the miracle of digital archives

I would say that the Sept. 11 Digital Archive is a perfect example of effective crowdsourcing. It’s fascinating to see how many people were engaged in it and how rich and succinct their narratives are. I could also see that there were headings or guidelines that people were asked to respond to, which gives those narratives/comments a semblance of a structure, but it doesn’t interfere with their voice in any way. Since I wasn’t aware of this before, I was wondering who was asked to participate and how were they contacted. I believe that more people would have participated if they had known. A few years ago I asked my students to write an essay on an event that had impacted them the most and I was surprised to see that one third of the class wrote about how they were affected by the terrorist attack on Sept. 11th. Had I known about this, I would have asked them to contribute to the archive. It’s important to be well-informed and, honestly, I don’t know how, with all the changes happening in the digital world, one can keep up. The digital world doesn’t follow the traditional route of print: there is no waiting period, no editing, no promotion, no reading/lecture. So, this raises a bigger question for me: how can one be in the loop? To come back to the archive, I was deeply impressed by the richness of the information and the feedback or comments people received. I think that’s important because it’s an opportunity for people to sound off and also find validation for their concerns. It also presents a low-stakes opportunity to share their experiences on one level and even grieve together on another. It builds an online community of people who were impacted in different ways and different degrees and that’s a way to build strength and I think it’s shifting the focus of writing/narration from style to the lived experience. This new genre of writing, even though it falls under autobiography, presents a different version from what we come to view as such. It presents itself through different media, it doesn’t have to ask or wait for the seal of approval from anyone and it’s not censored, or so I hope. In that sense it offers a much better definition to the freedom of speech. Another valuable contribution the archive makes lies in the writing of the history of the tragic event and the events that followed. All that collection is a biography writer’s or researcher’s dream. It expands the notion of research and also, on a certain scale, does away with the gap-filling that the biography genre suffers from. It’s like a diary with multiple voices, images, perspectives, insights, perceptions, representations. It’s so diverse and rich in color and nuance. This reminds me of the great value we place on books like Les Miserables or The Belly of Paris because of their chronicling of the social, economic and political conditions of France in the 19th century. Or, the historical/fictitious book on New York chronicling/building its history from the time of the Dutch settlement. I wonder if they have a similar project about collecting stories from people living in New York City in the 21st century and what those archives would mean for the generations to come. We would have real life stories—no need for making up stories based on pictures.

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1 Response to the miracle of digital archives

  1. Kathryn says:

    I agree that this is an amazing collection of personal accounts. I had the same question of how to better inform people about the website. I don’t think there is the same publicity for digital work as there is for print. That said, I’m sure there are a lot of amazing digital projects that very few people outside of the d.h circle know about.

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