Cheeseman – Question 1
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
Teaching Associate and Honorary Research Fellow – University of Sheffield
Project Leader, Sandpit – Furnace Park
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Working broadly in late-twentieth-century popular culture, I frequently engage with social cataloging practices. This is the way in which people digitally archive texts that were once largely physical on forums and blogs, in addition to websites such as YouTube, Discogs, and LibraryThing.1 Such practices position a physical archive as latent, not yet manifested, accessible only in its digital manifestation. The process of social cataloging is extremely popular precisely because the internet positions all its users as archivists through their favoriting, bookmarking, and remembering items of information to later recontextualize and represent to others. The extent of the practice emphasizes, within popular culture at least, its instability. There are no agreed-upon approaches to presenting material, no rules of practice in making representations accessible. Indeed, there is often no organizational structure beyond the interfaces that individual websites provide. On a website such as YouTube, digital representations of archival materials are thus massive and unstructured. One cannot expect a digital representation to be there forever; access is often lost, especially when dealing with items liable to a copyright claim. Furthermore, one cannot be seduced by the idea that everything is out there. The digital representations of social cataloging, although vast, are clues to the possible extent of the uncollected, physical archive.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 This all underlines the attraction of printed representations of the archive and demonstrates a way it can work with the digital. The very solidity of print, all its non-digital fixedness, is now its most appealing aspect in that it can physically manifest the digital archive. To give an example, along with Jon Downing I curated an exhibition of fanzines, records, and tapes from South Yorkshire (1978–1982) called Do It Thissen. This was the first time this archive was defined and brought into physical existence. Due to the scarcity of many items and problems with display and insurance, we did this largely through printed representation, with some presentation of original materials. Such an exhibition would have been impossible without the work of unpaid and often unknown digital archivists, networked members of the public documenting their past and leading us toward items. The result was a collection of printed materials and actual items.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Still, why bother? Why not digitize all the items and produce a website? In the most abstract sense, the scale of social cataloging of popular culture materials like records, tapes, and fanzines creates a huge desire for the coherence and physicality of printed representations. The extent of this desire is such that printed representations of pre-existing digital archives can often be funded as commercial products. This is especially apparent in very specific, bounded genres of popular culture. For instance, take two examples sitting by me: a collection of excerpts from a British magazine for rubber and vinyl clothing fetishists and a collection of European picture-sleeve singles.2 Digital representations of the material inside both collections can be located on the internet, which has contributed to a market for the books, which themselves provide a sense of accessibility, coherence, and authority that social cataloging does not offer. The desire to own such books stems from a fetishization of the archive, which results, I would argue, from the very way the internet positions its users as archivists; the individual’s negotiation of the physical and the digital is manifested in consumer products.
- ¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0
- Katarzyna Musial and Przemyslaw Kazienko, “Social networks on the Internet,” World Wide Web 16, no. 1 (2013): 31–72. [↩]
- Jonny Trunk, Dressing For Pleasure in Rubber, Vinyl and Leather: The Best of Atomage 1972–1980 (London: Fuel, 2010). Jeremy Thompson and Mary Blount, Wired Up! Glam, Proto Punk, and Bubblegum: European Picture Sleeves 1970-1976 (No City, USA: Wired Up Media, 2012). [↩]