Our Archival Values
Digital Archive: Statement of Values, Principles, and Approaches
In New Digital Worlds Roopika Risam asks:
'If the archive itself is a technology of colonialism, can the creation of new archives resist reinscribing its violence?' (Roopika Risam, New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy. Northwestern University Press, 2019, 50.)
We are not sure it can. But it seems there is an ethical imperative to try. This page presents the values, principles, and approaches that inform the design, maintenance, and delivery of the Making African Connections Digital Archive. This is a live document. We encourage comments, suggestions, and reflections that can make it better.
- The archive is a technology of colonialism.
- Metadata and metadata structures organise knowledge. Both are situated in their circumstances of production. What we are doing in response: we are publishing histories of our source catalogues, starting with the Powell-Cotton Museum electronic database.
- Whilst controlled vocabularies support search and discovery, they also flatten complexity and impose situated knowledges.
- Creating space for multi-vocality, uncertainty, and dispute is preferable to creating the illusion of authority from a single statement or interpretation. What we are doing in response: making clear who authored each item description (e.g 'FHM' for 'Freja Howat-Maxted') and when the description was made.
- Collecting has a history and our work adds to that history. What we are doing in response: putting ourselves and our research activities into the archive; creating records for associated things and voices, and connecting that knowledge to object records.
- Digital photographs of artefacts are digital representations of those artefacts: they do not replace the artefacts they depict, rather they are things in their own right.
- Copyright and licencing are legal structures produced by the Global North. There is potential for harm in unthinkingly applying these structures to digital representations of artefacts from the Global South.
- Building a website is an intellectual act.
- Mobile-first web design supports use in low resource environments. What we are doing in response: using Omeka S as our infrastructure, an open-source web publishing platform that has been designed for museums to share collections; spending our development budget on customizations that optimise mobile use.
- Websites are built to die. But data organised and presented by that website must be produced in such a way that it is ready for long-term digital preservation. What we are doing in response: making our project documentation available on GitHub.
- The products of our labour are hard to understand unless we document that labour.
- Adler, Melissa. ‘Classification Along the Color Line: Excavating Racism in the Stacks’. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies (2017).
- Anderson, Jane, and Kim Christen. ‘“Chuck a Copyright on It”: Dilemmas of Digital Return and the Possibilities for Traditional Knowledge Licenses and Labels’. Museum Anthropology Review, 2013, 22.
- Geoffrey C Bowker and Susan Leigh Star, Sorting Things out: Classification and Its Consequences (2000).
- Burton, Antoinette M. Dwelling in the Archive: Women Writing House, Home, and History in Late Colonial India. Oxford University Press, 2003.
- Celik, Zeynep. ‘Colonialism, Orientalism and the Canon’. Art Bulletin 78:2 (1996)
- The GO::DH Minimal Computing Working Group. (2014-) https://go-dh.github.io/mincomp/
- Greene, Candace S. ‘Material Connections: “The Smithsonian Effect” in Anthropological Cataloguing’. Museum Anthropology 39:2 (2016).
- Kingdon, Zachary. Ethnographic Collecting and African Agency in Early Colonial West Africa: A Study of Trans-Imperial Cultural Flows. Contextualizing Art Markets. Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2019 (especially Chapter 8 'Museum Meanings: Regimes of classification, representation and display').
- Noble, Safiya Umoja. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York University Press, 2018.
- Pavis, Mathilde, and Andrea Wallace. ‘Response to the 2018 Sarr-Savoy Report: Statement on Intellectual Property Rights and Open Access Relevant to the Digitization and Restitution of African Cultural Heritage and Associated Materials’. 2019.
- Perez, Emma. ‘Queering the Borderlands: The Challenges of Excavating the Invisible and Unheard’. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 24:2 (2003).
- Risam, Roopika. New Digital Worlds: Postcolonial Digital Humanities in Theory, Praxis, and Pedagogy. Northwestern University Press, 2019.
- Schroeder, Caroline T. ‘Shenoute in Code: Digitizing Coptic Cultural Heritage for Collaborative Online Research and Study’, Coptica 14 (2015).
- Stoler, Ann Laura. Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense. Princeton University Press, 2009.
- Sutherland, Tonia. ‘Archival Amnesty: In Search of Black American Transitional and Restorative Justice’. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1:2 (2017).
- Turner, Hannah. ‘Organizing Knowledge in Museums: A Review of Concepts and Concerns’. Knowledge Organisation 44:7 (2017).
- van der Wel, Jack, et al. Homosaurus.org linked data vocabulary (2013-). http://homosaurus.org/
- Whose Knowledge? (2016-). https://whoseknowledge.org