In an important article in Digital Humanities Quarterly, Kate Holterhoff asks, “Is it the responsibility of digital archivists to curate and annotate the hateful objects they release into the online public sphere, or should these statements be made outside of the archive in peer-reviewed journals, edited collections, or academic blogs?” Believing that reliance on disclaimers is passive and insufficient, Holterhoff argues that “improving database search functionality through heavy editing–metadata that is voluminous, polyvocal, and critical” is the best way for curators and archivists of offensive visual objects to support education and social justice. From the article:
I will suggest that rich or heavy editing offers ally archivists the best means for promoting accountability because it permits a greater number of voices to be heard than that which is afforded by more conventional labeling and keyword attribution techniques. Several digital archivists have already called for this expansive type of metadata creation. When “Mukurtu researchers found that traditional library catalogs often lacked essential details beyond a short quote or internal tracking number, providing little information to users” they pushed back against these incomplete and unrepresentative “Westernized standards of content management” [IMLS 2015, P4]. Thanks to its collaborative and inclusive development process, Mukurtu now permits “users to implement their own cultural practices for sharing materials, and to richly narrate those materials” [IMLS 2015, P4]. Similarly, Amanda Gailey, co-editor of the unpublished Race and Children’s Literature of the Gilded Age project, which is intended to “allow researchers to examine how this body of literature and illustrations helped construct notions of race and childhood during a pivotal period in U.S. history” [WUSTL 2017], has been a vocal proponent of “heavy editing” to make this digital archive’s metadata useful for students and researchers alike [Gailey 2011, 125]. I extend these existing calls for “richly narrate[d]” and “heavy” editing to all image archives containing objects that might cause distress because this strategy provides the best means for holding digital projects accountable to the groups and individuals they continue to traumatize. By including a plurality of voices within a database’s metadata, archives may become more diverse, critical, and inclusive.
The final section outlines Holterhoff’s own use of “heavy” descriptive metadata to contextualize the racist and imperialist images that make up the Visual Haggard digital archive. Overall, Holterhoff makes a compelling case for critical tags and an even more compelling case that images with the potential to cause trauma should not be left to stand on their own, that some action beyond disclaimers should be taken.
Read the original article here.