Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017-12-31: Digital Blackness in the Archive - DocNow Symposium Trip Report

From December 11-12, 2017, I attended the second Documenting the Now Symposium in St. Louis, MO.  The meeting presentations were recorded and are available along with an annotated agenda; for further background about the Documenting the Now project and my involvement via the advisory board, I suggest my 2016 trip report, as well as DocNow activity on github, slack, and Twitter.  In addition, the meeting itself was extensively live-tweeted with #BlackDigArchive (see also the data set of Tweet ids collected by Bergis Jules).

The symposium began at the Ferguson Public Library, first with a welcome Vernon Mitchell of DocNow and Scott Bonner of the Ferguson Public Library.  This venue was chosen for its role in the events of Ferguson 2014 (ALA interview, CNN story).  The engaging opening keynote was by Marisa Parham of Amherst College, entitled "Sample, Signal, Strobe", and I urge you to take the time to watch it and not rely on my inevitably incomplete and inaccurate summary.  With those caveats, what I took away from Parham's talk can be summarized as addressing "the confluence of social media and the agency it gives some people" and "twitter as a dataset vs. twitter as an experience", and losing context of tweet, removes the "performance" part.  Watching hashtags emerge, watching the repetition of RTs, and the sense of contemporary community and shared experience (which she called "the chorus of again").  I can't remember if she made this analogy directly or if it is just what I put in my notes, but a movie in a theater is a different experience than at home even though home theaters can be quite high-fidelity, in part because of the shared, real-time experience.  To this point I also tweeted a link to our Katrina web archive slides because we find that replay of contemporary web pages makes a more powerful argument for web archives than, say, wikipedia or other summary pages.

Parham had a presentation online that provided some of the quotes that she used, but I did not catch the URI.  Here are some of the resources that I was able to track down while she talked (I'm sure I missed several):

Next up was the panel "The Ferguson Effect on Local Activism and Community Memory", and two of the panelists, Alexis Templeton and Kayla Reed, were repeat panelists from the 2016 meeting; and this brought up a point they made during their presentations: while archives document specific points in time, the people involved should be allowed to evolve and live their life without the expectations and weight of those moments.  There was a lot conveyed by the panelists and I feel I would be doing them a disservice to further summarize their life experiences. Instead, at the risk of interrupting the flow of the post, I will include more tweets than I would normally  from others and redirect you to the video for the full presentations and the pointed discussion that followed. 

After this panel, we adjourned to the local institution of Drake's Place for lunch, and in the evening saw a screening of "Whose Streets?" at WUSTL.

The next morning we resumed the meeting on the campus of WUSTL and began with tool/technology overviews then breakout demos from Ed Summers, Alexandra Dolan-Mescal, Justin Littman, and Francis Kayiwa.

I'm not sure how much longer will be up, but highly recommend that you interact with the service while you can and provide feedback (sample screen shots above).  The top screen shows trending hashtags for your geographic area, and the bottom screen shows the mutli-panel display for the hashtag: tweets, users, co-occurring hashtags, and embedded media.

The second panel, "Supporting Research: Digital Black Culture Archives for the Humanities and Social Sciences", began after the tool demo sessions.

Meridith Clark began with the observation about the day of Ferguson, "some of my colleagues will see this just as data."  Unfortunately, this panel does not appear to have been recorded.  Catherine Knight Steele made the point that while social media are "public spaces", like a church they still require respect.

Clark also solicited feedback from the panel about what tools and functionality they would like to see.  Melissa Brown talked about Instagram (with which our group has done almost nothing to date) and Picodash (with extended features like geographic bounding of searches).  Some one (not clear in my notes) also discussed the need to not just have, for example, the text in a blog, but also the entire contemporary UI maintained (this is clearly an application for web archiving, but social media is often not easy to archive).  Clark also discussed the need for more advanced visualization tools, and the panel ended with a discussion about IRBs and social media.

Unfortunately I had to leave for the airport right after lunch and had to miss the third panel, "Digital Blackness in the Archive: Collecting for the Culture".  Fortunately that panel was recorded and is linked from the symposium page

Another successful meeting, and I'm grateful to the organizers (Vernon Mitchell, Bergis Jules, Tim Cole).  The DocNow project is coming to an end in early 2018, and although I'm not sure what happens next I hope to continue my relationship with this team.


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