My Spring 2014 “Digital Archives + Institutional Memory” Studio


Next semester I’m reviving (with my colleague Barry Salmon) the “Sound & Space” class we first taught in 2005, and last taught in 2008. And I’m teaching a new graduate studio course on “Digital Archives & Institutional Memory,” which is conceived as a hands-on “Part 2” to the “Archives, Libraries & Databases” seminar I’ve been teaching for the past few years.

My students aren’t Library/Information Science students; they’re media studies students (there are also, often, a few Design & Technology and Writing students in the mix, too). In short, we’re not experts in cataloguing or archival processing or Dublin Core or Encoded Archival Description or anything like that. But I think people like us, who think about media — about how form and content inform one another, about how users interact with media, about meaningful links and interfaces and non-gratuitous interactivity — just might have something useful to say about archival techniques and technologies. That said, I’m still planning to call in quite a few experts to fill in for my many — and sizable — knowledge and skill deficiencies. And I’m also looking for a crackerjack TA.

I’ll post the draft syllabus below, and I welcome any and all recommendations — regarding readings, activities, overall course structure, potential guest presenters (maybe even you?!) — from colleagues, students, whomever.

*   *   *



Building on the critical historical, theoretical, and technical foundation we’ve built in the fall “Archives, Libraries & Databases” seminar, in this spring studio we’ll put our theory into practice by working with The New School’s Libraries and Archives to consider how the digital archives do, and perhaps could better, reflect and construct the institution’s memory and identity. We’ll look behind the scenes at how the Archives processes its collections, and how metadata and finding aids are created. Then, using the unique perspectives and tools of Media Studies – a field that’s far too infrequently in conversation with Library and Information Science, despite their many shared interests – we’ll examine how we might work with the Archives to make these archival conventions more dynamic and responsive. We’ll reimagine the “interface” to the archives by prototyping dynamic finding aids and platforms for highlighting and recontextualizing noteworthy archival material – particularly material regarding the history of media study and media-making at The New School (a history that includes one the first academic classes in film studies, a long tradition in sound studies, the innovative Center for Understanding Media, etc.). And in the process we’ll also aim to help the Archives better understand how diverse user groups might engage with its collections and further animate the archives.



ATTENDANCE AND PARTICIPATION: We need everyone to show up regularly, on time, and prepared to ensure that we have sufficient time for discussion and hands-on lab work. You will be permitted two excused absences (“excused” means that you must have contacted me prior to class to inform me of your absence) for the semester. Additional excused absences – and any unexcused absences – will negatively affect your grade. More than three absences, excused or unexcused, will result in failure of the course; if you anticipate needing to miss several classes, you are advised to drop the course. A pattern of late arrivals is likewise detrimental.

There are various ways to participate: I hope you’ll all contribute regularly to class discussions and take part in our lab workshops, but I also invite you to post relevant resources, project updates, etc., to our class website. Attendance and Participation are worth 20% of your final grade.

ARCHIVAL INTERFACE CRITIQUE: You’ll preset a 10-minute critique in class on April 1 and take notes on the ensuing discussion, and then you’ll have one week – until April 8 at 11:59pm – to post a 900- to 1200-word critique (containing at least three screenshots) to our class website. The presentation and post are together worth 30% of your final grade.

Choose an exemplary online archival interface or finding aid, or an online exhibition using archival material, and tell us what we can learn from it – either what to do or what not to do. You might consider:

  • the site’s composition, organization, and aesthetics;
  • how it structures the user’s experience and navigation, and how intuitive and “seamless” that interaction is;
  • furthermore, how desirable would “seamless” interaction be in this instance (perhaps it would be helpful and instructive to show some seams?);
  • how the site contextualizes the archival material (e.g., does it provide or link to robust metadata, does it “animate” the material?);
  • how the site “hierarchizes” the presentation of information (e.g., does it allow users to “dig deeper” for more data if they want it?);
  • the availability of documentation and help for users who want or need it.

Consider the needs of various user groups and user scenarios, and try to put yourself in their positions as you navigate through your site.

FINAL PROJECT PROPOSAL: I’ve mapped out three possible trajectories for your final project; we’ll discuss these in class on Week 7. These options were developed in consultation with TNS’s archivists and librarians and several faculty, who proposed that these three “deliverables” would be not only useful and enjoyable (we hope!) for you, but also of value to the Archives, the University, and the School of Media Studies. That said, if you have your own ideas for a culminating project, we can talk.

