Yesterday evening I attended Laura Wexler and Lauren Tilton’s Talk “Image, Archive and Event: Tracking the Archive’s Odyssey.” This was the first of the Fall 2015 MCSI Archive Talks. I liked Wexler’s insights on the power of the archive. She sees the archive as having the ability to expose objects from the past as well as preserve and keep objects private. Also, Wexler talked about the positive and negative aspects to the digitalization of the archive. From one point of view, digitalization destroys the traditional physical archive by uploading information about objects into cyberspace—from physical substance to bits of data. In this sense, the digital archive appears to reap power and importance from the physical object. However, digitalization is also able to enhance the viewer’s relationship with the archive through digital data tools. From this other perspective, the digital archive allows viewers to explore objects in new ways that can help them understand the objects and the archive better. Tilton’s section of the talk focused on her project called Photogrammar. I found this project fascinating. The project has uploaded 170,000 photographs into a digital archive. The photos were taken between 1935 and 1945 for the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information (FSA-OWI). Viewers are able to see where the pictures were taken, which photographers took the pictures, and each photographers’ journey across the US, on interactive maps. Viewers are also able to sort photographs by color, classification (according the the Vanderbilt Classification System), and even sort the photos by the faces in the images. As Tilton rightly puts it, this project “reimagines” the archive.
This talk made me think about how this digital age is making us into archivists. Through social media platforms and apps on smart devices, we are encouraged to document our lives through photos, videos, and status updates. The digital platforms we use create the archiving framework for us by organizing events and posts by time, hashtags, and relationships with other users. All we have to do as users is just sit-back, relax, and document.