Breaking out Aristotle

Geoffrey Yeo, drawing on Aristotle in “Concept of Record (1),” delivers another reminder that exploring the discipline of philosophy might be fruitful.

“…it is increasingly recognized that in digital environments records cannot be seen merely as a subset of documents.” I was pondering why a document couldn’t be a subset of records. From a practical perspective, that would encompass cases where, say, some sort of snapshot of information in a database was created.

I need to ponder more, but perhaps one reason is related to the framing of copies as representations of records. I certainly think that’s a good way to think of them, and it makes it possible to both acknowledge their usefulness and concede their limitations (e.g. lossiness*)…but I would argue that they are, themselves, records. They are born of a particular context, they have their own provenance, they get their own metadata. No doubt their primary importance, in any practical sense, is as copies, but they do have an independent existence.

Having just read the article, as of this writing, I am still digesting. I think my adders are adders, not blow-apart-an-argument misunderstandings. Again, I need to ponder.

* Which I don’t believe is a word, but should be. It’s quite cromulent in its truthiness.

Some thoughts spawned by “Diaries, On-line Diaries, and the Future Loss to Archives”

Reading Catherine O’Sullivan’s article, published six years ago, it’s a little giggle-inducing to see “blog” in quotes, alongside “live journal.” (Giggles about the former are a reminder that online life moves quickly and can drag language along with it; the latter made me scratch my head, as I can’t recall ever having heard that construction, only the more general “journal” or the service-specific name.) The blast-from-the-past list of service providers was also amusing, and I’d never heard of Opendiary or Diaryland. Of course the more recent social networking phenomena—Facebook, Twitter, etc.—are missing, rendering it even more of an artifact. The article belongs to the era when you probably weren’t hand-coding your pages any more, even if you didn’t have your own domain your address probably didn’t involve a tilde, and while your mom might read your blog she probably didn’t have one of her own and certainly wasn’t inviting you to join her Mafia Wars crew.*

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Pondering a career in archives (or, I heart Randall C. Jimerson)

I read “Archives for All” after seeing a couple posts about MARAC.* It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy…well, no, not quite. Jimserson talks about the power of archives in a social justice context. I have never had the focus or drive to be an activist: there is just so much that is deeply, deeply wrong and needs to be fixed, I don’t know where to start or how I could remain sane while engaging daily with the sheer lunacy on display. Feeling “warm and fuzzy” implies comfort and contentment—feelings that are semantically contraindicated by social injustice. But the article holds out the possibility of bringing about social change in a non-adversarial fashion, of changing the game while the opponent isn’t paying attention. It is the possibility (for me personally) of activism with less risk of burn out. It’s a field where I might wear the sexy lingerie of a social justice warrior§ with the fuzzy slippers of a gainfully employed person happy to go to the office.

* I was hoping to get to the next meeting, because not only is it generally a Conference I Should Go To™, but in the fall incarnation I Know People™ who are involved. But stupid friends are having a stupid wedding that weekend. Stupid love and commitment.

This is actually one of the reasons that I scrapped the law school plan when I was in college. I don’t think I’m at my best in adversarial environments and they certainly don’t make me happy. And aside from issues of personal comfort, I have deep reservations about adversarial systems…but Why I Didn’t Want To Be A Lawyer™ is sort of off topic.

Archivists as Illuminati players? (See especially page 9.) Just with more ethics and fewer servants of Cthulhu…which is really something to strive for in any profession.

§ Whether it’s the metal bikinis of Frank Frazetta or the fishnets of Zack Snyder, we all know the female warrior must be sexily underclad.

Drafting history

The other week I was flipping through a copy of American Archivist in the staff room and came across Kyung Rae Lee’s “The Role of Buddhist Monks in the Development of Archives in the Korean Middle Ages.” My East Asian history (coursework and more informally absorbed) is split between China and Japan; in those contexts Korea remained a peripheral entity, serving (willingly or otherwise) as a bridge between the two. So I was quite happy to delve, for even a handful of pages, into something more Korea-centric.

One of the interesting take-aways was the Sacho, the Draft History, a record maintained by historiographers in the strictest confidentiality. Only after the end of a reign were the annals compiled—annals generally deemed trustworthy, due to the process involved. There’s no such thing as absolute objectivity, no unbiased author, but a political and temporal gap certainly removes (or complicates) some concerns of patronage or pressure. But perhaps it simply makes authorial intent more of a moving target; when a work is dedicated to the person footing the bill, it’s pretty easy to infer. So it may be that, in this case, the presumed trustworthiness is the most dangerous aspect, from the perspective of later historians. Though the authors had the luxuries of a big old pile of documents to consult (which I picture as a mix of meeting minutes and tabloid gossip) and political and temporal insulation, they were still making choices about what to preserve and prioritize in their account of a reign.