Before our class on March 18 you’ll need to submit via Google Drive a formal 600- to 900-word project proposal (you’ll then post your revised proposal to our course blog). This proposal must address:

  1. which project option you’ve chosen, or, if you’ve designed your own project, what form it’ll take (if the latter, you’ll need to speak with me in advance);
  2. the theme(s), topic(s), program(s), people, etc., you plan to focus on;
  3. why you’ve chosen to highlight these themes, topics, or entities – i.e., what do we gain by calling attention to their presence within the archives?;
  4. relevant collection(s) in the New School Archives, and any particular materials within those collections, that you plan to consult;
  5. relevant resources from outside the archive that you might weave into your project – e.g., resources in other archives, published research material, primary research material you’ll create yourself (e.g., oral histories, interviews, field recordings, etc., in various formats: photographs, videos, audio recordings, etc.); and
  6. the platform(s) you’ll likely use (e.g., WordPress, Omeka, etc.) to execute your project.
  7. Your proposal should also include a tentative bibliography of at least five published resources (the majority of which should be scholarly sources or publications from reputable presses/production companies) pertaining to your subject matter, which will help you provide necessary historical, cultural, political, etc., context.

You’ll be expected to deliver a short, informal presentation in class on March 18. You’ll have an opportunity to revise and resubmit the proposal if necessary. Your proposal is worth 10% of your final grade.

FINAL PROJECT: Ideally, one of these three options will appeal to you, but you’re welcome to discuss other possibilities with me. You’re also encouraged to team up and develop expanded group projects (in which case I’d ask you to complete a group evaluation at the end of the semester). Your final project is worth 40% of your final grade.

Option 1: Mapping the History of Media Studies @ TNS and Building an Online Exhibition

  • Media study and media-making have a rich history at The New School – yet as historian Julia Foulkes, whose own students have contributed to the creation of the New School History website points out, our media history hasn’t been a major part of our dominant institutional narratives.
    The Archives have recently acquired a number of records documenting that history, and several faculty who played key foundational roles in media-focused programs are still present at The New School. Your goal is to take advantage of these primary resources in order to put our media history into proper context, and to present this history in a dynamic way. Your work might involve the digitization of recently acquired archival materials; conducting interviews with and collecting oral histories from “legacy” faculty, students, and administrators; highlighting past and present student and faculty research and creative productions, etc.
  • Then, ideally, after having developed a platform to contextualize this archival material, you’ll be able to reflect on your research and design processes and translate your insights into “finding-aid logic.” What have you learned through your own archival research-and-design process that might shed light on how we might design more effective and responsive finding aids?

Option 2: Building a Custom-Themed Online Exhibition Using Archival Material

  • Through your own encounters with The New School’s archive, you might have uncovered and traced various thematic or topical threads through the institution’s history. Ideally, for the purposes of this class, those themes and topics would be in some way related to media/information/cultural studies. You could devise an online exhibition that allows others – a variety of potential user groups – to follow your lead in tracing those threads through the archive and The New School’s various other “digital assets.”
  • Then, ideally, after having developed a platform to contextualize this archival material, you’ll be able to reflect on your research and design processes and translate your insights into “finding-aid logic.” What have you learned through your own archival research-and-design process that might shed light on how we might design more effective and responsive finding aids?

Option 3: Mapping the Evolution of TNS’s Institutional Structure and “Brand”

  • If you’ve been at The New School for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed the renaming and merging of divisions, the splitting of departments, the emergence of new programs, etc. This evolving institutional structure complicates the archival process. Sometimes name changes reflect a fundamental shift in the nature or composition of an entity – but sometimes they simply reflect a cosmetic “rebranding.” Michelle Light asks, “When does one corporate body become another, or, stated another way, how much change has to occur before we understand that a corporate body is substantially different than a previous one?” The New School’s archivists have been maintaining a timeline of these name changes, and they’d like your help in fleshing it out – and understanding what this institutional evolution means for their work in the archives. The specific format of your project can be determined in consultation with the archivists.
  • Skim Patricia Harpring, “Relationships in Controlled Vocabularies” In Introduction to Controlled Vocabularies: Terminology for Art, Architecture, and Other Cultural Works, online ed. (Los Angeles, Getty Research Institute, 2010): see in particular “Historical Name Changes”
  • Skim Michelle Light, “Moving Beyond the Name: Defining Corporate Entities to Support Provenance-Based Access” Journal of Archival Organization 5:1/2 (2007): 49-74.



