Coming August 11, 2009

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Matchmaking in the Digital Archive

In my previous life as an English PhD student, I engaged in good old-fashioned archival research, traveling to a bricks-and-mortar archive to page through cartons of papers.  While mass digitization of these archival documents would have had the much-appreciated benefit of making the material accessible from home, saving my meager grad student funds, what I really yearned for as I sat alone at my reading room table was some way to connect with the other researchers who had made use of these collections.  As archival materials become available online, researchers’ relationship to their status as material objects that have passed through the hands of other researchers threatens to become even more tenuous – but the online environment also seems uniquely suited to facilitating connections among researchers using digital materials, if the tools are put in place for such networks to be visible and accessible.

I’d like to discuss how archives could shape their technological practices to promote networking among researchers, and archivists, with similar interests.  Potential topics include issues of implementation (What would these tools actually look like?  What specific functions would they serve?), ethics (What privacy issues would be at stake?), and context (How would such projects interface with the larger constellation of online social networks?).

These are ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head (ouch) for a while as I’ve been transitioning from professor-in-training to archivist-in-training, and I would welcome the chance to find out more about what others have been thinking, or doing, in this direction.