[-empyre-] Culturally specific archives

Mona Jimenez mona.jimenez at nyu.edu
Thu Oct 7 00:59:16 EST 2010

Hello everyone,

again, from a perspective of one who is testing preservation, there are people working on various forms of data persistence, mostly in government and universities. It started with the "electronic records" crowd, but it has broadened and those who worry about multimedia and moving images are the ones pushing at the edges.

With moving images and works with "behaviors", there is obviously much more to worry about than with text and images and even audio. At the same time as the tools - like computers, internet access, production software, etc. have become cheaper and more accessible, the digital archives - I'm speaking now with an entity that is charged with and/or has a mission to keep cultural materials accessible over the long term - are becoming fewer and centered at large institutions who can afford the infrastructure. We may debate what the long term is, but what defines a traditional archive is a mandate to keep works accessible -- archiving and preservation are just the means to do that. While I am really interested in all the theory and problematizing and questioning -- and especially of course the archives themselves, I'm glad there are those out there who  devote themselves to accessibility. For some of Ricardo's projects, for example, with the Langlois Foundation, I am sure they are
 thinking about persistence.

Since I have been working in an urban center in Ghana, and have been working mostly  with caretakers of Ghana's film and TV heritage and with new makers (working in DV), I have not heard as much about the oral traditions. In fact we were just discussing one researcher grant to get a film to file transfer system, but the "endangered archive" funding was for "pre-industrial" cultural work. Not so relevant. The young makers know that they need to be trained in archiving along with production -- we led a very lively workshop last May on file naming conventions for tapeless cameras, of all things, whereas I had a discussion yesterday with the chair of a film/media production dept, at my university, who quickly found the discussion "too technical".

What we are trying to figure out is how, with little infrastructure, is what happens to the files that are created? How do you find them again and how do they get delivered? Westerners often think immediately of the internet, but with 4% internet penetration in Ghana, what sense does that make? So persistence, preservation, has to be part of the equation but also that online/offline connection. And what that means is not throwing up our hands, but trying to think of ways - human and machines - that some cultural work can persist and be seen, experienced, as long as it can be. And in some sense these days it is really about advocacy.

I know this is a discussion of complex digital media and I am bringing it back to more traditional forms of production, and to the pragmatics. I hope that the Warumungu archive can be kept alive -- there are certainly many digital preservationists in Australia. Then we have the re-telling (of the content and of the fact that there was an archive) along with the artifacts that are carried forward, in whatever fragmented and altered states.

This has been stimulating! Thanks again, Mona

Mona Jimenez
Associate Arts Professor/Associate Director
Moving Image Archiving and Preservation Program
New York University

----- Original Message -----
From: Craig Dietrich <craigdietrich at gmail.com>
Date: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 5:00 pm
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] Culturally specific archives
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at gamera.cofa.unsw.edu.au>