WEEK 1: January 28

Introductions & Overview
Getting Acquainted with TNS’s Archives
Engaging Administrivia (Or, Having Fun with Bureaucracies’ Detritus)


WEEK 2: February 4

Institutional Memory & Mnemonic Structures
Archives & the Discipline of Organizing

  • James. P. Walsh & Geraldo Rivera Ungson, “Organizational Memory,” The Academy of Management Review 16:1 (1991): 57-70. [stop @ “The Role and Utility of Organizational Memory” on p. 70 – or, if you’re interested in the role of organizational memory in management, skim through the end]
  • Brien Brothman, “The Past the Archives Keep: Memory, History and the Preservation of Archival Records,” Archivaria 51 (Spring 2001): 48-52, 58-63, 71-80 [skim “Record Life Cycle and Records Continuum,” pp. 52-58; “Philosophy, Technology…” and “Science and the Plastic…,” pp. 63-71].
  • Michael J. Paulus, Jr., “Reconceptualizing Academic Libraries and Archives in the Digital Age,” portal: Libraries and the Academy 11:4 (2011): 939-952.
  • Robert J. Glushko, “Foundations for Organizing Systems” In The Discipline of Organizing (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2013): 1-36.
  • Skim quickly through the New School Archives & Special Collections’ “Archives of Individuals + Organizations,” “University History Collections” + “Digital Collections” (see in particular the course catalogues and scrapbooks). We’ll talk more about these next week and again, in more depth, in a few weeks.


WEEK 3: February 11

Meet in Kellen Archives @ SW corner of Lobby in 66 5th Ave. 
Our Own Archives & Institutional Memory[1]
Guests: Wendy Scheir & Liza Harrell-Edge

  • A Proposal for an Independent School of Social Science for Men and Women (New York: Marchbanks Press, 1918) [13 pp.].
  • Excerpt from Sally Bick, “In the Tradition of Dissent: Music at The New School for Social Research,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66:1 (Spring 2013): 129 – 141.
  • Excerpt from Ira Katznelson, “Liberty and Fear: Reflections on the New School’s Founding Moments (1919 and 1933),” Columbia University, October 31, 2008, pp. 11-19.
  • Browse through, the product of Julia Foulkes and Mark Larrimore’s “Who New? A History of The New School” University Lecture class.
  • Sample Archival Materials
  • Siegel + Gale, “The New School” branding campaign [Have you noticed other “branding” or “graphic identity” shifts as you’ve skimmed through the archived course guides and scrapbooks?]
  • Skim Parts and Labor & Vera List Center, By Any Name: A Tiny Archive of Critical Viewpoints on The New School (Vera List Center, 2009).
  • The New School’s 2013 Mission Statement

History of Media Studies @ TNS
Guests: Carol Wilder and Peter Haratonik

  • Sample Media Studies Archival Materials


  • Herbert Croly, “A School of Social Research,” The New Republic (June 8, 1918): 167-171 [Envisioning an infrastructurally-light, faculty driven institution committed to “social science [tha]
    is useful in supplying a technique of social progress.”]
  • “A Statement by Charles A. Beard,” The New Republic (December 29, 1917): 249-251 [Katznelson mentions the “Columbia University firings… and resignations”; this piece reveals the boring institutional politics behind the “academic freedom” origin myth!]
  • Ann Snitow, “Refugees from Utopia: Remembering, Forgetting and the Making of The Feminist Memoir Project” In Yifat Gutman, Adam D. Brown & Amy Sodaro, Memory and the Future: Transnational Politics, Ethics and Society (New York: Palgrave, 2010): 144-148 [On women central to The New School’s early years].




WEEK 4: February 18

Understanding the Finding Aid
Thomas Lannon, Assistant Curator, Manuscripts and Archives, NYPL
LAB: Creating a Hypothetical Finding Aid for an Imaginary Collection

About the Readings: Yeah, it’s a long list — but you’re reading only excerpts from most of these texts, and most are filled with illustrations. 

