Personal Digital Archiving Conference – Interconnectedness

This is my presentation developed for the 2017 Personal Digital Archiving Conference at Stanford University.

I had to shorten it for the conference, but have now recorded it in full. I also adapted it to fit with an online presentation. It is a PREZI so please click using the forward arrow to listen to me explain each screen.

The key ideas in my research is how personal memory systems (such as those that exist in how we manage stuff on computers, tablets, mobile phones and in online spaces such as social media) help to form collective memory (this term can include various conceptualisations of ‘collective’ but in this research it is primarily focused on what we might call traditional memory institutions).

In looking to explore the formation of memory systems from personal to collective I examine how value is constructed and contextualised by individuals who create and share digital content. By understanding value at the creator level it can provide deeper and richer insight into whose memory is being captured and preserved.

As a final note on terminology, I do not use the terms personal digital archiving, nor personal information management. I prefer to use the term recordkeeping and memory-making. These latter two terms encompass various aspects of what it means to create and manage information for various purposes, including to remember. I see information management is a form of memory management and control. Recordkeeping provides a way to construct the systems to manage and control. And recordkeeping is not necessarily about producing or managing authentic, reliable records or evidence in the sense of what is usually done by governments and organisations. We all do recordkeeping in some form or another using various tools and processes to do so, some more effective than others. Archiving activities or processes are just another kind of recordkeeping process, regardless of who does them. Recordkeeping is a process where recorded information is managed according to its value. The value could mean retention for an instant or forever (although the latter is highly unlikely in practice, but rather is an intention). Value is assigned or identified at various times. This is what this research was looking to find out more about.

Multiple Stories of Cultural Heritage: A Conceptual Model

Conceptual Model Making…to Testing

Last year I published a model called the Mediated Recordkeeping Model, a systems and activity-based theoretical model that explores and attempts to explain the formation of cultural heritage via narrative, identity, memory, technological and evidential systems. I created this ‘thing’ and for a while I have not really know what to do with it. I know how it came to be, but what now?

The first thing I did to explore what this model can do was to re-engage with a YouTube video I often use in presentations. This video, the first featured below, can be found in the Australian National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA). I wrote about it in a 2009 paper and often start presentations off with showing what the NFSA catalogue description of this video documents (and what it does not). I mention this description in that 2009 paper and there is an image of the entry, but also search for it yourself in the NFSA collection catalogue. The purpose of highlighting the NFSA catalogue entry is to show how metadata does not explain much, if anything, and can actually be quite judgemental and incorrect.

My first test of the Mediated Recordkeeping Model was to go back to this video and to identify what description might look like if I was to use the model labels. So, I put the model labels into a table format and added metadata to each. What I realised when I was doing this process is that I was crafting a story. Then I realised I was creating more than one story.

Stories:

  1. The sum of the analysis/description is my interpretation of the video and its role as cultural heritage.
  2. As I built up the metadata and for each element described a different story was being told with multiple potential endings/contexts that were not described.
  3. The relationships between each element as they were documented and mapped was not just linear or entries on a table, but were part of a movement or mapping that could be done on the model. The process of this mapping is as important as the mapping itself.
  4. I was creating the potential of multiple stories. By documenting my own story or interpretation of the model I was also providing a process for others to create their stories. These stories might be built the same way, or in different ways. Stories could be critical, ancestral, visionary, contemporary, individual, collective, antagonistic, conflicting, incommensurable as well as many other kinds of stories.
  5. That in seeing one story, there can exist a way to see many more, as well as what is absent.

This led me to consider some things:

  • Is it possible to see absence only when something else is present?
  • How can multiple stories be told? And are there different ways to interact with stories? Can the process of the storytelling be represented in different ways?
  • How can people, including archivists, use this model to help tell these multiple stories?

I have been dabbling with visual presentations of theoretical models for a while now which led me to do some Google Sketchup work a few years ago, see video below, as well as influenced my redesign of the classic continuum model shape as shown in the Mediated Recordkeeping Model (and contrasted with the image shown on the Wikipedia page of the Records Continuum Model). I was also given the opportunity to develop and exhibit a visualisation of data and this led me to think more about how the Mediated Recordkeeping Model might look like visualised.

The result is the sun ray or flower representation of the video description I laid out in the table. For the exhibition I recorded myself talking about the model, what it shows and how I created it. I have now uploaded this to YouTube. I showed some people at the recent AERI held at Kent State and their feedback got me intrigued about how to use this model and visualisation such as this in a practical or operational way.

  • What does this way of modelling (the sun ray) bring to archival description?
  • Does the sun ray and the Mediated Recordkeeping Model include or address what is important about archival description?
  • Can the sun ray move in 3 dimensions? How would it move?
  • And what would it look like if I was able to add additional stories?

I am preparing to write a paper on conceptual model making and the use of theoretical models for critical archiving.

I delivered a paper recently on What it means to teach ethics to students: exploring the complexity of representation and equity in records, recordkeeping and archives. I also referred to the Mediated Recordkeeping Model in this presentation and plan to include something of the lessons I outlined into the paper.

Lessons from the presentation:

  • How we, as educators, can help to teach our new archivists what the power of technology means and what it means to act?
  • How technology affords reaction rather than action and how individuals can be made aware of the difference?
  • How ethical standards and statements of principles sit with an increasing awareness of activism not just in our profession, but globally, and the continued tension with the position of an impartial view?
  • Is it ethical to document or manage any records without consent or allowing them to have an active, collaborative role in the processes including decisions about access, rights and description over time?

