Web Archives and History in the Digital World by Ève Bourbeau-Allard

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Ève Bourbeau-Allard is a first year MSI student specializing in Archives and Records Management. She holds an MA in history from the College of William & Mary.

In an excellent panel of the 2015 Web Archives Conference, Ed Summers, Lead Developer at the Maryland Institute for Technologies and Humanities, asked a provocative and thoughtful question that stayed with me for the remainder of the conference: Is the “Digital” in “Digital Humanities” necessary anymore? In other words, as digital tools and content become such a prominent part of inquiries in the humanities, should we still establish a divide between a traditional field and its digital counterpart?

Summers was discussing his archive of tweets about the events in Ferguson, which constitutes a case in point for the remarks Dr. Ian Milligan later made in his keynote speech. A Professor of History at the University of Waterloo, Dr. Milligan concluded the conference with an exposé on the value of web archives for the crafting of history. It would be “dishonest,” he argued, to write any history of the 1990s and beyond without consideration of the Internet as a central primary source base. To go back to Summers’ project, social media and the Internet played a significant role in the sharing of information and ideas about Ferguson and captured points of views that cannot be ignored.

A panel led by a team from the University of Toronto raised a myriad of issues relating to the archiving of political tweets, including copyright, consent, privacy, access, context, and appropriate metadata. These themes, intersecting with similar challenges archivists already face in their work with analog material, acquire new facets in the online world. Dr. Milligan suggested a re-envisioning and re-valuing of interdisciplinarity in the digital age. Abigail Grotke, from the Library of Congress, also highlighted that web archives do not fit neatly in traditional professional and scholarly divisions. In approaching the vastness of web data, elaborating standards and practices to preserve it, and finding both programmatic and intellectual methods to analyze its content, the combined expertise of librarians, archivists, web designers, computer scientists, historians, and humanists will be necessary. The digital world and the analog world are learning so much from one another that the concept of a digital/analog divide does not capture, for me, the future of the archives and humanities fields.  
In another of the conference’s thought-provoking keynote addresses, Abigail Grotke reflected back on the beginnings of the Library of Congress’ trailblazing web archiving program and admitted that her team didn’t really know what researchers would do with these newly archived sources. Her observation captures one of the aspects of archival work that most stimulates me: acting on the instinct that something is important, that something matters so much that we should preserve it and trust that users will surprise us with creative and meaningful applications. The work conducted by Dr. Milligan, Dr. Jimmy Lin, and Jeremy Wiebe in analyzing and modelling metadata from an archive of political parties’ and interest groups’ web pages to illustrate changing trends in the Canadian political landscape provides an additional example of the potential of web archives. I left the Web Archives Conference inspired by the foresight, creativity, and sense of social purpose inhabiting the speakers and attendees.


Guest Post: Adam Lott Notes on the ICA-2015 Conference, Part 2

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Adam Lott is a second year MSI student specializing in Archives and Records Management with an interest in moving-image media. Read Part 1 of his conference notes. Lott is also a participant in The Archivists Apprentice series, which follows School of Information students as they complete their internships. You can read his previous posts here and here.

The ICA-SUV 2015 conference was the first conference I have attended since entering my graduate program. Speaking as a student, I would recommend anyone with an interest in Archives and Records Management to attend at least one conference before graduation. They are an excellent means of networking with your peers, offer new ways of thinking about archives, and can be an incredibly fun experience.

I could not really think of a better first conference to attend than the ICA-SUV. The conference theme – the role of audiovisual archives in research institutions – aligned perfectly with my interests. Low attendance (when compared to events such as SAA’s annual meeting) allowed for a very intimate event. I was able to speak with many archivists on a one-to-one basis, developing many connections during the week. In this way, I was able to learn about the nature of the field itself: how to distinguish myself from others, what organizations look for when hiring, and how to find career paths pertaining to my interests. Conversations continued well beyond the panel presentations, as many of us explored the local bar scene. Some of the most significant connections I made were done so over a glass of beer.

Many archives have the same goals in mind, which causes the community to be very inclusive and approachable. Because of the conference, I felt as though I was a part of something larger; that the efforts of each archivist contributed to some greater good. I’m hoping to reconnect with my peers this fall at The Association of Moving Image Archivists annual event, and will be sure to attend another ICA-SUV conference if the opportunity presents itself.

