Waaaay Belated Recap of Final Projects

August 26th, 2012 § 0 comments § permalink

Mormon Genealogical Archive Vaults, Little Cottonwood Canyon, NV, via http://bit.ly/IShv9J

Here’s what everyone did this semester:

  • Grace examined soil painting, dance, and song as archival practices among the Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon Province, the Philippine — which is where Grace is from.
  • Lily examined the influence of Belle Da Costa Greene, Pierpont Morgan’s personal librarian, in shaping not only the Morgan Library, but also the field of librarianship.
  • Sue studied various cases in which photography has been used to archive urban redevelopment.
  • Chris offered a fabulous psychoanalytic reading — using the work of Derrida and Carolyn Steedman — of the Mormon Archive.
  • Allison, who worked for the New York City Ballet, discussed historical and recent attempts to archive live dance performance, and her discussion included various approaches to dance notation.
  •  Christo explored the spatiality of databases: the space occupied by databases’ technical infrastructure; the departmental spaces linked together by an institution’s (e.g., police or immigration) databases; and the geographic spaces from which data is drawn, and which are housed together on a database.
  • Chris, who worked for UNICEF, critically assessed his own team’s efforts to introduce digital kiosks and SMS-based systems to increase access to information and “mirror the work of public libraries” in Africa.
  • Danielle examined the evolving material form of the book, and how that morphing object necessitates changes within the institutions charged with selling, storing, and cataloging it.
  • Maria, a native of Bogotá, examined her city’s network of public libraries — comprised of dozens of architecturally significant buildings constructed within the past 15 years — and the vital role they play in civic life.
  • Stephen, who maintains his own extensive database of videogame artwork, considered the notion of “fidelity” in regard to the archived, born-digital image.
  • Kelly conducted fieldwork in public libraries in and around Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to see how teenagers were being served, if at all.
  • Ran examined the archival practices (including how various media formats are processed) and politics of the Lesbian Herstory Archives.
  • Darrell studied the creation of the Fugazi Live Series by consulting with the band and participating archivists [you’ll find part of his project here].
  • Nick questioned the notion of the “document” in the work of Walid Raad and The Atlas Group.
  • Steve dug into the Stasi archive, focusing in particular on the epistemic shift – the intellectual “renovation” of the archives – that accompanies a regime change, as well as the political, cultural and affective consequences of that shift.
  • And Rory speculated on ways that libraries might make more material and transparent their systems for classifying and storing knowledge, particularly those forms of digital knowledge that seem to have no material body.

A Literary Reading of the Archive

April 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

On friday I attended a ‘colloquium’ in the Comparative Literature department at NYU, at which Cristina Vatulescu gave a presentation related to her recent book, “Police Aesthectics: Literature, Film, and the Secret Police in Soviet Times”.

After giving an overview of the state and history of police archives in eastern Europe in general, and detailing some of the bureaucratic hurdles she had to climb over in order to gain access to some of these archives (and quoting Derrida and Foucault on archives along the way, naturally), she got to what I found to be the most interesting part of her presentation.

Ultimately, she found that gaining access to the archives was less of a problem for her than the act of actually working through the materials: basically, she had no idea how to read the documents, and she had to undergo a process of “patiently re-learning how to read.”  She soon realized that she was essentially the second reader of these files, the first being a supervisor or archivist who had made numerous markings in red pencil.  However, there was a huge difference between herself and the first reader: the document had been written to meet the expectations of the supervisor and thus, the files can tell us more about the police than about the individuals who are the subjects of these files.  The traditional biography aims to create a comprehensive portrait of an individual, but the purpose of the biographies created by these files is to do the opposite: its intent is to eliminate any doubts or any contradictions and to transform all aspects of one’s life so as they fit into the context of “legal” or “illegal”, thus estranging the subject’s relationship to his or her own value system.  The only value system of any consequence is ultimately that of the interrogator, and that value system is aligned strictly with the secret police’s goals, whatever those might be.  She likens her own experience with the documents to surrealism: the groups of documents, when laid out on the table, seem absurd to the viewer, unless one looks at them through the strange lens of the secret police’s goals.

In the end, she makes the comparison between literature and the secret police file as a genre of writing, and how the two influence each other. She argues that the position of the author and the shaping of biographical materials (in literary practice in general, but more specifically in Eastern European literature) must be re-evaluated in light of the roles played by authorship and biographical truth in creating these police files.

[Photo by John MacDougall/AFP/Getty Images]

Images & Orphans @ NYU – April 26 – Today!

