I am also going to suggest that we as a community think about more ways to engage with nontraditional efforts to preserve knowledge. Widespread adoption and use of technology for preservation is not part of an evangelical discourse.It is something that is happening everywhere and across areas of interest. Autonomous adoption suggests a prime opportunity for engagement and reciprocal sharing of expertise between activist communities and archivists.
Network represents current snapshot of traditional vs. non traditional archival efforts. Disconnected, but aspiring toward a shared preservation goal.
This network represents what it could be likeReciprocally connected to the extent possible, sharing knowledge, and aspiring toward preservation of cultural heritage
But what do we do when our epistemology breaks? What do we do when our understanding of the authentic, of the trustworthy doesn’t match how the community we are working with understands those concepts?Im going to talk specifically about a break that occurred when activists on Wikipedia tried documenting oral tradition. Then Ill make some suggestions for productive zones of engagement. But first context.
Archives have centuries of experience preserving the written word; and they are good it. Governance requires good record keeping.
The juridical role of archives is foundational and its reflected in archival emphases on determining provenance and authenticity.
But what do we do when people rather than documents are our sources?
Your first reaction might be, we do that already. Oral History. But Oral History is often not equivalent to Oral Tradition.Where Oral History tends to refer to events within memory of the speaker, Oral Traditions are knowledge that has been passed down beyond the life of the speaker. Oral Traditions can imply separate worldviews and ways of knowing - in essence they can represent a different epistemology.
With differing epistemology comes variation in notions of authorship, authenticity, provenance, and trustworthiness. Srinivasan and Shilton note that, “there may be culturallydifferentiated understandings of what constitutes a record. For the Yolngu (Aboriginal) peoplesof Australia, for example, cultural memory may be created during a performance.”
There is a history of responding to difference with the imposition of order.The record for interactions between the written and oral tradition is generally not very positive. I think we can all agree that a more equitable encounter would be a good thing.
Some of you may be familiar with the oral citations project. AchalPrabhala, Wikimedia Advisory Board member and activist, sought to address a lack of documentation on Wikipedia for peoples who do not have a well established written tradition. In order to publish a Wikipedia article you must cite “reliable” secondary sources to corroborate claims.The problem, is that where Achal grew up, and the places he would visit during the project, the sum of human knowledge was larger than the sum of printed knowledge. Insufficient, or nonexistent, reliable secondary sources existed in those communities to meet the metric needed to corroborate knowledge claims.
Achal highlights the statistic above. Shows the disparity between amount of new books published per person in each country. Achal notes, “As a result of this disparity, everyday, common knowledge - things that are known, observed and performed by millions of people - cannot enter Wikipedia as units of fact because they haven't been written down in a reliably published source. This means that not only do small-language Wikipedias in countries like India and South Africa lose out on opportunities for growth, so also does the Wikimedia movement as a whole lose out on the potential expansion of scope in every language.”
Areas in India
Areas in S. Africa
His team conducted skype interviews, recorded video, and produced transcripts. They then suggested that these sources, could be used as “oral citations”, in the absence of reliable secondary sources. Simply put, Achal’s argument is that there are some places in the world where print culture is less developed. Lack of written documentation does not mean lack of knowledge. Therefore, we should think about ways more creative ways to represent knowledge that has been encoded orally.
But perhaps the problem is also epistemological. Fundamentally, the oral citations project seeks to address a problem that results form different notions of what counts as knowledge. Its not only about the form of knowledge encoding.
There is a deep irony that in order to authenticate knowledge, to establish the provenance of claims, people living in the communities where oral tradition is still strong could potentially require an outsider to come to their community, interview those people about a thing they know to be true, wait for publication, and only upon publication be able to document, preserve, and crucially share their knowledge with a larger audience. People living in communities where oral tradition is still strong are using Wikipedia to try and further document that knowledge. Wikipedia is being used as a place to blend conflicting views of what is required to authenticate knowledge claims.
Shilton and Srinivasan have usefully suggested the implementation of a participatory model for multicultural archives.This model involves community members in archival arrangement and description to help acknowledge and preserve context and embedded knowledge architectures in the self-documentations of historically marginalized communities.”But we can also engage in conversations with communities external to our institution, to learn from activists, and to return the favor by helping them to ensure that the content they hold to be important is available into the future. I would argue that our outreach efforts need not be grounded in the maintenance or creation of institutional holdings.
My first solution – is relatively simple. Its based on what I am doing for the book I am coediting. You are looking at a screenshot of the interface. It is simple to put together. A theme for Wordpress called Commentpress, created by Christian Wach. It lets easily create a text that has a dynamic commenting feature. Easy to create a forum, to share knowledge and perspectives. We could seed the forum with case studies, where archivists and activist communities have worked together to redefine the concepts we use to authenticate and preserve knowledge. A good example could be Ramesh Srinavasan’s work with tribes in San Diego County to redefine the notion of provenance on the communities own terms.
This could lead to a kind of mutual train-the-trainer moving forward. Archivists can gain greater sensitivity for contextualizing the selection, management, and preservation of knowledge.Activists engaged in non traditional preservation efforts, can learn to better ensure future access to the content they hold to be important. While archival outreach efforts may not directly relate to holdings of the home institution, benefits gained from the exchange of expertise far outweigh costs incurred.
Preservationistas: Online Communities, Activist Preservation, and Born-Digital Archives
UK: 1 book per 372
peopleSouth Africa: 1 book per 7869 peopleIndia: 1 book per 11,371 people“As a result of this disparity, everyday, commonknowledge - things that are known, observed andperformed by millions of people - cannot enter Wikipediaas units of fact because they havent been written downin a reliably published source. This means that not only dosmall-language Wikipedias in countries like India and SouthAfrica lose out on opportunities for growth, so also doesthe Wikimedia movement as a whole lose out on thepotential expansion of scope in every language.”- Achal Prabhala