Tag Archives: Archives

What is arXiv and how can we get one?

After ckelty’s post on the SSRN/Elsevier merger fellow mind, Ryan Anderson, gave me a shout out in Twitter,

This is a pretty interesting idea. What would it entail taking arXiv as a role model?

What is arXiv?

Like SSRN, arXiv is a digital repository. They are both examples of Green OA — a type of open access where authors deposit versions of their work so that they can be accessed by readers for free. What version of an article makes it into the repository depends on which publisher you’re working with, but almost all of them allow authors to deposit the original submission: no peer review, no mark-up, no type setting. Others are more generous, a few even allow the post-print to be deposited. It just depends, if you want to go Green do some research on your publisher’s homepage or ask a company rep.

Green OA is frequently contrasted with Gold OA, where the author submits to a journal that makes the final product available to readers for free, examples include HAU and Cultural Anthropology. Again, there is great diversity among Gold OA publishers just as there is among Green repositories but we’re not getting into that here.

arXiv is Green OA, it is a pre-print repository but of a particular kind. If you’re at an elite or second tier R1 you probably already have access to a repository through your institution. However many of these institutional repositories (IRs) share a common problem, faculty participation is low. Some universities have attempted to address this with OA mandates, but this is not always sufficient to change faculty behavior. People are really busy, or maybe they don’t see the value in access. Perhaps they think someone else will do it for them, or are mistaken about their author’s rights. For whatever reason many people who can go Green choose not to.

The generally poor showings for institutional repositories has lead some in the digital libraries field to argue that IRs are not the way forward for Green OA. Instead they anticipate that disciplinary repositories (DRs), sometimes called subject repositories, will be more successful. Perhaps in our neoliberal world faculty are less tied to their institution than their discipline? Both SSRN and arXiv are DRs.
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Thinking about race like a cataloger

In librarian parlance entities, whether books or journal articles or whatever, can be said to have an “aboutness.” And as a cataloger its my job to describe that aboutness with subject headings. I’m working in an archives setting now and my job, essentially, is to sit down with photos such as the one below and, following strict rules, create a digital record that will help researchers find it in the future.

US Army Signal Corps Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation Photographs

Because we place a premium on organization and arrangement only authorized subject headings are permitted, something called a “controlled vocabulary.” In the work I’m doing now our controlled vocabulary comes from the Library of Congress. One of the defining characteristics of the LoC subject headings is that they are hierarchical, broad terms are subdivided into narrower terms, which are further divided and modified in rather rigid ways.

So those are the basic rules of the game. The objective is to describe the item so that others will find it, but within the constraints set out by the LoC (typically there are in-house rules you have to take in to consideration too, etc). Alright, given all that: What is this picture about?
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420 ways to teach “Pigs For The Ancestors”

Pigs for the Ancestors is an iconic ethnography, taught for decades in introductory courses and graduate seminars alike. Rapport’s theoretical ambition, the richness of highland PNG life, the detail in the ethnography — it all works together to produce an ethnography whose life has exceeded its sell-by date for decades. And now, the University of California San Diego provides 420 new ways to teach it: a massive, open access collection of 420 photos taken by Roy Rappaport across the course of his career.

Not all the pictures are from Papua New Guinea, so I guess technically there aren’t 420 images that you can use when teaching Pigs. But in this case, it is important to emphasize not just quantity, but quality. The pictures are high-quality, and they are very well cataloged: each one has extensive metadata describing when it was taken, and what and who is in each picture. They are organized by topic so you can see, for example, just the pictures with pork in them if that’s what you’re into.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’ll state right away that the people who did this work are friends of mine, so I’m hardly an impartial observer. But it seems to me that collections like this are The Future. As the Internet gets more and more turgid, filled with ad-encrusted crud and unverifiable assertions, carefully curated open access collections like this are so, so welcome.

The Rappaport photos are hardly novel. Museums and libraries all over the world are making their collections available — just check out the institutions participating in the Flickr Commons project. But the key step between availability and use is discovery: making sure people know about all the great resources out there.

That’s hard to do for libraries, for whom just producing digital collections is work enough. We need to use these collections regularly, and credit them when we do use them. It’s only when word of mouth spreads that people will really develop a sense of the many hidden treasures out there available for research and use.

So this week, the next time you need a picture for a powerpoint, why not get this process rolling and use a picture from the Roy Rappaport collection?

