now, not only can we teach visually and audibly, but also tactilely.  As Clough states, 3D technology not only promotes education but also profits scholarship.  Clough’s example of the Cosmic Buddha, denotes how a well-scanned object can further scholarship.  The articles from both Clough and Knowlson focus on public outreach and engagement with museum artifacts.  They envision 3D technology as the incubator that will encourage more people to visit museums.  The availability of 3D renderings will also allow for inspection of objects long after the exhibits have closed or the original objects have been placed into the museum archives.

Conversely, one must ask if this technology will encumber scholarship.  If a scholar has only to download a file and print out an object, will this hinder or enhance collaborative work?  The humanistic disciplines that utilize physical objects can see an immediate benefit to 3D printing, but what about those disciplines without the tangible materials.  Can we ask and answer the humanistic questions of thought, experience, and emotion through 3D printing?

Virtual reality may be one way in which those disciplines not involved with material objects can explore the humanistic questions.  Scholars and non-scholars, alike, can be given the opportunity to experience the humanities, not just by lecture or video, but by using their own hands.  As suggested by the Unimersiv article, one can walk through a performance of Shakespeare’s plays or Ancient Greek tragedies, or immerse oneself in the difficulties of historical travel, as Davis suggests.  Virtual reality has huge potential, but can we unlock this potential for humanistic purposes?  There is a caution to this tale as Davis points out.  Without critical reflection, this potential will fail.

Finally we come to maker spaces or innovation centers in a campus setting.  As the Delaney article explains, by providing a comfortable environment with high-tech tools, visitors will hang out, collaborate, learn, and become inspired to build innovative creations.  This is a laudable goal and one that I am proud to note that FSU is striving to attain.  There are obstacles to consider.  These spaces are for relatively small groups of people.  In addition, training in the technology is essential, equipment is expensive, and space is at a premium on most campuses.  How quickly and easily can these spaces grow in scale?  The capacity of these spaces seem to fit a small classroom setting, but what happens when the class size is 50, 100, or even 200 students?

As I reflect on the discussion, I am left with more questions than when I entered.  Did our discussion engage the main point of Drucker’s article?  What impact does the humanistic disciplines have on 3D technology?

Considering Dr. Baldauf’s Presentation

Three things struck me during Dr. Baldauf’s presentation that I think are worth considering subsequent to our visit to PIC’s suite. First, he mentioned that one of the programs on campus (and my apologies for not jotting down the abbreviation) had purchased particularly high-end 3D printers, each around $250,000, but that the machines soon “all broke.” I’m thinking then of the plans for the Shores Innovation Hub that Dr. Baldauf showed and the amount of financial support needed for such an endeavor. How does a department weigh the benefits and risks of funding and purchasing, for example, the technology that innovation centers need? A space like what will exist in the redesigned Shores includes 3D printing, VR, scanners, and other technologies as well as places like a room for startup pitches, classrooms, and—I found this especially interesting—the aesthetically appealing exterior with the café and trellis. I suppose that my interest here concerns the process that goes into planning an innovation center on a college campus—what kinds of negotiations take place regarding deciding on the space (makerspace or, as here, an innovation center), how are budgetary concerns approached, and what kind of a role do students play in planning and implementing the space?

This leads me to my second point, which involves students and teaching in innovation centers. Speaking about access to the 3D printers, Dr. Baldauf mentioned that students can work in “ranks”—that some would be trained in how to operate the printers and software on their own, while others would assist faculty. I think that this is important, foregrounding the roles of students in such spaces: as interdisciplinary sites of collaboration and problem-solving, it seems prudent give students agency in working with the technology present and to let students teach fellow students. This might speak to the distinction between makerspaces and innovation centers that Dr. Baldauf highlighted. He made the point that the trend now is towards the latter rather than the former, and this makes sense: makerspaces privilege creativity and design, but innovation centers seem to combine creativity and design with application and problem-solving.

Thinking of application and problem-solving, I also want to consider the practical uses of technology like 3D printing and VR. I found Dr. Baldauf’s archeology example especially helpful. We’d read about museums like the Smithsonian using these technologies to reach different audiences, but thinking about uses within the university is also interesting. An archeologist may well not be able to remove artifacts from a site, but, if she can scan and later print 3D copies of those items, they can be used in the classroom to give students a multisensory experience that they might not otherwise have. Even something more common like a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s head stands to be experienced by students differently, and perhaps this is where interdisciplinarity comes in: students in a humanities seminar on the Civil War might find it more engaging and thus beneficial to touch and hold Lincoln’s (or another figure from the period’s) head.

