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Archive for December, 2010

Marvel Comic Book creators imposed a mythic geography on New York City. It just so happens, that one character, Dr. Strange, was a resident of Greenwich Village.  Dr. Strange was known for his mystical bent and the trippy visuals that accompanied stories about him. According to Marvel lore, he was trained with a sorcerer in Tibet and casts spells on evildoers. Comics about him first appeared in the 1960’s, so perhaps his location in Greenwich Village enhances his fictional reputation as trippy and mystical.  He fit in with the beats and hippies.

His residence was called Sanctum Sanctorum and was supposedly located at 177a Bleecker Street.  Here is a picture of what the address actually looks like from Google Maps. 

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I’ve long found it fascinating that the word ‘archive’ holds so many denotations and connotations in different contexts. Many people will immediately point out that email accounts typically now have an ‘archive’ function, but it started way before then. In fact, archivists have been complaining about the existence of multiple meanings for years. “Archivist have literally lost control over the definition of archive,” complained Margaret Hedstrom.

Consider all these examples from a company called ‘Making Everlasting Memories’:

Making Everlasting Memories R (MeM) is a progressive memory archiving and publishing company that utilizes the latest technologies to publish and preserve the life stories of its customers.

MeM products capture and preserve the story of a life. Biographical information, writings, images and messages from family and friends combine to create an archive of memories…

The Everlasting Memorial helps families tell and archive the story of a life through a multi-media suite of online, print and DVD products.

You can sense the flexibility just within one company (and one webpage). Sometimes a verb, sometimes a noun. At times suggestive of storage or preservation, at other times of curation or memorialization.

Happy archiving!

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As the idea of a ‘digital humanities’ continues to gain popularity and currency, an increasing range of novel digital technologies are being applied to humanities-related research and education.

The New York Times recently reported on one new application developed to mine the database of billions of books scanned by Google. Developed by Erez Lieberman Aiden and Jean-Baptiste Michel, a software program searches Google’s database in search of large patterns in the development of language and ideas. In this way, the rise and fall of certain words in relation to each other can be shown.

Although fascinating and exciting on some levels, I can’t help wondering if the net result will truly become a rich source of new knowledge or if it will be yet another force discouraging the actual reading of books.

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About two decades ago, Margaret Hedstrom gave some suggestions about how to approach the reigning new technology of her day – electronic records. In order to more legitimately and proactively participate in the development of new technologies and the policies that govern them, archivists need to do more and better research, she warned.

Grounding her analysis of in the history of technology, Hedstrom advises researchers to avoid the extremes of both technological determinism and social determinism. Instead, researchers are advised to take the middle-ground ‘social construction of technology’ perspective, and she illustrates how very specific and productive research questions can be generated from within this perspective.

Hedstrom also has levels very serious criticisms against much of the research being undertaken by archivists at the time. She identifies a general lack of rigor in theory and method, which has produced findings of limited value.

It would be interesting to see how far archival science has come in the twenty years since the publication of Hedstrom’s warnings, especially in the context of a society and profession that have only become more intertwined with digital technologies.

Reference

Margaret Hedstrom, “Understanding Electronic Incunabula: A Framework for Research on Electronic Records,” American Archivist, 54 (Summer 1991), 334-354.

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It’s generally become unnecessary to explain the importance of the Greenwich Village folk scene to American popular culture. What gets overlooked, however, is the important role that it also played in the development of some of Canada’s most beloved singer-songwriters.

Leonard Cohen was a respected poet when he moved to New York City in the mid-1960s. He was drawn to the Greenwich folk scene and became inspired to turn his poems into songs. By 1974, he had recorded the albums ‘Songs from a Room,’ ‘Famous Blue Raincoat,’ ‘Leonard cohen: Live Songs,’ and ‘New Skin for the Old Ceremony.’ Joni Mitchell also moved to Greenwich in the mid-1960s, and in the embrace of Greenwich became one of the great female songwriters. Other singer-songwriters who found their voice in the fertile environment of the Greenwich Village folk music scene of the 60s include Buffy Sainte-Marie and some guy named Neil Young.

Interesting, eh?

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Tweeting Archives

In all the intersections of internet technologies and history, one of the trendiest is the use of so-called Web 2.0 applications. These are, in very general terms, applications that encourage collaboration and community-building. (By the way, in case you’re wondering, yes, Web 2.0 is a controversial term.) Within this definition, Facebook and Twitter are probably the most well-known among many others. Such is their reach that they’ve captured the imaginations of archivists who have been busily investing time and resources into integrating these applications into their programming and services.

One researcher named Adam Crymble (2010) had the bright idea to actual gauge whether this investment was worth it for archives. Among the interesting results was the finding that archives and archivists used social media in different ways: archival organizations tend to use them to publicize their own content, while archivists tend to use them to publicize content they personally find useful. More interesting, however, is his conclusion that there is no link between frequency of posts and the number of followers (or ‘friends’). In other words, there is no payoff for posting more frequently in a larger audience.

Although it’s too early to make hard predictions about the future role of social media in archives, these results remind us that relying solely on assumptions about technology – most often handed to us by advertisers and other professionals who profit from ‘buzz’ – is probably not a good strategy for making decisions about technology-related investments for archivists.

Reference

Adam Crymble, “An Analysis of Twitter and Facebook Use by the Archival Community,” Archivaria, 70 (Fall 2010), 125-151.

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One of the more unappreciated authors in Greenwich Village who is gaining a little more notoriety these days is Dawn Powell. She was a longtime resident of the Village and she was a prominent member of the bohemian group who migrated to lower Manhattan in the 1920s. Her novels are full of wit and humor and are overall great reads. Her letters and diaries are also fascinating, and they give you a great sense of what was going on in Greenwich Village. Since she lived there so long, her diaries cover the bohemians of the 1920s to the beatniks in the 1950s. It is interesting to read about the changing community from someone who actually lived it. It’s also a plus that her writing his so vibrant and full of life. Even if you’ve never read anything by Powell, her letters and diaries are great by themselves.

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