A History of Times We Did Not Laugh

[The following is an invited post by Ritu Gairola Khanduri. Ritu is a cultural anthropologist and historian of India. She is Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology at the University of Texas, Arlington. In addition to her research on media, she is currently completing a book on Gandhi and material culture. Research for Caricaturing Culture in India has been supported by the Social Science Research Council, the Fulbright Foundation, the Institute for Historical Research-Mellon Foundation and the Wenner-Gren Foundation’s prestigious Carley Hunt Postdoctoral fellowship.]

These past months have seen carnage of unimaginable magnitude. But none has attracted the outpouring triggered by the Charlie Hebdo killings. What have cartoons got to do with this?

For many, but not most of the world, the experience of freedom is now salient in speech and expression. In this struggle for freedom and rights, and its maintenance, cartoons have become the severest testing ground. We reprimand cartoons. We summon cartoons. We make demands on cartoons.

This generative force of cartoons is at the heart of my book Caricaturing Culture in India: Cartoons and the History in the Modern World.  It is a story of how cartoonists became central to newspapers and politics in India. It is also a history of why cartoons provide a new context for offence and the refusal to laugh.

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“This brings me to another thing: the danger of kissing on the mouth”

This semester I am at the College of William and Mary completing a practicum in archives and special collections primarily focused on digitization, the whole point of which is to make items such as manuscripts accessible to users online. As is the nature of special collections the material is one of a kind and that means along the way I occasionally find treasures that catch my eye through the blur of metadata creation. I’ve already shared with you the pleasures of huffing nitrous oxide at Yale College in 1821 and today I have a new one, the dangers of letting people kiss your baby.

My current project is the digitization of a collection of romantic correspondence between a young couple in a small Virginia town in the early 20th century. First they are friends, then they are dating and engaged, and once they are married the correspondence stops and the remainder of the collection is Christmas cards. It was here that I found a three page form letter from the Women’s Home Companion Better Babies Bureau dated September 1939.

Initially I interpreted the moniker “Better Babies Bureau” as a play on the WPA alphabet soup of agencies, but according to this encyclopedia entry this series from Women’s Home Companion dates back to 1913 and links the to eugenics movement.
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Academic life is a trapeze, and librarians are the safety net: SM is now archived

This open access day I wanted to officially announce some good news — Savage Minds is now being archived at the University of Texas at Austin. Thanks to the initiative of Pat Galloway and her students Brian Douglass, Kathleen O’Connell, Josephine Ragolia, and Rachel Winston, an archive of our blog now lives on UT Austin’s Dspace install(Update: I TOTALLY forgot to give Kerim credit for the incredible amount of work he did communicating with the UT Austin crowd to get the archive set up. In fact, he does ridiculous amounts of work on the back end of the blog all the time which few people (me included, apparently) understand, but that everyone benefits form. So thumbs up to Kerim as well.)

It’s a real mark of accomplishment that someone has taken the time to preserve the blog in a format that ensures that future generations will be able to read our poorly-spelled, hastily written blog entries. In some small sense — and I mean ‘small’, I’m not getting a swelled head here — SM really has become the blog of record for the sociocultural anthropological internetosphere.

The archive itself is just one part of a process to get SM more fully archived both now and in the future… but I’ll leave out details of our future plans since, frankly, they may never materialize.

SM started with no long-range plan for archiving, or indeed for pretty much anything, and over the years we’ve suffered a variety of data loses, ranging from minor to catastrophic. The lesson for open access week is this: back up your data. But at the same time, if you feel the urge to write, write. Start new projects when you feel you have the energy and opportunity to start them, even if all the pieces aren’t in place yet. Archiving is important, but don’t let scholarly apparatus have a chilling effect on your innovation. If academic life is a trapeze, librarians are the safety net. Thanks to UT Austin, Pat, and the whole crew for doing their job so that we can do ours.

“O most magnanimous hat”

I’ve started an internship in the Special Collections department of Swem Library at the College of William and Mary, creating metadata for archival manuscripts. I ran across this one the other day and had to transcribe an excerpt to share, there are some ellipsis where the ink is illegible. It is a letter from a Yale College student to a family member, 1821.