Look at all this Stuff! On Playing, Printing, and Virtual Reality in the Digital Humanities

In preparation for this week’s visit with Ken Baldauf at the Program for Interdisciplinary Computing, I was struck by the amount of physical stuff that we were presented with. As we were presented with a lot of information, I will do my best to synthesize and highlight some major points, and to interject what I see as potentials and critiques of these technologies. I wanted to embed this video above as an example of the artistic and storytelling potential of these technologies. I found it through an exploration of the Google Tilt Brush website.

When I approach topics like this, I tend to think about what can I do with it, and how can I teach with it. These same concerns appear to be embedded within the questions that Dr. Graban has posed, as well as the assumption with the variety of introductory materials for this week. The use of 3D scanning and printing have the ability to let us see artifacts, art, history, and material differently. They offer us ways to view and engage with each other, our pasts, and our futures, in ways that are disruptive. As presented, they are also deeply effective pedagogical tools, and can allow us to explore narratives, perspectives, and materials and present them to a variety of people regardless of location or expertise. They allow for a play with the world that was previously unattainable.

While many of these readings and videos were informative on the technologies and their potentials in various spaces, their needs to sell the technology and to pose use-cases was off putting at times. This space, and these technologies are disruptive, especially at the price, availability, and capability that they are coming to. Lifelike virtual reality, such as presented by Lifelique, is becoming more possible and available. If I had the spare $800 for a VR headset, I would love to play around in these spaces.

While there are still several technical and adoption hurdles, virtual reality seems to be here to stay. As someone interested in these technologies, while they are becoming more affordable, they are still out of the grasp of many people and institutions, and could further the digital divide. These VR experiences are also incredibly solitary, at least as presented. One person puts on a headset to enter into the virtual space. I also see a danger of these VR experiences being sold to education, and being purchased, as another panacea (like other technologies before). I see an immense potential—I want to walk around with dinosaurs, explore Mars, and walk through ancient Rome—and the danger of hegemonic perspectives being reinforced. As Davis mentions in her article, VR is an empathy machine, and we need to be aware and critical of using these tools.

I was most intrigued by the ability of 3D and VR to allow for realistic, touchable, and experiential engagement with artifacts and collections of various museums. 3D scanning technologies offer potential new avenues for research as museums scan and share their collections. As mentioned in the Smithsonian video and article introducing their X 3D object site, the scanning has allowed researchers to see things within artifacts and sites that were not available to the naked eye. The use of 3D scanning is allowing researchers to investigate artifacts, see archaeological sites, and bring materials together from disparate locations together for study, without the immense costs of travel or purchase. Researchers could now have access, print, and explore artifacts from around the world. This scanning and sharing could unlock a variety of research, and I’m looking forward to seeing it realized and participating in it.

There is a sense of immense potential within 3D printing, 3D scanning, and virtual reality. The question seems to be, what do we do with it?  What I found most striking to think about was Drucker’s claim “that we demonstrate that the methods and theory of the humanities have a critical purchase on the design of platforms that embody humanistic values.” It isn’t enough to simply analyze or use digital tools and artifacts, but that we need a place in helping to create them. I see the maker and collaborative spaces as a means of doing so, through collaboration, learning, and exploration of tools and technologies.  Drucker made a clear argument about the need for humanities understandings within digital humanities, of a need to introduce and implement computing experiences and systems that attended to the interpersonal.

There was optimism and uncertainty expressed in these pieces. These technologies have been immensely useful within a variety of contexts already, and have gained a remarkable amount of general interest and support. This is certain to continue and accelerate as these tools and technologies become more affordable and have wider adoption. Given this situation of growth, the humanities can not only help craft the narratives, but also collaborate with how they are being told. These technologies allow for other voices to not only be heard, but to be seen, felt, and experienced. By allowing for engagement and play with people, places, artifacts, and history, 3D and VR technologies can be disruptive to the paradigms of knowledge generation and circulation. By allowing anyone with the right access to technology, the ability to engage and experience places and artifacts, the ability to come closer to others is immense.

In our positions as teachers, scholars, writers, and technologists, we can shape not only what these technologies do, but also to critique and present their potential to uncover and promote empathy and understandings between time and space. Constructing and becoming involved in maker and collaborative spaces seem like natural connections for humanists. I see potentials for projects and pedagogies that engage with maker-spaces as sites and structures for instruction. There is potential for new service learning opportunities, transfer, and writing across the curriculum.

