“Here in the museum we do not invite trouble”: Archiving The Archivists Of The Twenty-first Century

(Quote stolen from John Ashbery’s “Quick Question”)

As someone who’s more interested in contemporary writing online than the archives of older digital work, I often wonder what the archives of twenty-first century online writing will look like in the future. Recent archival projects invested in recent digital already already seem outmoded or at least at odds with how information circulates in 2012/2013. For example, I’m currently preparing a NEMLA discussion that looks at the differences between the Poets Against The War website — a site begun in 2003 and “archived” in 2010 — and the ways poets write and publish work on the web in more recent years. Now, the Poets Against The War site seems clunky and isolated from the rest of the web (and I’d even argue that the site looked just as clunky back in 2003) when compared to the kinds of image macros and mixed media work that poets create for distribution on the web on sites like Internet Poetry (an “archive” of sorts for a burgeoning subculture). The difference between a site like PATW and Internet Poetry, to my eyes at least, is that the authors found on IP are creating work that has the web in mind as its ideal site of distribution and consumption, and it’s also work that tries to tailor itself to the modes of circulation present on sites like Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. And the archivists / curators of these projects similarly design their collections to allow content to travel and to be taken apart (literally or analytically).

When I look at some of the projects that archive work from earlier time periods on the web, I often wonder if their frameworks, content, and designs are too often suited only for academic set of eyes (and I’ll admit here that I’ve barely scratched the surface, so please feel free to show me archives that seem to invite other kinds of readers and writers!). Why not allow an archive to interact more with the rest of the web? I guess this is one question that might come out of this discussion, and it’s one that might allow for a number of voices beyond people interested in contemporary writing. But I am also interested in how e-mails, chat material, tweets, social networking, blog content, etc. all might challenge or complicate our ideas of archivists and curators in our contemporary moment. There are already sites like Storify that allow users to corral particular threads in social networks, and things like the Internet Wayback Machine allow us to look back on the web of the recent past, and everyone loves a good word cloud, and etc. And of course, there are sites like the September 11 Digital Archive. But with writing being created in a variety of sites (not just locations, but also in terms of tablets, phones, laptops, etc.) for a range of different audiences, and with tools like hashtags, how might we think through ways of arranging and discussing these various modes of digital texts and literacies? Are we in an Age of the Archivist, in the sense that anyone with a Tumblr account (and / or a scanner or some familiarity with how screenshots work) can curate work? Or is there a need to consider whether the sorts of linkblogging and reblogging and uploading practices on Tumblr and elsewhere are something different?

This is rough and very open-ended, but I’d be happy to help mold this into a discussion that might be worth having with others tomorrow.

Categories: Session Proposals |

About jk.mcgrath

I'm currently working on a dissertation that examines the state of American poetry in the twenty-first century: broadly speaking, I'm interested in ideas of value and aesthetics, how poets and readers make certain claims for poetry in these post-death times. I also write poetry online, and I keep up appearances at various blogs and sites (most recently Flood Magazine). One of my recreational projects at the moment is The Laughing Magician, a reading guide to the DC comic series Hellblazer. I'm more of a Donkey Kong fan than a Galaga man.

One Response to “Here in the museum we do not invite trouble”: Archiving The Archivists Of The Twenty-first Century

  1. Pingback: Notes for Morning Session: (“Here In The Museum We Do Not Invite Trouble”) | THATCamp MLA Boston 2013

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