  • Excerpt from Francis X. Blouin, Jr., & William G. Rosenberg, “The Turn Away from Historical Authority in the Archives” In Processing the Past: Contesting Authorities in History and the Archives (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011): 14-22. [Thomas has asked that you read this in order to gain some perspective on the evolution of the archives’ institutional identity and approach to records management. Read from “The Advance of Records Management” through the end, pp. 14-22.
  • Browse through some of the Library of Congress’s finding aids and some of the collection guides in TNS’s institutional collections
  • Browse through Princeton’s finding aids (which recently won the Society of American Archivists’ C.F.W. Coker Award), and see their “Using Princeton University Library Finding Aids” video
  • Browse through the NYPL’s archives and manuscripts catalog
  • Excerpts from Ciaran B. Trace & Andrew Dillon, “The Evolution of the Finding Aid in the United States: From Physical to Digital Document Genre,” Archival Science 12:4 (December 2012): 1-19 [Focus on “History of the American Finding Aid,” pp. 4-7, and “The Finding Aid as an Exemplary Genre” & “Finding Aids as Digital Representations,” pp. 12-16. The first passage addresses the pre-1970s history of the finding aid (the Daines & Nimer reading will address its more recent history). There’s quite a bit of specialized language in this section. Don’t get bogged down in the technicalities; instead, look for major shifts in archival “inventorying” practices and their ideological and user-experience implications. The second passage examines the finding aid as a “genre” – one whose schema we might reconceive for the digital age.]
  • Excerpts from Magia Ghetu Krause & Elizabeth Yakel, “Interaction in Virtual Archives: The Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections Next Generation Finding Aid,” The American Archivist 70:2 (Fall-Winter 2007): 282-314 [Skip “Findings,” pp. 296-305].
  • J. Gordon Daines III & Cory L. Nimer, “Re-Imagining Archival Display: Creating User-Friendly Finding Aids” Journal of Archival Organization 9:1 (2011): 4-31.
  • Trevor Owens, “Implications for Digital Collections Given Historians’ Research PracticesTrevor Owens [blog pos]
    (December 13, 2012) [See the comments, too!].


  • Jefferson Bailey, “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital ArchivesArchive Journal 3 (Summer 2013).
  • Richard Cox, “Revisiting the Archival Finding Aid” Journal of Archival Organization 5:4 (2007): 5-32.
  • Cory Harper, “Linked Open Communism: Better Discovery Through Data Dis- and Re-Aggregation” Presentation at Code4Lib Conference, Chicago, February 2013.
  • Michelle Light & Tom Hyry, “Colophons and Annotations: New Directions for the Finding Aid” The American Archivist 65:2 (Fall-Winter 2002): 216-230.
  • Mary Samouelian, “Embracing Web 2.0:  Archives and the Newest Generation of Web Applications,” The American Archivist 72:1 (Spring-Summer 2009): 42-71.
  • Elizabeth Yakel, Seth Shaw & Polly Reynolds, “Creating the Next Generation of Archival Finding Aids,” D-Lib 13:5/6 (May/June 2007).


WEEK 5: February 25

Understanding Metadata & Encoded Archival Description
: Archivist Jenny Swadosh

Supplemental [Warning!: this might make your head explode!]:

Collective Access
Seth Kaufman, Lead Developer; & Julia Weist, Senior Consultant, from Collective Access


WEEK 6: March 4

Envisioning an Archival Commons, a Living/Animated Archive
Ben Vershbow, Manager, NYPL Labs


  • Timothy A. Thompson, James Little, David González, Andrew Darby, and Matt Carruthers, “From Finding Aids to Wiki Pages: Remixing Archival Metadata with RAMP” code4lib 22 (October 14, 2013).
  • Alexandra Eveleigh, “Welcoming the World: An Exploration of Participatory Archives” International Council on Archives, Brisbane, Australia, August 2012.



WEEK 7: March 11

Revisiting the New School Archive & Considering Final Project Options

  • Look more closely at the New School Archives & Special Collections’ “Archives of Individuals + Organizations,” “University History Collections” + “Digital Collections
  • Review your three assignment options, described in the “Assignments” section of the syllabus, above; and begin formulating ideas for your own final project; you’ll be submitting a proposal next week.
  • Shannon Mattern, “Interface Critique, Revisited: Thinking About Archival Interfaces” Words in Space [blog pos]
    (January 22, 2014)
     [This piece, which you might regard as an extension of our readings on archival finding aids, will ideally help you to think of your final project as an “interface” to the archive, and will help to prepare you for your interface critique on April 1.]