These technologies also have the potential to change how we view the humanities, and the methods and methodologies of our research and practice. Engaging fully in the digital humanities through “the tasks of creating metadata, doing markup, and making classification schemes or information architectures forced humanists to make explicit many assumptions often left implicit in our work” (Drucker). The technologies also shape what and how we study, and the ways in which we share it. While I question the idealism of many of the videos and articles, I can see their position as one of optimism. These technologies have already changed so much, and they can continue to shape how, where, when, and what people engage with. As digital humanists, we must work to engage, use, and shape these tools ethically and effectively.

3D Fabrication and Virtual Reality

Thursday, February 16, 2:30-3:45 pm
Diffenbaugh 432 [map]

3D Technologies Transcending Space and Time: A Reciprocal Influence?

Since David Brewster’s 19th century stereoscope, the drive toward perfecting three-dimensional capture has paralleled the drive to recreate in minute detail the intricacies of environments not previously accessed. We can mark the impact of 3D technologies on humanistic environments in myriad ways, by observing the merging of virtual and material in the service of art and architecture, and by attending to the shifts in how we — as historians and scientists — understand or gauge human-object interactions. On the one hand, digital technologies can empower users to represent any known or imagined physical object or environment virtually and on any scale, from DNA strands to distant galaxies. The human visitor to the virtual environment can engage and interact with virtual objects to learn and innovate, and as access to 3D technologies rapidly increases, so will their impact on the humanities in the academy.

But can 3D reveal the ways in which the humanities have had “[similar] impact on the digital environment” (Drucker, “Humanistic Theory and Digital Scholarship” 85)?  Digital Scholars is pleased to welcome Ken Baldauf, Director of FSU’s Program in Interdisciplinary Computing (PIC), to lead us in a demonstration of 3D modeling software and a consideration of this question. Through a variety of digital fabrication technologies including Printing (“additive”) and Laser Cutting (“subtractive”), digitized objects can be manufactured and brought from the virtual into physical existence. Conversely, digitally scanned artifacts can be redistributed through a virtual network, and tweaked and reproduced until perfected. How do these virtual possibilities and creative behaviors reflect a particular kind of mimesis, and how much do our expectations of the nature and exactitude of their copies originate in extant beliefs about art, material, and/or human?

Participants are invited to read, view, and browse the following in advance of our meeting:

Humanities and the Digital Environment

Virtual Reality

3D Printing and Scanning

Maker Spaces

All are welcome! We hope you can join us,


Censorship or Editing

This blog post is in response to the discussion led by Dr. Michael Neal about the FSU Card Archive. The FSU Card Archive boasts over 4,000 collected postcards and hundreds of student made exhibits. Card images range from national parks, federal buildings, art, tourism postcards, and more. The FSU Card Archive teaches students how to organize often disparate ideas within one place. The following blog tries to make distinctions between professional archives, student sites, censorship, and editing based on the FSU Card Archive discussion.

Should an editor fix the broken links and correct misinformation in the archive or exhibits? The crux of this issue seems to be, is the site a student project site or a professional site? The answer to this question guides how the site will be maintained. As a professional archive, the broken links and misinformation would need to be corrected. The Smithsonian would not purposely publish an exhibit with misinformation, as the public would think the information was true. I hope it is our goal as scholars promote access to accurate information. Misinformation portrayed as fact can be misleading and possibly harmful to the average internet user. If this is a professional site, misinformation should be corrected.

Two questions of censorship and preservation emerged from the digital scholars discussion in relation to student project exhibits. I believe there is a succinct difference between censoring and editing, in a professional collection an editor should check each exhibit entry for misinformation before making it live and edit any broken links that occur when the creator has moved on. Yet, these issues become a philosophy question when the mission of the site is based around student learning. A portion of the digital scholars group believed that the student should be able to post views supported by misinformation within their personal exhibit posted on the FSU Card Archive. Again, I believe the final answer to this question must be decided by the mission of the site. If this is a site where students post their individual views, editing misinformation could easily be seen as censorship. However, if the mission of the site is to inform and educate others about the past through postcards, misinformation could harm the mission of the site.

