“Archives, Libraries + Databases”: Semester 3 Recap

Su Blackwell, "The Book of the Lost"
Su Blackwell, “The Book of the Lost” 

We’ve wrapped up another semester of “Archives, Libraries + Databases” graduate seminar. Once again, we visited the NYC Municipal Archives, the Morgan Library, the Reanimation Library, and the New School Archives — and this year we added a tour of the Interference Archives. And again, our reading spanned by high Foucauldian and Derridean theory to practical LIS manuals and popular media.

My students once again created a variety of exciting projects:

  • A.S., a transnational adoptee, prototyped an online repository where she’s collecting birth certificates, passports, immigration paperwork, etc. regarding the adoptions and transnational migration of the 50 adoptees from her orphanage in Ecuador. She also aims to conduct oral histories with as many of her fellow adoptees as she can track down. Through this process, she’s exploring how identity is constructed both through bureaucratic paperwork, but also through individuals’ and family members’ engagement with those official records and their own historical documents.
  • Another A.S., through examining the Svaldbard Seed Vault and various community farming initiatives, came to recognize the need for a universal, iconographic language for seed germination. She’s drawn inspiration from Otto Neurath and Gerd Arntz’s Isotype system and various emergency response communication systems in developing her prototype.
  • J.S., a former copyright “agent” within the television industry, became interested in how copyright is handled within archival Digital Humanities projects. So, she examined relevant court cases and consulted with librarians regarding the “fair use” of archival materials.
  • J.C. is developing, for his Design & Technology thesis, a bookmarking platform for representing and describing the associative links — the “traces” — between the various resources we encounter along the research trail.
  • M.W. has proposed a digital iteration of MoMA’s Film Stills Archive, which, since 2002, has been relatively inaccessible in its Pennsylvania cold-storage facility. Drawing inspiration from other institutions’ digital archives, she recommends features that such a site would offer in order to demonstrate the potential utility of this collection for a variety of publics.
  • M.S. investigated how we might archive food — both the organic matter itself, and our embodied experience of it, the cultural values surrounding it, etc. He also studied various archives that capture aspects of food culture: NYU’s Marion Nestle Food Studies Collection, the NYPL’s historic menu collection, the Feeding America Project, Texas Foodways, etc.
  • O.Z. contextualized his own creative work over the past several years by exploring his evolving “archival impulses” — specifically, his frustrations with the limitations of relational databases. Despite his efforts to create ever more flexible database structures, which might accommodate “fuzzy” data, he ultimately moved on to audio production, experimenting with ways that sound can also serve as an inventory, how audio files can also be technologies of “containment.”
  • P.N. created a lovely booklet that served as a portfolio of her design work, and situated that work in relation to her long-term interests in archiving culturally-specific gestures, and in the ways that various objects — soaps, combs, fans, clothing, etc. — can physically record their own histories of use.
  • R.B., a digital media manager, made a case for the critical value — particularly for The New School — of developing solid digital asset management systems. He chronicled his own entrepreneurial work in this area, and looked at what other universities are doing in an attempt to develop a preliminary list of best practices.
  • S.A., who, in his extracurricular life, is working with a production company on a super-top-secret music documentary, proposed an interactive publication that would integrate the various sources of archival material — printed books, maps, audio tapes, etc. — that have informed their documentary research. His proposed platform would allow users to remix these resources and follow others’ various means of navigating through the material — across time or space, by tracking individual people, etc.

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