Lewelyn is I believe as much pleased with college and I am as yet very much pleased with it. The tutor of my division is rather unpopular yet I have always found him polite and obliging. He has excused me every time I have made an application to him. The other day I even … him and told him that some of the students would inhale the exhilarating gas and that I had a curiosity to see them. He said that he would not wish it as a general thing but as I had been punctual I might be excused. I then went and the first that took it had no effect upon. The next as soon as they took the bag from him began to look wet and dance and jump about and pull the fellows about. One began to fight and chase the fellows all about the room. One jumped up and cried out two or three times and danced about and sung and talked about Miss Johns a lady he was particularly fond of and then ran up to a medical student and seizing him tore his pantaloons off just about the knee and left his great long hairy leg stretching out naked and then running up to another snatched off his spectacles. But the two most ludicrous were Cait and Robbins of the Senior class one of them Cait placed his hat in the middle of the floor (it was an old rus… hat which the fellows were in the habit of laughing at him about) and made an … to it “O most magnanimous hat. Super-incumbent on the bare floor! Rex Brainorum” And he laughed all the while fit to kill himself and the other one went about bouncing and scraping to the fellows and ran to … a fat fellow in the room and had to kiss him but he was too strong for him so he left him and very unexpectedly ran up to me and seizing me hugged me and kissed me very affectionately before I could disengage myself.

Ah, college.

Read more about early experiments with laughing gas, and the vogue it enjoyed among the privileged class, in this great post from The Public Domain Review.

Best of Savage Minds

Because our archives were lost to the internet for the past year a lot of great content has been offline. (Google is now slowly re-indexing all of it.) If you just started following Savage Minds recently and would like a quick overview of our best posts for the past seven years, please take a quick look at our annual highlights. These are our yearly end-of-the-year round-ups which highlight our best content from each year. We started doing these in 2006, so we don’t have one for our first year, 2005, but it’s otherwise pretty comprehensive. Enjoy!

Big News!

Three big announcements…

Founded in 2005, Savage Minds is now nine years old. Our current design is a default WordPress template I used when our original (more colorful) theme somehow got corrupted, preventing Google from indexing our site. Then our site went down again about a year ago when our hosting company decided it didn’t want to honor a promise made by a smaller company it had bought-out. This was a terrible crisis for us as we somehow hadn’t backed up the site in years, falsely believing that our host was keeping adequate backups on our behalf. Unsure of what to do next, we threw this temporary site up on WordPress.com, using the same generic template we’d been using before. Now all that is about to change, and a number of other things as well.

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Raw and Cooked Facts in Wikileaks’ “Afghan War Diaries, 2004-2010”

Unless you’ve been living under a rock (where you probably don’t get WiFi and won’t be reading this), you’ve heard something about the release on Sunday of 92,000 primary documents culled from classified US military field reports from Afghanistan compiled by Wikileaks.org and given in advance to the New York Times , Der Spiegel, and The Guardian.

There is much think and say about this event and these documents. Apropos recent conversations at SM, I’d like to point out that there are probably better places to say some of these things.

One thing that strikes me as relevant for comment here is the way that ‘facticity’ and authority based in being there are at the heart of some discussions.

Take for example this interview from NPR’s All Things Considered between co-host Robert Segal and Wikileaks mastermind Julian Assange.

Here are the most relevant bits:

Julian Assange: The full story is only going to emerge over the coming weeks as that material is correlated to the witnesses who are on the ground, both the US soldiers and Afghanis

Robert Segal: [Challenging Assange’s comparison of The Afghan War Diaries to the Pentagon Papers] These are raw reports that are not confirmed and edited

JA: This material has its strength in that it is not an analysis, not written at the higher levels so it can be publicly massaged, it is in fact the raw facts of the war

RS: Some people would dispute your use of the word ‘facts,’ or indeed there might be something oxymoronic in ‘raw facts’

JA: The majority of reports are immediate reporting from the field from US military operations

What I see emerging here is an interesting conversation about textual authority, and one that resonates with our own disciplinary claims to authority based on ethnographic experience (see Clifford, Marcus, Gupta and Ferguson, etc. for some classic wailing on that old chestnut).

Assange begins by saying that these raw facts will only be fully cooked into a truthy pie once they are compared to the testimony of “witnesses who are on the ground.” And yet, when Segal notes the criticism that these raw facts are, in fact, too raw to be facts—that they need a little correlation before they can be safely consumed—Assange suggests that it is their very rawness that makes them good: Instead of truthy pie, he changes his order to sashimi.

The thing is, be they raw or cooked, pie or sashimi, these documents are not unadulterated. They are not like snapshots of the war, with all the claims to verisimilitude that visual medium implies (it’s worth mentioning that this connection between verisimilitude and the visual is also one way that witnessing stakes its authoritative claims). So, they are not like photographs. They are documents written within the generic constraints of military field reporting for a particular intended audience of surveilling authorities as official archival records.