The FSU Card Archive seems to be a cross between a professional archive and a student site. I think to bring the FSU Card Archive to the next level, it must choose to be one or the other. Moving towards a professional archive would include editing each archive entry and exhibit before making it public. If choosing to be a student oriented site, the front page of the FSU Card Archive might mention that the site is run by students and the views represented in the exhibits are student views. It could also be helpful to the average user to put the mission statement on the front page of the FSU Card Archive. This would inform the user automatically of what lens to view the archive.

Curating (Con)Text: Making Invisible Hands Visible

The texts assigned in preparation for Dr. Neal’s presentation on The FSU Postcard Archive present several questions: What constitutes scholarly production? What ideologies are implicit within archival methodologies? How might specific perspectives or modalities be privileged? Who (and what) is included in archives? In archival work? Who has access? Lastly, what are the ethical implications of digital archives?

James Purdy, in the beginning of his article “Three Gifts of Digital Archives,” briefly touches on the first question: how is scholarly work determined? He argues that “decisions about what texts count are often based on whether the texts fall on the appropriate side of the “scholarly/non-scholarly boundary” (Purdy 33). This directly connects with our discussion on the Stephen Ramsey and Geoffrey Rockwell chapter from Debates in the Digital Humanities. With increased technical innovation in areas of research and scholarly production, the lines between academic inquiry and tool-building are increasingly blurred. For Ramsey and Rockwell, this blurring illustrates the epistemological nature of such work: tool-building and knowledge-building can be the same practice. “Things” can be theories. Writing just before Ramsey and Rockwell, Purdy highlights a similar perspective. Digital archives (what Ramsey-Tobienne refers to as Archives 2.0) resist traditional archival methodologies, making apparent what types of scholarly practices are privileged. The inability to search by image in many archives can prove limiting for multimodal texts. Thus, engaging in archival work necessitates a careful consideration not just of what tools we use, but what perspectives, values, and ideologies shape how those tools are used.

Cara Finnegan’s article in Rhetoric and Public Affairs speaks to a similar concern. In her search for the sharecropper image, she assumes that the man is the subject of the photograph; however, archival classifications label the photograph under the tag “shack.” In doing so, she notes, the ideology behind the method of categorization is made apparent. But as a rhetoric and composition scholar, she is primed to notice those moments in her research; in Sammie Morris and Shirley Rose’s chapter in In the Working Archives, the archivist and rhetorician posit that scholars within rhetoric are often far more concerned with the archival process, the negotiation of meaning and circulation of text, than those in other fields. I hesitate to concur wholeheartedly with their claim, but their work illustrates yet another way in which specific values and perspectives shape how archives function.

Perhaps most troubling is the initial assertion by Morris and Rose that in a perfectly organized archive, the classification system would be so intuitive that the archivist’s work would remain completely invisible. While they argue for making such work visible, it appears to stem more from a desire to recognize the dedicated archivists than to expose ideological systems that color and shape how archives are formed. The problems posed by Finnegan, Purdy, and Ramsey-Tobienne suggest that closer study of how archive classification systems are formed is vital. Purdy argues that how we shape our archives has lasting ramifications for rhetoric and composition as a discipline. Archival work, particularly digital archival work, can allow for productive change in the field, from the inclusion of “othered” perspectives to the increased participation of those traditionally marginalized in archival work. Neal, Bridgman, and McElroy note this in their article, “Making Meaning at the Intersections.” They intentionally chose to err on the side of granting access to more rather than fewer participants.

This prompted yet another of my questions on access: while digital archives have the potential to blur the boundaries of archival research and writing, and engage users as active contributors, digital archives still have the potential to further essentialize. Archival work is fraught with ethical concerns—how are artifacts, individuals, and communities represented? Morris and Rose link the origins of archives to the French practice of respect des fonds and the notion that “to protect the integrity and authenticity of archival records by retaining the nature of the relationship that exists among records by the same creator” (53). Despite this, however, archives have also been used as tools of colonization, where indigenous cultural artifacts are taken from their communities and contexts and subjected to Western epistemologies. At times, it might be necessary to challenge and question the linkages and terms assigned by early curators.

