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. One thing we are doing in response: we are publishing histories of our source catalogues.
  • 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. One 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. In response to this we are 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. In response we have taken an ethical approach to what we can and cannot publish, for example, carefully considering our rights and responsibilities around sharing images that contain 'nudity'.
  • 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 and have organised for the UK Web Archive to make regular captures of the site.
  • The products of our labour are hard to understand unless we document that labour. What we are doing in response: publishing documents like an Infrastructure Report so as to contextualise our work.
  • Digital infrastuctures are material resources that contribute to the climate crisis: their production requires energy, the storing and movement of data requires energy, and web and cloud based services can deepen the perceived ethereality of the digital. What we are doing in response is to digitise slowly, so as not to overproduce data that takes resources to create and maintain, and to ask our service provider for data on energy usage that we hope to present to users in the future.




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  • Agostinho, Daniela, Katrine Dirckinck-Holmfeld, and Karen Louise Grova Søilen. ‘Archives That Matter’. Nordisk Tidsskrift for Informationsvidenskab Og Kulturformidling 8:2 (2019).
  • 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.
  • 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)
  • Carlin, Claire. ‘Endings: Concluding, Archiving, and Preserving Digital Projects for Long-Term Usability’. KULA: Knowledge Creation, Dissemination, and Preservation Studies 2:1 (2018)
  • D'Ignazio, Catherine and Lauren F. Klein. Data Feminism. MIT Press, 2020.
  • 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').
  • National Lottery Heritage Fund. ‘Advice: Understanding Our Licence Requirement’, September 2020.
  • Noble, Safiya Umoja. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York University Press, 2018.
  • Odumosu, Temi. ‘The Crying Child: On Colonial Archives, Digitization, and Ethics of Care in the Cultural Commons’. Current Anthropology 61:S22 (2020).
  • 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).
  • Pendergrass, Keith, Walker Sampson, Tim Walsh, and Laura Alagna. ‘Toward Environmentally Sustainable Digital Preservation’. The American Archivist (2019).
  • 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.
  • Sussex Humanities Lab Carbon Use and Environmental Impact Working Group, Jo Walton, Alice Eldridge, James Baker, David Banks, and Tim Hitchcock. The Sussex Humanities Lab Environmental Strategy (Version 1.3), 2020.
  • Sutherland, Tonia. ‘Archival Amnesty: In Search of Black American Transitional and Restorative Justice’. Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies 1:2 (2017).
  • The Shift Project. ‘Lean ICT: Towards Digital Sobriety’ (2019).
  • 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