April 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Images and Orphans: Seeing Pictures in the Archive
April 26, 4:00-6:00 PM, 19 University Place, Great Room (Ground Floor)

NYU Workshop in Archival Practice

Workshop Leaders:
Tina Campt, Professor of Women’s Studies and Africana Studies at Barnard College
Dan Streible, Associate Professor NYU Cinema Studies; Orphan Film Symposium

Previous workshops this semester have addressed “The Radical Politics of Hidden Archives” and “Black Gotham in/outside the Archive.” Among many other issues, these conversations raised the possibilities of writing “partial” histories by honoring the trace or fragment in the writing process, emphasized the importance of archivists as cultural mediators and editors of context, and questioned the categories of “hidden” and “radical,” ultimately asking whether radical movements die or cease to be radical once they are archived.

With “Images and Orphans: Seeing Pictures in the Archive,” the Workshop brings the series’ aims to the specific terrain of visual media. What types of knowledge do visual media archives produce? What particularities of form, methodology or narrative strategies should guide young scholars as they seek to develop archival acumen in working with the still or moving image?  How do current topics like the surge of interest in digital humanities or recent litigation decisions involving Google affect us?  In seeking to craft scholarly work using “lost works” of visual media (photographs with partial histories or orphan films), what are the politics of un-hiding?

Sacred Trash

April 26th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

“At least once a month, from the ages of 5 to 15, I would take the little train from suburban Maadi to Cairo and back. Today it is electrified and goes underground as it reaches Bab-el-Luk Station in Cairo (not far from Tahrir Square), but it still stops at Mari Girgis, or St. George, on the way. This is where the Coptic Church stands, visible from the train, in what was once the center of Old Cairo. Right next to the grand Coptic Church, though invisible from the train, is the tiny synagogue of Ben Ezra.

The synagogue once housed a remarkable treasure trove of written material, thrown any old how into a small room high up above the women’s gallery and handed over, quite unlawfully, in 1898 by my grandmother’s great-uncle, Moise Cattaoui, then head of the Cairo Jewish community, to a Cambridge scholar to take back to England. The story of that transaction, of the cache that was shifted and of the scholars who subsequently deciphered it, has been told many times but never so well as by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole in “Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza.”

The room that housed the material was known as a geniza, from the Persian ganj, meaning “hidden treasure.” In the Talmud, the word usually implies concealment: Any writing that seemed heretical should, it was felt, be ganuz, hidden away. Gradually that came to include manuscripts that time or human hand had rendered unfit for human use but that could not be thrown out due to their sacred content and so required removal to a safe place that would allow them to decay of their own accord. In Old Cairo, the habit extended even further. Soon any piece of writing thought to include the name of God, and finally anything in Hebrew, was thrown into the upstairs room, there gradually to expire.

And so it remained for the better part of a thousand years, as Cairo shifted northward, as the synagogue of Ben Ezra became a backwater and as Egypt lost its place as the center of a thriving Mediterranean culture. But in the 19th century, material that had lain hidden for centuries in the Geniza, preserved by the dry climate of the region, began to surface, and stray items started to be sold to Western buyers in the markets of the region”

~from Gabriel Josipovici, “A World Revealed,” Review of Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole, Sacred Trash (Nextbook, 2011), Wall Street Journal (April 23-4, 2011): C10.

Final Projects & End-of-Semester Agenda

April 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

BiblioBurro from jeitson on Vimeo.

After much schedule consultation, calendar making, and class discussion, I think I’ve worked out an end-of-semester plan that offers more advantages (e.g., no super-rushed 7-minute presentations, more time for discussion, better venue, food and drink) than disadvantages (e.g., three of you won’t be able to join us for the final meeting; you have to sacrifice a Friday night) and delivers the “greatest good” for the greatest number of people. Here’s the plan:

Our class on May 3 will be optional. You’re encouraged to attend if you’d like to workshop your final presentation, extend or wrap up any of our in-class discussions from throughout the semester, collaboratively reflect on the course, etc. But you’re not obligated to be there, and you won’t be penalized for not attending.

All final projects will be due by the beginning of class on May 10. This means you’ve got a one-week extension. Your means of submission will depend on the particular format of your project. If it’s a paper, just submit it via Google Docs. If it’s a full-scale recreation of Otlet’s Mundaneum, we’ll need to talk strategy.

In class on the 10th, we’ll have our first set of presentations. The day’s program will obviously include those of you who won’t be able to join us for our outside-of-class-meeting on the 13th (about which more below), but I’m hoping we’ll get a few additional volunteers. Ideally, we’ll have 5 or 6 presentations, of 15 minutes each, today. **UPDATE: Allison, Lily, Kelly, Sue, Nick, and Maria will be presenting on the 10th!**

Then, on Friday the 13th, from 6 to 10pm (we’ll end early if we finish early), we’ll have our remaining 10 or 11 presentations in room 1204 at 2 West 13th Street. I’ll order pizza. We’ll have drinks. As I mentioned above, three of you will unfortunately be unable to join us; you of course won’t be penalized for your absence. I’m also aware that a couple of you will be unavailable for the full four hours. That’s fine; we’ll accommodate your schedule.

