Reflecting on Archives & Database Creation

It has been both interesting and challenging to re-conceptualize Digital Humanities (DH) in light of some of the theoretical issues being raised by its practitioners.  For example, I hadn’t made a natural connection between the practice of DH and its environmental global impact.  I had considered that archives were culturally biased in how they amassed information.  Yet, I had not considered the intensive extent of this in terms of perpetuating colonization.  But, I learned that DH practitioners were actively addressing this through conceptualizing decolonization and seeking methods to address exclusion by intentionally including others and re-conceptualizing in the digital archiving process.  This includes applying the principles of transparency, stewardship and poly-vocalism in an Advocacy By Design approach as outlined by Linblad in her article  Archives in the Anthropocene.  Some DH professionals view archives as simply collections that they must make accessible as is, to get each item coded, searchable and live with some minimal metadata.  On the other hand, other DH practitioners are seeking to build archives that are intentional, meaningful, and purposeful beyond mere access.  They want to consider the impact of the DH project on communities and the world.   The stakes are considering whether the digital versions of the archives are just perpetuating the processes that resulted in creating the paper versions.  Databases, which are subject specific forms of archives geared for research, can also be considered in similar ways.  According to Nadim in her article “Databases,” how do databases actually work?  That is, how are researchers generating data and for what purposes are the generated data being used?1 

1 Tahani Nadim, “Database,” in Uncertain Archives: Critical Keywords for Big Data, ed. Nanna Bonde Thylstrup, Daniela Augustinho, Annie Ring, Catherine D’Ignazio and Kristine Veel (MIT Press, 2011), 125-130.