The Advanced Information Collaboratory (AIC) was well represented at ARCHIVES * RECORDS 2020 – the Virtual Joint Annual Meeting of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) and the Council of State Archivists (CoSA). AIC Founder, Dr. Richard Marciano, and Co-Founders, Dr. Lyneise Williams and Mark Conrad gave presentations in the session entitled, Erasure and the Aesthetics of Digital Archival Representations: Never Again!
This session was framed by the work of Dr. Williams on the VERA Collaborative, which advocates for culturally-responsible archival practices that address the significant erasures in visual, material, and historical representation which disproportionately affect communities of color.
They were joined by three colleagues – Marcia Reed, Chief Curator at the Getty Research Institute, Elaine Westbrooks, Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian at University of North Carolina, and Dr. Adriene Lim, Dean of Libraries at the University of Maryland.
Discussions about representation in archives primarily address who appears. However, how representations appear is critical to the way they are perceived. Technology used for capturing materials have erased already-marginalized populations from the historical record. Technologies shape how we view and remember history. It is urgent that we address the aesthetics of representations, especially as we move towards completely digital collections. Erasure is not inevitable.
The session began with Dr. Richard Marciano (session convener and recipient of the distinguished Emmett Leahy Award for pioneering work in the field of records and information management) setting the overall context through “The Impacts of Computational Treatments of Archives”. He also offered some background on the computational treatment of archives, the creation of the AIC, and some of its early activities related to research and archival education. See: https://youtu.be/hiTt8Cd6gek
Dr. Lyneise Williams (Associate Prof. of Art History at UNC Chapel Hill, author of Latin Blackness in Parisian Visual Culture, former Getty Scholar Fellow, member of the team selected from an international competition to design the NC Freedom Monument Project in Raleigh) followed with her presentation called “Erasing the Historical Record”. She discusses the creation of the VERA Collaborative and an amazing case study of the impact of the archival and library communities’ decisions to microfilm newspapers. Microfilming reduced all of the levels of skin tone in rotogravure illustrations to black or white – essentially distorting the representation of persons of color in the archival record. She concludes with the implications of cultural and social analysis on erasure of marginalized and people of color. VERA works towards deep inclusion of all people in the historical record. See: https://youtu.be/zEJ8cMejPaQ
Marcia Reed (Chief Curator and Associate Director for Special Collections and Exhibitions at the Getty Research Institute. Her research-in-progress includes a 2020 publication and exhibition on the Jean Brown collection of avant-garde and Fluxus works) followed with her presentation“The Physicality of Archives: Re-presenting the Material Presence of Historic Documents” on the difficulties of re-presenting the physicality of analog records in a digital world. She discusses the tactile qualities of archives and special collections and argues for a 3D appreciation of archives that go beyond the flattening created by digitization and transcribing. She provides a series of stunning examples of loss humanity in digital records. See: https://youtu.be/CUZ9LHWU-bg
Mark Conrad (AIC Co-Founder with 30 years of experience working on long term preservation of electronic records and digital surrogates, and a member of the working group that wrote and maintains OAIS) gave a talk “Keeping the Message Alive through Time” where he pointed out that as the volume of records grow, archivists are trying new technologies to help them select, preserve, and provide access to records. Some of these technologies have built-in biases that may impact how populations are represented in the record. He went on to point out that there are mechanisms in ISO 14721 – Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (OAIS) to help a repository check for biases that may be present in the technologies archivists choose to use. See: https://youtu.be/OF1sJR1UhQQ
Elaine Westbrooks (Vice Provost of University Libraries and University Librarian at UNC — Member of the UNC Press Board of Governors, HathiTrust Board of Governors, and Digital Public Library of America Executive Board) followed with her talk called “How Erasure has been a Direct Result of Systemic Racism”. She provides definitions of erasure, 7 consequences of erasure and the harm it causes, the macro-level systems that prop up erase in libraries, and the micro-level systems or erasure in libraries and archives. She also share a powerful June 1, 2020 statement on “The university libraries’ role in reckoning with systemic racism and oppression”. She provides definitions for systemic racism, and finally pointers for seeing the connections that promote erasure in library and archival systems.See: https://youtu.be/sbiBCrS5S-E
Dr. Adriene Lim (Dean of University Libraries and Professor of the Practice, College of Information Studies, UMD. Board Member of both the Association of Research Libraries and the Center for Research Libraries) concluded the session with a presentation called“Strategies to Counter Erasure at the Institutional Level”. She focuses on practical strategies that can be deployed to counter erasure at 3 different levels of library organizations especially for library administrators: (1) the micro with the self and knowledge of other people, (2) the meso which includes our libraries and archival organization, and (3) the macro with commercial versus public sectors. She concludes on the need to invest in compassionate archives and libraries to challenge inequities rooted in the current policies of acquisitions, investments, donations, education, curation and technologies. See: https://youtu.be/e2UyEAfKljI
-Authored by Mark Conrad