*     *     *     *     *

Feedback? Recommendations? Post a comment.

The Future of Libraries and Reading in the Digital Age @ NYPL, 4/29

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

in conversation with Paul Holdengräber


Friday, April 29th at 7:00 p.m.
Celeste Bartos Forum, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

$25 General Admission
$15 FRIENDS, Seniors & Students with valid ID

Paul LeClerc, a scholar of the French Enlightenment, will be retiring in June 2011 from his position as president of the New York Public Library, where he has served admirably since 1993. To mark this occasion, Paul LeClerc is joined by Bruno Racine, president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, for a wide-ranging conversation about the future of libraries in the digital age moderated by Paul Holdengräber.

This event is co-sponsored by the Maison Française of Columbia University.

PAUL LECLERC earned his Ph.D. in French literature with distinction at Columbia University. He taught at Union College from 1966 through 1979, joined CUNY as University Dean for Academic Affairs, and later became Provost and VP for Academic Affairs of Baruch College. In 1988, Dr. LeClerc was appointed President of Hunter College. He has presided over the New York Public Library since 1993.

BRUNO RACINE is president of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Hisprevious positions include cabinet appointments in the French Ministry  of Foreign Affairs and Prime Minister’s office, Director of the French Academy in Rome, and President of the Centre Georges-Pompidou.

PAUL HOLDENGRÄBER is Director of LIVE from the NYPL.


“Staging Archives” @ NYU, April 22

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

See the website for the NYU Workshop in Archival Practice for more info.

Goodbye, Google Video

April 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Via Steve T.: Google Video will meet its maker on April 29, but Archive Team is working to save its content from oblivion. Their site includes downloading instructions; I know some of you were looking for these.

Alan Berliner’s Archive

April 19th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

[My midterm paper was a short profile of the filmmaker, Alan Berliner, focusing mainly on his use of archival materials and the meticulousness with which he maintains his own personal archive, comprised of both personal materials as well as things he has collected over the past thirty-five years or so. Embedded below is part of the scene that I mention in the first paragraph – apologies to Alan if posting this causes some copyright issues.]

(For some reason, the video won’t embed properly, but you can follow the link below.  -Steve)

Alan Berliner – Wide Awakeby wouspike



Now let me tell you a few things I love about home movies.
They are anthropological sites.
Shards from archaeological digs.
They are mirrors.
They are windows.
Time capsules.
They are questions waiting to be answered.
They are answers waiting to be questioned.

-Alan Berliner

There is a scene in his 2007 film, Wide Awake, in which Alan Berliner, having imbibed coffee for what he reckons to be the third time ever in his life, steps in front of the camera and gives a hyperactive, madcap tour of his editing studio and amazing personal archival collection. Berliner’s films are nothing short of miraculous in their use of archival materials: both the volume and diversity of materials is bewildering, but what is truly striking is how effectively he uses these materials to create emotional resonances with his themes, counterpoints with the audio track, a visual playfulness through careful juxtaposition, and a rhythm of montage that pulls the viewer almost helplessly into Berliner’s world. This world is not quite somewhere between fact and fiction though; I would say its somewhere between fact and fantasy. This is an important distinction because I don’t think he is creating a fictional world, but he is definitely pushing both himself and his viewers into some kind of dreamland, where historical images take on new layers of hidden meaning.

The idea of a dreamland is appropriate, especially in the context of Wide Awake, which is about Berliner’s attempts to break the destructive pattern of insomnia that he has suffered with for much of his adult life. The film even begins by evoking one of his own recurring dreams that he has visually reconstructed from archival footage. The scene in his studio however, is not a dream at all: this is Berliner at his most awake and alert – his voiceover until now had been thoughtful and meditative, but now he has a manic giddiness as he takes us on his tour. His studio and, more precisely, his archive, is where he feels most comfortable, and once the tour commences, you come to understand that his meticulously crafted films are the direct result of both a meticulously organized mind as well as a meticulously organized, albeit eclectic, archive. » Read the rest of this entry «

Scheduling Our Final Presentations

April 13th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

via Letterology: http://bit.ly/gOkHtA

There seems to be some interest in canceling one of our final two Tuesday afternoon meetings — either May 3 or May 10 — and scheduling a longer outside-of-class, and outside-the-classroom, meeting for (some of) our final presentations. Please respond to this availability poll before next Tuesday, so we can finalize our presentation schedule in class. If none of the polled times works for you, or if you’d simply prefer to present during one of our regular Tuesday afternoon meetings on May 3 or 10, please reply to this post or write me privately with your preferences.



Update: April 18: It’s looking like our best option is Friday the 13th. Oh no.