> Hi Jon, Vanina, et al,,
> It's been great following the discussion and thank you for mentioning
> my work with culturally specific archives.  A relevant project is the
> Mukurtu Archive (http://www.mukurtuarchive.org), a content management
> system that bases its access to material on embedded Aboriginal
> cultural protocols.
> Jon mentioned the goal of respecting local difference in archives and
> standards.  A big part of Mukurtu project development has been keeping
> flexible the means by which system administrators can define cultural
> protocols including family, country, a scared status.   It's been a
> challenge to model the software's database and logic in such a way
> that overlapping cultural protocols can be managed; attributed to
> individuals, groups, and media; and hopefully soon, shared between
> archives to preserve protocols as content is exchanged.  In practice
> we've found that the task is greater than defining standard fields
> (for example adding "family name" to compliment Dublic Core or MARC
> fields).  Instead, we need a way to represent the stories that are
> present with each piece of content, and how stories reveal content to
> viewers based on their profile.
> As described by Warumungu community members in Southwest Australia, a
> piece of content kept in a safe keeping place shouldn't open up
> (become available) unless certain family, country, gender or sacred
> affiliations are present in the viewers.  From a Digital Rights
> Management (DRM) perspective, a user attempting to view a file can't
> gain access unless they can prove certain digital requirements.
> However, for implementing in the Mukurtu Archive, we see a
> metaphorical difference.  As project director Kim Christen describes,
> many Aboriginal communities we've worked with aren't concerned with
> 'restricting' files on an individual bases, instead wishing to
> 'reveal' to the proper audience a collection of files based on one's
> user profile.  The software is therefor less concerned with
> heavy-handed DRM that keep people out and more concerned with creating
> a safe place for users to browse --  where content reveals itself --
> to facilitate people coming in.
> Describing protocols that reveal rather than restrict might seem
> technologically trivial, but it's a difference between implementing
> DRM (which puts all sharing power into the hands of the publisher) and
> folksonomy (which empowers individuals to accept, reset, or add files
> and sharing protocols).  Much like other folksonomy archives, in the
> Mukurtu Archive each file is "tagged" with categories, metadata, and
> protocols.  But writing the code that manages the display of content
> based on the this information became more hierarchical than
> folksonomic.  As an example, below are a set of comments in our PHP
> code from the first version of the Mukurtu Archive (from 2007) that
> demonstrates how it determines which files can be displayed to the
> user,
> //  add public items that are described by categories in the user's profile
>> //  add non-public items that are placed in categories that are in the
> user's profile
>> //   add public items who's categories match the user's based on root 
> categories
>> //  gender and sacred status
>> //  other user profile matches
>> //  family and country affiliation
> As you can see from the comments, the code is specific.  The system is
> therefore dependent on the code to transform data into meaningful
> protocol-aware content.  This isn't uncommon in software, but to share
> or preserve elsewhere data in this version of the archive would
> require the code's logic to be represented when passed to the receiver
> system.
> We're working with new strategies to create a flexible system that can
> more easily interact with other systems and archives.  I'm
> particularly interested in semantic web technologies.  For example,
> using RDF-XML (a core format of semantic web systems), one can store
> metdata such as Dublic Core fields, and attach one or more classes to
> each data node. Then, using a RDF schemas one can define properties of
> each class that can in turn be attached to user interface elements or
> mapped to ontologies that describe sharing protocols.  However, the
> difficulties of using semantic technology in the field muddy its
> promise.   Though, perhaps certain aspects can be gleaned over others.
>  Ignoring inference (the predictive algorithms that can recommend you
> buy a book based on your previous purchases) the structure of RDF and
> its corresponding ontologies could be a useful standard format for
> storing data in a way that safely maintains local nuances.
> Thanks, and looking forward to the conversations ahead,
> Craig
> --
> Craig Dietrich
> Institute for Multimedia Literacy
> School of Cinematic Arts
> University of Southern California
> On Sat, Oct 2, 2010 at 10:02 AM, Jon Ippolito <jon.ippolito at gmail.com> 
> wrote:
> > Hi Vanina  et al.,
> > On Sep 29, 2010, at 7:49 AM, Vanina Hofman wrote:
> >
> > -Taking into account the scarce resources of media art conservation 
> in
> > literature, we have decided to make Taxonomedia in Spanish. We 
> thought that
> > producing and translating information in this language can be itself 
> a
> > contribution to the topic....We decided to focus in managing cultural
> > activities centered around the Latin America context.
> >
> > It was great to read the blog post about Forging the Future in 
> Spanish. I
> > think well-meaning standards bodies have wasted too much time trying 
> to
> > pound differently shaped pegs into the same square holes, instead of
> > devising software that respects local differences.
> >
> > Craig Dietrich of Still Water and USC has done some extraordinary 
> work on
> > culturally specific archives, so I'm hoping he'll chime into this
> > discussion.
> >
> > I'm also curious what Mona learned in Ghana about the preservation practices
> > of oral cultures. I believe re-telling and re-performance is a better
> > paradigm for preservation in the 21st century than the storage 
> paradigm that
> > came of age in the 20th.
> > Finally, I sent this query earlier but am not sure it made it to the 
> list
> > due to the vicissitudes of my listserve membership:
> > On Sep 30, 2010, at 8:53 AM, FILE_Arquivo wrote:
> >
> > This made way to organize this amount of information; it’s facing the
> > instabilities, errors and ephemeralilties as inherent part of the complex
> > electronic/digital art archive ambiances....This is a philosophical 
> point of
> > view, which we are trying to put in practice, working hard on interface
> > design and in the database structure.
> >
> > Intriguing, Gabriela. Can you give us any more of a glimpse--via a prototype
> > or just textual description--of how this ephemerality-friendly 
> interface and
> > database might work?
> > jon
> > ______________________________
> > Forging the Future:
> > New tools for variable media preservation
> > http://forging-the-future.net/
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
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