Interchange Discussion

Because I am still waiting for my books to arrive I read “Interchange.” (I just found out two days ago when reading one of the blogs that Manovich could be obtained through the Web, so I am now reading through that also)  There are several points addressed in the Interchange discussion, one is how to make history interesting to readers (users) by making it an interactive medium on the Internet; another is how would professors get on the tenure track if they don’t publish anymore, publish as in the printed word. Another point brought out was putting all digitized materials, including publications, on the Internet for free, especially if they were done by universities from grants and such. There were other points taken such as museums compared to the Internet and how in some ways the Internet posed a better viewing and informational environment than museums.

I, for one, as a researcher, love having materials digitized and put on the Internet. This allows me to sit at home in my robe and do my research. One thing I found out many years ago, however, was that you have to be very careful when researching the Internet as to whether the sites are legitimate (as in know what they are talking about) or not. The problem with the Internet is that anyone can put anything on it. All they need is to be able to afford a provider; they don’t even have to have a separate domain name, because most providers will allow the user to put up a free homepage, and there are sites that also will allow one to do that. I found that Wikipedia, because it is a back-end program that allows anyone to add to an entry, always has to be doublechecked in what it says. After I had written an article on  William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody (where all my research was done from secondary printed sources) I read what was on Wikipedia about Buffalo Bill and found mistakes there.

There are many digitization projects going on now by archives and libraries and that’s a good thing. They are not concerned with making the material interactive other than allowing the user to read it (download it, etc.). The material is there for researchers and as a researcher I don’t need anything more than to be able to read the material and cull the information I need out of it. However, I can see where, in order to make people more interested in history, it could be presented as a game, or some such, on the Internet.

On page 35, Michael Frisch said, “…for too long the ‘raw’ and the ‘cooked’ of archives and documentary have controlled the imagination of the field–vastly underutilized, inaccessible primary sources in the archives and highly controlled representations made by those privileged to blaze a path through the forests of data only they have been able to enter and report on to the rest of us. Much more exciting is the prospect…of opening up that data…to anyone who wants to try it, subverting the privilege of the documentarian and the control of the archivist.” I really think he is way off the mark here. He is making is seem as if the archivist is keeping information close to his chest and not letting it out to the public. First of all an archivist is just a caretaker of collections. The archivist does not “control” the collections. In most cases the collections are open to anyone who wants to access them. And if anyone thinks that being an archivist is a “privileged” position they just need to try it once. It’s a thankless, low-paying job, and archives are usually the stepchildren of most institutions and receive the least funding. Archives that do get funding for digitization are doing it as quickly as they can, but that funding is usually very limited for archives. Anyway, as a former archivist I am offended by Frisch’s statement. Tell me if I read him wrong.

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One Response to “Interchange Discussion”

  1. odiornea Says:

    I understand that some archival collections have insufficient finding aids or are not well organized, sometimes due to the preservation of original provenance. Some archives, mostly private collections, also have restrictions or limited hours that they are open. Also, I get the impression that being a professional historian can “open up” some additional hours. Maybe this is what Frisch means. But I agree with you that the archivist doesn’t have much to do with this, often times it is the institution or restrictions incurred on donation. As for documentarians, the ones I know pay archivists to do research for them, because they have no idea how to navigate a collection.

    I haven’t done much original research, but I have found that archivists can save researchers a lot of time by knowing what they have or better yet, what it might seem from the finding aid that they have, but don’t. The problem I think, with opening up the archives to “the rest of us” is that not many people are trained to understand how to use primary sources. I have had problems with them myself, thus the going to graduate school thing.

    I don’t think Frisch meant that we should get rid of archivists, I sure hope not, because I don’t trust that everyone that looks at a free and open collection will dutifully report to an archives wiki on their findings. I think they are more likely to communicate with the archivist. I feel that digitization should be a way to get a preliminary look at what a collection has, how it is organized and most importantly how useful it would be to your project, but at some point to really utilize the materials I think that one should go to the physical archives. At times the person who processed the collection is still there, and that is a very valuable resource. If the “rest of us” are that excited about pouring through dense data sets, endless correspondence and poorly marked folders full of ephemera without a guide…

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