So, finally, in thinking about modelling, theoretical and conceptual frameworks and operationalising them in various contexts, its seems there are many things to consider. Some of these issues are already being explored in the archival discipline including what is being represented and how, what is missing or in conflict, and how the processing of recordkeeping (including use of the model) influence and impact on representation. Another issue I think equally important is how it is possible to evaluate and build on the theoretical models. It is great to operationalise them or show how they can impact on practice, but what does this also mean for the theory?

A cultural continuum

It has been a while between posts. And what a while it has been. I have been undertaking major research commitments and curriculum work during this semester all while trying to teach two new courses and help plan this year’s AERI. I feel like I am in a whirlwind of excitement stabbed with anxiety. I have, in the past, been the master of organization, but this is stretching my skills. BUT the sun is shining today in Ohio and spring feels beautiful. My window is open in my study at home and I am writing a blog post for the first time in a while. I updated my research page and I am thinking again about the cultural continuum. Things are OK.

I wanted to share a video I found where Geneva Gay is talking about “Variables on the Cultural Continuum.” There are some wonderful parallels with my work and in particular the Mediated Recordkeeping Model that encourages me to explore it in more depth. There are several points that Professor Gay makes that are key to understanding how the information continuum works (as it exists in the records continuum models and other continuum models).

 

  • Essentializing and identity.  Geneva talks about how “everything has some essential dimensions to it” and talks about what is held as being core. I take this to mean essential elements of how we define ourselves via our identities. What we think is important to us – our essential being. This makes me think of the sociological concept of habitus and the writings of Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu refers to habitus as a “system of dispositions” that contributes to the creation of individuality and in turn helps to form the conditions that will impact on further iterative development of identity (1984, p. 2). These are productions of knowing, power and identity, yet they can be unconsciously enacted. My identification as a continuum theorist in the research and in the subsequent thesis served to highlight this as my cultural area and the primary source of production and authorisation. That continuum theory has been developed and applied to archival science also plays a significant role and ultimately influences and contributes to the construction of how I understand and apply knowledge in research.

These kinds of understandings are also apparent in the Research Design Model, another continuum model that came out of the PhD research. I have written a book chapter on this model (this is a thesis chapter) but have not published on it very much, instead focussing on the Mediated Recordkeeping Model. I have two papers in draft related to the Research Design Model as a reflexive model and their use in informatics. But these are on the back burner.

  • Multiplicity in the continuum. Geneva refers to “varying degrees of elaboration” related to our identification of components of our essential selves.  She explains that there are various components or elements (or the kinds of data captured in demographic research) such as race, socio-economic background, age, gender and so on that “have an impact on how the core features of a given culture are manifested in expressed behaviour.”  As an example, each member of her “nuclear” family unit expresses “different layers” along a continuum of African-American culture “because of the fact of who we are.” She refers to her brother expressing African-American culture differently and proposes that there is likely a gender factor, but also refers to the age difference between family members as being relevant to a different expression. Yet, all these expressions exist along a continuum of African-American identity.

Geneva’s examples are very micro – her family, but this is the point of multiplicity and continuum thinking – that very small parts contribute to a whole (continuum). What is also relevant here is the points of intersection are not just singular, but are multiple. Her brother is both a male and a different age. The continuum models express these intersections and multiplicities in various ways in relation to recorded information. On the Records Continuum Model identity is only represented by grouping from individual to institution, but is intersected by ideas about memory and evidence, as well as activities and parts that contribute to how records are formed. So, by taking Geneva’s example of her brother, his contributions to memory via recorded information will be informed by his identity as he perceives it, including what roles he might play within groups and organizations (included or excluded) as well as in relation to the activities he performs related to how he captures and manages memory.

My work says that OK, this happens, but there are also more factors and complexity than that. Identity must be understood within the context of how and what we communicate as part of our identity and the impact of power on this, as well as how we interact with our social and technological environments. Plus, memory and evidence are linked but not so linked that that are the same and that memory-making or the need to remember is a vital aspect of cultural identity and transmission (heritage) over time. This is what the Mediated Recordkeeping Model proposes. What my research suggested was that there are multiple factors and ways that people decide on what is of value and how they then encode that value into what they create and communicate. These factors and ways or interactions are quite complex and have multiple intersections between various identities over time, including how community norms and values impact on decisions.

I want to do some more research into the cultural continuum and memory-making but looking at how technology engages and mediates these transactions. My immediate goal is to explore distributed identity on social media and in particular decision-making related to significance and value across social media platforms related to memory-making. I am interested in what people decide to create so that they can remember or create memory and who that memory is for and if use of different social media sites is at all relevant.

I also recently proposed a research project related to how people experience the internet and what it means to capture memory of this and whether or not this would be relevant to manage as archives and, if it is, how it is useful and who would care about it.

Sometimes, when I stop and reflect on what I am doing I wonder why exactly I care about how people make decisions and construct ways to remember. In a way I think it is me trying to make sense of the immenseness of the world and how individuals carve out our place in it.

Bourdieu, P. (1984). Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste. London, UK: Routledge & Kegan Paul.