WEEK 8: March 18

Final Project Proposals Due: Short (Seriously!) Presentations of Proposals In Class
Platforms Overview & Group Critiques

  • As TNS’s archives aim to open up their collections to other classes, and as their further digitization efforts make possible the creation of “multimodal” scholarly projects by more and more scholars, practitioners, and students, both internal and external, the library and archives staff hopes to identify scalable, sustainable, compatible platforms for these online scholarly activities. As Jennifer Vinopal, NYU’s Librarian for Digital Scholarship Initiatives, said in a recent interview with Library Journal, “For a number of years, we were trying to help scholars build websites in a way that was custom built for their needs, and after doing that for years, we realized that if you’re building one-off websites, there’s no way to make them scalable and sustainable. So we learned from that that we have to be clearer about what we can do and the importance of building reusable infrastructures.” We need to help the NS Archives and Special Collections identify platforms that allow for the dynamic presentation and contextualization of archival materials and are also sustainable and compatible with the archives’ existing infrastructure.
    Possible platforms to consider include: Omeka; WordPress; Scalar; Racontr; Zeega; Microsoft’s Rich Interactive Narratives + Digital Narratives. Please come to class with other platform recommendations. You might try searching for online archival exhibitions – e.g., the National Archives’, Columbia University Libraries’, Harvard Libraries’, MoMA’s – and identify what platforms they use. In our next class we’ll critique the execution of individual online finding aids and exhibitions.


  • Abby Smith, “New-Model Scholarship: How Will It Survive?” (Washington, D.C.: Council on Library and Information Resources, 2003).


March 25: No Class: SPRING BREAK


WEEK 9: April 1


  • Browse through the wiki for the “CURATEcamp Exhibition: Exhibition in and of the Digital Age” unconference (April 2013). You’ll find links to GoogleDoc notes for some sessions within the schedule grid.
  • Read Jennifer Mundy & Jane Burton, “Online Exhibitions,” MW2013: Museums and the Web 2013 Conference, Portland, OR, April 2013.
  • Review some sample interface critiques: Joey Marburger and Sarah Sampel, “A Design Critique of HealthCare.GovWashington Post (October 6, 2013) + Alexis Madrigal, “How Facebook Designs the ‘Perfect Empty Vessel’ for Your MindThe Atlantic (May 2, 2013).
  • Choose an exemplary online archival interface or finding aid, or an online exhibition using archival material, and tell us what we can learn from it – either what to do or what not to do.  You’ll find more detailed instructions in the “Assignments” section of the syllabus, above.

You’ll preset your 10-minute critique in class on April 1 and take notes on the ensuing discussion, and then you’ll have one week – until April 8 at 11:59pm – to post a roughly 900-word critique (containing at least three screenshots) to our class website.


WEEK 10: April 8

Field Trip: 4:00-5:30: Visit to ArtStor, 150 5th Ave., 5th Floor, with Mary Finer and Siân Evans
LAB: Tutorials as needed
Shannon out of town — in Charm City, yo.



User Experience in the Archive / Public Engagement with the Archive
Jane Pirone, Faculty, Design & Technology
LAB: Designing a Usability Test for Collective Access


  • Christine L. Borgman, “Why Are Digital Libraries Hard to Use” & “Making Digital Libraries Easier to Use” In From Gutenberg to the Global Information Infrastructure: Access to Information in the Networked World (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000): 117-168.

TO DO: Conduct Usability Testing on Your Own Project


WEEK 12: April 22

LAB: Pecha Kucha
Guest Critics:
Orit Halpern, Peter Asaro & Alex Kelly


WEEK 13: April 29

LAB: Independent Work & Consultations


WEEK 14: May 6

LAB: Independent Work & Consultations


WEEK 15: May 13

Final Presentations
Guest Critics:
Wendy Scheir, Liza Harrell Edge & Others To Be Confirmed


[1] I must thank the brilliant and generous Julia Foulkes for her advice regarding appropriate readings for this section.



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