musings and a sketch of making history in a virtual archive: the digital berkeley folk music festival project
1) The central research question for “Making History in a Virtual Archive: The Digital Berkeley Folk Music Festival Project” is, how do we activate an archive more robustly once it is a digital repository?
2) We’re less interested in building tools from scratch than designing a successful design and user interface for bringing the objects in the digital repository into interaction with tools.
3) Scholarship grounded in objects from virtual archives needs to be able to move from archive outward in a radically open manner (objects in archive exportable to blogs, facebook, omeka, drupal, etc.), but it also will benefit from developing online hubs, clusters, centers, workshops, laboratories, journals, spaces, apps, user pages, affinity groups, forums…whatever you want to call them. Something that has a bit more of a magnet to a topic at the center of it. Picture the Berkeley collection feeding into a Folk Music Studies hub, an Arts Festivals hub, a Pete Seeger hub, a Berkeley in the 60s hub. So we need three levels here (a) the digital archive, (b) open access, and (c) hubs/workshops/laboratories with porous but somewhat defined boundaries.
4) Hubs/clusters/workshops give *some (but not too much)* order to the immensity of the Internet. The philosophy of *some order.* Just like interdisciplinarity needs disciplines or it’s just mush. But not disciplinary silos. Instead a dialectic between disciplinary difference and translation. So to activate a digital repository we need both open access *and* some structured curation tools. They need to be in a design-enabled dance.
4) The key may be APIs and archives in the right combination, but only if we get the user interface/design right for this combination.
5) Design: needs to be intellectually and aesthetically pleasurable…we need to study this pleasure of scholarship more: the pleasure of a well designed journal? book? website? lecture? conference? festival program? How does one start to curate the structure for others to start to curate materials from an archive? Curation is about exerting some control, but a control that enables new sorts of freedoms in thinking and inquiry. The structure that unlooses innovation.
6) So curation is a key concept for this project.
7) Somewhat different element of the project here is the notion of history as annotation. One way to conceptualize historical scholarship is annotations upon annotations upon annotations, ad infinitum. Historiography is the study of these waves of annotations. How do we enhance direct engagement with historical evidence through the digital? How do we also enhance engagement with historiography (the debates about different interpretations of evidence) through the digital? How do we bring direct historical study of evidence and historiography together using all the digital can offer in terms of semantic web, ability to annotate objects and annotate annotations and bring them into relationships through some kind of browser? These are key questions.
Possible answer is similar to the ideas about about design and user interface as a space in which tools and topics come together in dynamic interaction. So how do we make this annotational chains more palpable and useful through the digital. It’s a chain of objects (a poster from the festival), interpretations (an analysis of details of the poster via annotation and via the curation of other related objects brought together with the poster), new objects (a WordPress-based project about the folk revival), and annotations of those objects (comments on the project, the use of the project one day as a historical/archival object). How do we make this make sense and come alive and feel right through the digital? How do we do so in a way that is intellectually stimulating, generative of new perceptions and perspectives, deeply pleasurable and pleasing aesthetically as users (scholars, teachers, musicians, artists, fans, readers, listeners, etc.) gain access to the virtual archive?