Reconciling with the Archive

I’ve been looking forward to this week’s readings since the intersection of DH and the Archives is what I’m most interested in. However, in an effort to be totally transparent, I found myself reflexively being defensive when reading through Daut’s article the first time – there’s a history of archivists struggling to be recognized as professionals in their own right – and had to reread with a conscious effort to keep an open mind in case my own bias was keeping me in an old pattern of thinking.

In terms of access, I think Daut framed her discussion of decolonizing archives and repatriating Haitian documents in a way that exemplified discussions that archivists are having. I think in most disciplines there is a push back against the white/straight/male version of history that is commonly reflected in archival holdings and there has been a real effort in recent years to include materials that more accurately reflect a realistic historic record. I’m also glad she included Revue de la Société Haïtienne d’Histoire, de Géographie et de Géologie in her discussion about digitization. It echoes the same sentiments that was expressed in “Difficult Heritage…” from last week’s readings. Just because there are documents that can be digitized and available universally, it doesn’t mean that ethically they should.

I couldn’t overcome my bias during Daut’s discussion in the “Content” section as she advocates avoiding the “citizen historian” or crowdsourcing model in regards to digital scholarship and working with the materials. She says “Without a doubt, neither trained archivists nor traditional historians can be replaced in digital historical scholarship.” However, she continues on to discuss the contributions of “historian archivists” which itself diminishes the expertise and training of professional archivists. I think there is a clear difference in being trained to recognize and describe meta/data from documents and being a subject expert (historians) on the content, but both are needed in order to to fully engage with the data presented. This is a discussion that comes up from time to time in the archives profession and something I wanted to mention, but I do not want to devote too much space in this post to it.

Daut’s discussion on curation and context is a mixed bag for me, and I believe its because the term “archive” means something different to me. When Daut mentions that “Digital archiving projects…teach the reader/user the significance and importance of a defined set of documents…” that seems more like a digital project than an archive. By having a creator limit the documents that are used, it might restrict information that could potentially contribute to scholarship. The large amount of materials available in an archive (hopefully) means that no matter what question a researcher is trying to answer they have the resources to do so. That being said, I think that deeper evaluation of archival sources can contribute meaningfully to scholarship. In the case of Digital Aponte, a space was created for the absence of archival material. I thought the Digital Aponte project was a great way to carve out space for a gap in the archival record and to compile secondhand accounts in an effort to recreate some of what was lost. I particularly liked the interdisciplinary nature of the website and how there were sections devoted to genealogy and mapping, all while allowing annotations to encourage collaboration across multiple disciplines. Trying to center and create an environment that resembled Aponte’s Havana also adds necessary contextualization. I’m excited to hear Ada Ferrer’s description of the project during class.