With this historical context, issues of ideology become ever more critical. When archives divorce text from context (as all must, to a certain extent), essential meaning may be lost.  Morris and Rose’s admonition to “First, do no harm” in terms of engaging with physical artifacts strikes another meaning here.  What might a “Do no harm” archival methodology look like? Would the relatively open access of the FSU Postcard Archive fit such an approach? What might be different when engaging with other culturally sensitive materials? In “Imagining: Creating Spaces for Indigenous Ontologies,” Marisa Duarte and Miranda Belarde-Lewis craft their own decolonizing imagining for their work with digital archives of indigenous materials. Ramsey-Tobienne suggests that “decentralized curation may…more closely align or reflect the stakeholder’s cultural values and taxonomies” (23). In some cases, as with the FSU postcard archive, such decentralized curation might prove useful. In others, like in Duarte and Belarde-Lewis’ work or Ellen Cushman’s Cherokee archives, specific agency has to be held by the indigenous community. A decentralized model with completely open access might not be entirely appropriate given the nature of the artifacts. One thing is certain however: these strategies have the potential to help stop the division between text and context within archives.

Ultimately, though my questions remain, I think Ramsey-Tobienne gives us an excellent place to begin our discussion with Dr. Neal. She writes, “archives 2.0 are less about technology innovation and more about a radical change in our thinking about what archives can or should do and our role as users/researchers of these spaces” (24).

Works Cited:

Finnegan, Cara A. “What is This a Picture Of? Some Thoughts on Images and Archives.” Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 9, no. 1, Spring 2006, pp. 116-123.

Morris, Sammie L, and Shirley K Rose. “Invisible Hands: Recognizing Archivists’ Work to Make Records Accessible.” Working in the Archives: Practical Research Methods for Rhetoric and Composition Eds. Ramsey, et al. pp. 51-78.

Neal, Michael, Katherine Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy. “Making Meaning at the Intersections: Developing a Digital Archive for Multimodal Research.” Kairos, vol. 17, no. 3, Summer 2013.

Purdy, James. “Three Gifts of Digital Archives.” Journal of Literacy and Technology, vol. 12, no. 3, Nov. 2011, pp. 24-49.

Ramsey Tobienne, Alexis. “Archives 2.0: Digital Archives and the Formation of New Research Methods.” Peitho, vol. 15, no. 1, Fall/Winter 2012.


Beyond Meaning: Archives as Sites of Knowledge-Making

James Purdy, in his discussion of the three new gifts archives grant, notes that a knowledge of archives and their new gifts is necessary for taking advantage of new opportunities (37). The three gifts he discusses, integration of writing/researching and of collaborators’ ideas (38-9), customization of content by not only archivists but also by participatory community members (39), and accessibility of the temporal and spatial nature (40), seem to be foregrounded in the digital project we will be focusing our discussion on this week: The Postcard Archive at FSU. As Michael Neal and his coauthors discuss in “Making Meaning at the Intersections: Developing a Digital Archive for Multimodal Research,” the digital archive of postcards enables registered users to participate by contributing postcards they would like to preserve and add to the archive, along with comments on these cards and transcriptions of any handwritten message included on the card.

Based on the Kairos article by Michael Neal, Katherine Bridgeman, and Stephen McElroy, the FSU postcard archive embodies and performs (I have chosen these words deliberately in hopes that they do not misrepresent archivists as knowledgeable experts and contributors from the community as novices) the knowledge of all three gifts: there exists integration between the information provided by users, contributors, and archivists, customization can be done by archivists and by users with registered accounts acting as participatory community members, and the archive retains accessibility through the usage of tags. Its web-based presence means that aside from temporary closures for maintenance, the archive is available for viewing and for contributions anytime and anywhere. And from the fact that Neal et al.’s article demonstrates plans for the integration of other interactive elements (plug-ins), there remains an attempt to create the consumer buy-in that Alexis Ramsey Tobienne highlights the necessity of (8). This brings into question whether or not the various intersections that operate within and among digital archives go beyond generative spaces of meaning-making (per Neal et al.) and even beyond exploratory spaces for developing and building on methodologies (Ramsey Tobienne 9). Throughout points in the readings for this week, I saw archives as functioning for sites of knowledge-making.

Much of archival work, and some of the knowledge that grows out of it, seems to rely on classification, which Cara A. Finnegan refers to as “a deliberate process” (119). Using images, she explores the task of categorizing photos by their subject matter and ultimately asks, “…if a photograph of a down-but-not-out man is not a picture of a man at all but really is a picture of a shack, what does that suggest about the archive and what it privileges?” (119). In raising this point, she demonstrates both the polysemic nature of words and archives (119) and also the subjective nature of archivists and those who contribute to archives. Neal et al. refer to these tags as “teriministic screens” that in some sense shape how users interact with and locate information. These tags are not wholly the development of the archivist-researchers, however; they are a reflection of the “terministic screens” the visitors and viewers bring with them to the archive. Ramsey Tobienne refers to tags as indicative of or guiding forces in “navigational and participatory choices” (19), and I see both at work in the Postcard Archive, which remains a collaborative digital space for meaning-making. In this instance, the knowledge that collaborators bring with them shapes the ways in which visitors can encounter artifacts and build knowledge from or around them.