Drop weapons are a concrete example of the things that are written out of these kinds of documents. Drop weapons are enemy weapons (like AK 47s) that US forces carry with them so that if they accidentally kill a civilian, they can ‘drop’ them by the body and have documentable proof that the civilian was actually an insurgent.

Drop weapons are useful because they alibi omissions (of the killing of civilians) from the After Action Report (AAR) which is part of the official record. But they are also useful because they enable the inscription of other things (the killing of insurgents) in the official record.

For a different and very interesting example directly from the Wikileaks docs, check out this corrective by Noah Shachtman, one of those on the ground witnesses.

The point is, however we choose to digest these documents, we need to consider them within the institutional and social context of their production, and whatever they are, they are not a diary.

The New Persistence of Memory: The Language and Popular Culture in Africa Archive

Some readers here may have seen my review of Johannes Fabian’s recent books, which are linked to a site he co-created with Vincent de Rooij called The Language and Popular Culture in Africa Archive. It’s a great small collection of original texts, translations and commentaries, curated with scholarly care, and representing hard to find and valuable resources. What’s more, even though it is a small-scale project, it was one of the first open access publications in anthropology, and could continue in this fashion if there were interested people.

Fabian wrote to me recently concerned about the future of this archive, highlighting several issues that I think we will all face in the near future:

As you may have noticed in my email signature below the address of our LPCA archive has changed (because of some reorganization at the University of Amsterdam). The old address that appeared in publications so far will get you there for a while but probably not forever. One of the vagaries of presence on the net. Also I say “our” archive because it has been a truly collaborative effort with Vincent de Rooij, a former student and a linguist-cum-anthropologists whose dissertation was about Katanga Swahili. He designed, maintained, and edited the website meticulously. And he did this for almost 10 years without any institutional funding or even academic credit, on his own time. This has become untenable for me but, more importantly, he has turned to other subjects and interests, which is of course entirely legitimate. So the sad news is that LPCA, though it can run, as it were, on autopilot for years as long as it keeps its space on the server, is, if not dead, in suspended animation.

I think such projects are the very lifeblood of anthropology today–far more so than the increasingly sterile walled gardens of the academic journals run by the Publishing Borg and its scholarly society minions. So what should we do to keep them alive:

  1. Volunteers? Is there anyone out there with an interest in and focus on popular culture in Africa, african linguistics or swahili who wants to help? This could be an editorial opportunity as well, since there is both the archive and a Journal associated with the project.
  2. How can we improve it, or make it more 2.0-y and social interneterrific without sacrificing what is already there? What’s the right back-end? The journal (Journal of Language and Popular Culture in Africa) could obviously be ported to Open Journal Systems, if someone wanted to do that, whereas the archive materials might be appropriate for Omeka.
  3. How can we make it more “official”– perhaps by assigning DOI numbers (what would a suitable registration agency be?) and so forth to make it findable as a library resource?
  4. Can we leverage the new “open anthropology cooperative” to find people who are interested and committed?
  5. Other suggestions for Johannes and Vincent as to how to make this project survive and grow?

Anthropological Ancestors

Clicking through the links on a recent NeuroAnthropology post about the open access archives of the Cambridge anthropology department, I found Alan Macfarlane’s Anthropological Ancestors website.

The interviews were started by Jack Goody in 1982. He arranged for the filming of seminars by Audrey Richards, Meyer Fortes and M.N.Srinivas. Since then, with the help of others, and particularly Sarah Harrison, I have filmed and edited over ninety archival interviews. Having started with leading anthropologists, my subjects have broadened to include other social scientists and, recently, biological and physical scientists.

The full list of interviews can be found here.

Archival Possibilities

There has been some discussion on SM concerning the possibilities and implications of digital technologies in relation to indigenous communities, most notably when Michael Brown was a guest blogger. I mentioned in my first post that the reason I was in Tennant Creek over the last two months was to install a digital archive in the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art and Culture Centre in town. I’ll just give a brief overview of the project and then discuss the possibilities I see growing from these types of projects.

The Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari archive was developed collaboratively over the last two years by myself, Warumungu community members, Craig Dietrich, Tim Dietrich (software developers) and Chris Cooney (designer). Mukurtu means ‘dilly bag’ in Warumungu. Dilly bags were used as safe keeping places for sacred materials. The archive is thus a “safe keeping place.”

The gist of the project is this: Warumungu community members wanted a way to manage the digital materials they received from a number of sources—mainly researchers, teachers and missionaries who had once worked in the community. How could they store, organize, distribute, and allow access to these images based on the Warumungu cultural protocols that surround viewing and distribution of images and the associated knowledge that goes with them?