Guest Post: Adam Lott Notes on the ICA-2015 Conference, Part 1

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Adam Lott is a second year MSI student specializing in Archives and Records Management with an interest in moving-image media. He is also a participant in The Archivists Apprentice series, which follows School of Information students as they complete their internships. You can read his previous posts here and here.

The audio-visual archivist must constantly struggle with the concept of time. We know the numbers: there are millions of assets to be saved, a dozen or so years to save them, and only a handful of professionals who know how to do the saving. Knowing these facts, the field of AV preservation is a  harrowing one indeed. And yet, when leaving this year’s International Council on Archives-Section on University Archives and Research Institution Archives (ICA-SUV) conference in Chapel Hill, I did not experience feelings of anxiety or worry. Instead, I felt hopeful and optimistic to be a part of a community that is addressing these problems directly.

This year’s ICA conference focused on the management of audio/visual collections within college/research institutes. I was able to attend this conference due to a bursary, which funded my trip to North Carolina. The conference took place at the University of North Carolina within the Wilson Special Collections Library. Panel presenters represented a variety of institutions, each approaching the “magnetic media crisis” from a unique perspective. Preserving sound and video through digitization is still a new practice with many standards as yet to be established, so it was interesting to see how each institution contributed to the effort. Some presenters focused on the various tools they’ve developed for archives to utilize, such as the AV Preserve’s Cost of Inaction Calculator; a resource that allows archivists to compare the costs of preserving assets to the losses incurred by inaction. Others focused on strategies that challenge the norm, such as Hannah Palin’s “The Magnetic Media Crisis”, which advocates the collaboration between archives so that they may take on similar challenges together. My favorite presentations were the ones outlining the process of building a digitization station. Palin discussed this in great detail, describing who her university (The University of Washington) consulted and how they obtained funding. Christian Lopez of the University of Georgia libraries complemented this presentation by discussing the pitfalls archivists may encounter when attempting to integrate new technology into their systems.

As Richard Szary of the University of North Carolina stated in the closing remarks, “We are faced with reality and we are doing the best we can.” Leaving the conference, I felt privileged to have heard from so many intelligent figures in the field. I was able to approach each attendee casually and learned so much in such a short time. Mostly, I felt humbled to have felt so welcomed within the community, and am excited to soon enter it as a professional.

Navigator Program for SAA Annual Conference

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Annual Meeting First-timer?

Are you planning on attending the Annual Meeting for the first time?  Wondering how to manage the madness? Consider signing up for the Navigator Program.  This program is designed as a short-term mentor program which matches conference veterans with first-time attendees. This informal outreach effort helps newcomers make the most of their time at the conference.

Annual Meeting Savvy?

Please consider signing up to be an Annual Meeting Navigator.  This short-term mentoring program matches conference veterans with first-time attendees. Navigators share their experience, advise new attendees on sessions and special events that are likely to suit their interests, and facilitate networking with other attendees. Navigators typically contact participants prior to the meeting and are encouraged to answer questions by email in advance.

All attendees are welcome to request a navigator or volunteer to serve in this important role. Please complete the Navigator Program Sign-Up form to indicate your interest. For more information, please contact: You’ll be contacted in mid-July and matched with a partner. Deadline to request a navigator: July 3.

Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice: Call for Proposals

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Call for Paper or Poster Proposals. Deadline June 1! Follow the link for more information.

Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice will return Friday, September 25, 2015 to Lawrence Technological University. Network Detroit showcases the best of digital humanities research in the great lakes region by leading scholars from museums, libraries, universities, liberal arts colleges, and community colleges. For this event, we welcome proposals for papers and panels that focus on the digital humanities, especially regarding the cultural heritage of Michigan and Detroit.

This year our theme is Cultural Criticism and the Digital Humanities, and we encourage submissions on race studies, gender studies, postcolonial studies, and political dissidence. The Detroit Historical Society, which will host this year’s dinner and keynote address, recently launched a special project entitled “Detroit 1967.”  Papers that address digital approaches to the memorialization, dissemination, and understanding of this significant year in Detroit’s history are also encouraged. If you know a student with a promising project, please encourage them to submit to our student poster competition open to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Conference rideshares and more!

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Are you planning on attending the Michigan Archival Association (MAA) annual meeting in Holland, Michigan and/or the Society of American Archivists (SAA) annual meeting in Cleveland, Ohio this summer?

UM-SAA has put together a spreadsheet as a resource for people to connect about sharing rides and rooms for MAA and SAA. For more information email us at today!