In some cases, however, knowledge is created not of the subject matter but of archival work itself. Finnegan’s exploration of images shows an acquisition of knowledge in terms of the classification of works within that particular archive. Likewise, an example provided by Ramsey Tobienne highlights the importance of building knowledge about archival work, particularly in terms of those who founded the archive. The University of Michigan Bently Historical Library developed a prototypical digital collection called the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections that, as it developed, was upgraded by its founders to include several interactive features like user-generated tags and comments that added new possibilities for searching (8). Although Tobienne highlights the fact that the prototypical nature of the digital collection made it extraneous to the department and its mission statement, and eventually, due to new projects, the interactive features were removed and the Polar Bear Expedition reverted to a digital collection (9), I question whether or not a gap in knowledge. Admittedly, institutional pressures to continue other, newer projects seem to be at play. However, while the project was not essential to the library’s mission, that does not erase the possibility that the interactive features were beneficial to (certain populations of) users.

Institutional attitudes seem to function at a certain level to constrain the possibilities of archival growth, but the same could be said (I think) of the terministic screens that archivist-researchers and users utilize in their construction. This touches on some of Dr. Ellen Cushman’s work, which was the subject of a reading group in Fall 2016. During her campus visit, she specifically discussed the decolonialization of Native American artifacts, which had been ordered according to a westernized epistemology. This parallels, in some ways, the case Mary Leigh Morbey raises in “Killing a Culture Softly: Corporate Partnership with a Russian Museum.” When IBM developed a second version of the Hermitage Museum’s website, the company utilized a design that had been used for similar websites (273). In placing the development of this second website in the hands of an American company, the Hermitage risked their own objectives being subverted (275). Throughout the development of this website, IBM placed its own standards and goals at the forefront of the redesigned Hermitage museum website. IBM “maintain[s] a significant amount of control over the ways in which the product is sustained” (276). Choices in language also reflect this control; the website uses American English instead of British English, the latter of which the Russian translators utilized (276).

To tie this back to archives and knowledge-making, rather than demonstrating the collaboration espoused in this week’s readings, IBM imposed their own standards of language (Russian was included as a second choice) and design at the expense of Russian ways of making meaning—and possibly of making knowledge. Rather than collaboration, this exercise demonstrates a control over information that Neal et al. and the other archives from this week’s readings seek to avoid by permitting registered users to contribute. Viewers and contributors both bring their pre-existing epistemologies and terministic screens with them to these digital scenes of meaning- and knowledge-making, as do archivist researchers, but in archival work, the imposition of certain arrangements may result in a disrupted knowledge-building. process, or even a misrepresentation that leads to the generation of false knowledge. Archives have the potential to be sites of change in methodologies, as well as showcases and embodiments of polysemic meaning(s), but they should strive, in their collaborative efforts, for an awareness of alternative epistemologies and arrangements. While total inclusion is likely an impossibility, such an awareness can make archives more productive sites of collaborative knowledge-making for users and for archivists alike, both in terms of building knowledge of the various artifacts and collections there and in terms of archival construction itself.

Works Cited

Finnegan, Cara A. “What is This a Picture Of? Some Thoughts on Images and Archives.Rhetoric and Public Affairs, vol. 9, no. 1, Spring 2006, pp. 116-123.

Morbey, Mary Leigh. “Killing a Culture Softly: Corporate partnership with a Russian Museum.” Museum Management and Curatorship, vol. 21, no. 4, 2006, pp. 267-282.

Neal, Michael, Katherine Bridgman, and Stephen J. McElroy. “Making Meaning at the Intersections: Developing a Digital Archive for Multimodal Research.” Kairos, vol. 17, no. 3, Summer 2013.

Purdy, James. “Three Gifts of Digital Archives.” Journal of Literacy and Technology, vol. 12, no. 3, Nov. 2011, pp. 24-49.

Ramsey Tobienne, Alexis. “Archives 2.0: Digital Archives and the Formation of New Research Methods.” Peitho, vol. 15, no. 1, Fall/Winter 2012.