Over two years of consultation, we developed a browser-based digital archive (using a MySQL database and PHP scripting language, the archive runs locally on an iMac in a MAMP web environment—Mac OSX, Apache, MySQL, PHP—for those techies out there) using the cultural protocols to drive the technology. That is, the information architecture of the system was driven by the specific Warumungu cultural protocols for the viewing, distribution, and reproduction of images. There is a detailed summary concerning the functionality of the Mukurtu Wumpurrarni-kari Archive on my blog.

Over the last few years of development I have met several people involved in similar projects—mainly in Australia (I’d love to know about others). Finally having Mukurtu installed in Tennant Creek though gave us the opportunity to 1) think of ways to develop it further in the context of Nyinkka Nyunyu as an art and culture centre and 2) reach out to others to find ways to improve and share what we have. We have begun to develop a framework for a flexible system that would allow other communities to customize the system to fit their own cultural protocols–what we need now are more developers! Although at present most of the content in Mukurtu is from personal collections, the goal is to now reach out to museums and begin a process of virtual repatriation of Warumungu cultural materials. The South Australian Museum and the Museum of Victoria have already loaned physical objects to Nyinkka Nyunyu for their museum space. These objects are displayed at Nyinkka Nyunyu and are accompanied by Warumungu narration.

The local archive allows for thousands more objects to be virtually repatriated at a fraction of the cost. Mukurtu allows for the content to be curated by individuals in the community. People can tag the content with restrictions, add multiple stories and recollections, and sort it by culturally relevant categories. People can also print images or burn CDs and thus allow the images to circulate more widely to others who live on outstations or in other areas. In fact, one of the top priorities in Mukurtu’s development was that it needed to allow people to take things with them, printing and burning were necessary to ensure circulation of the materials.

Digital archives—powered by Indigenous protocols and intellectual property systems—have the potential to create a mutually beneficial relationship between the institutions that hold Indigenous materials and the communities to whom they belong. Even if one thought that all objects should be repatriated, most Indigenous communities don’t have the money or facilities to store the objects properly. Many communities want museums to keep their objects safe—they want a voice in the way they are displayed and curated. Digital projects can provide one avenue for Indigenous curation. One great example of this is the Virtual Museum Canada project. The Canadian government has funded many First Nations web based museum projects (see the Dane Wajich project by the Doig River First Nations community).

There is potential, then, for digital archives and other web-based projects (that take seriously and integrate Indigenous protocols) to reanimate the terrain of museum display, curation, and information management and to establish collaborative development projects between technologists, anthropologists and communities. Local archives, “safe keeping places,” that use Indigenous cultural protocols to define access and distribution parameters should not be read as closing down the commons or sealing off information. Instead, these projects give us a way to interrogate the limits of commons-like narratives about information or information freedom. They give us a way to redefine access and control apart from big business models. They allow us to examine different modes of information distribution and reproduction and the ways in which these systems maintain and create knowledge through their specific protocols. These archives are as much about production as they are preservation—in these cases the two are intertwined. Can these systems also inform the larger debate about access to information in relation to digital technologies? They seem poised to do so.

The Naming Project

Last year, in a post I wrote after visiting the British colonial archives, I commented on the fact that millions of photos from the colonial era are still sitting in boxes, yet to be cataloged. And those photos which have been archived often have nondescript titles, such as “Indian boy in native dress.” I suggested that archivists could use the power of the web, just as Madonna is doing with her photos. So I was happy today to learn about Project Naming.

Project Naming started in 2001 when Inuit youth took 500 digitized photos taken by Richard Harrington during the 1940s and 50s and asked their elders to help identify the people and places in the pictures. This program was slowly expanded to include more and more photos, but in 2005 they started a new phase of the project in which “more than 1,700 photographs” from Canadian archives “were digitized and sent to Nunavut Sivuniksavut for identification.”

Although much of the project has been about bringing Nunavut youth together with their elders in a very personal way, the project has a page entitled “The Naming Continues” where web visitors can help identify those photos which have not yet been cataloged.

I think it would be great if more archives had sites like this. One possibility I see is that anthropologists could help out by doing what these Nunavut youth are doing. Before going off to the field you could download relevant uncataloged photos and then ask your informants about them. Talking about photos is a great way to start an interview, and who knows, maybe someone will recognize some faces! And it needn’t just be uncataloged photos. That photo listed as “Indian boy in native dress,” surely someone can identify the specific type of clothing and the region of India where it is worn … even if we never find out his name.