Kairos 17.3

Intersections of modalities and materialities have played a fundamental role in the meanings these cards have accrued over time. We acknowledge the fundamental presence of this border in the meanings that emerge from the archive as we hypothesize multiple relationships between modality and materiality. These relationships are hypothesized through our approach to the cards as what Michael Witmore (2010) has called "massively addressable objects." To approach a text as "massively addressable" is to acknowledge the instability of any text insofar as there are an infinite number of ways to approach a material artifact—each way highlighting a different element of a text’s material existence. While other "massively addressable objects" such as the novel are addressed at "the level of the page, chapter, the binding of quires, and the like" (para. 7), the levels of address for these postcards include images on the recto, handwriting on the verso, the technologies used to create these images, the stamps used to send these cards, ink technologies, and the list goes on. What we can take away from this, however, is that each of these levels implicitly challenge our perception of the fixed material artifact. In developing and maintaining this hybrid archive that maintains both physical and digital spaces, we must acknowledge these multiple levels of address and the fluidity of that which is at the very center of this endeavor: the postcards.

We acknowledge these levels of address through our development of four simultaneous iterations of each card within this archive. First, we maintain a catalogued collection of physical postcards that can be accessed through the Rhetoric and Composition program at Florida State University. Secondly, our online presence maintains scanned JPEG images of both the verso and the recto of each card. We also keep high resolution TIF versions of each image that are available upon request. Finally, we use metadata categories to represent these cards: the Dublin Core metadata standard and a postcard item type that we have characterized ourselves.

Let's take a look at the archival entry DS-21, "Official Souvenir Postcard." Over a century after the initial circulation of this card, viewers might imagine a young woman arriving in St. Louis for the World’s Fair. It is Sunday, June 19, 1904. The young woman, Anna, had arrived the Friday before and wanted to send word of her safe arrival and the excitement of her trip. As she sat down in her modest St. Louis hotel and put her pen to this "Official Souvenir Postcard,” we imagine how excited she must have been to see the Louisiana Purchase Exposition that had opened that April, nearly a year after it was planned to open in 1903. Heralded as a celebration of the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, this was to be the largest World's Fair yet (Kurtz, 1903, p. 11). Over 51 foreign nations were represented alongside nearly all of the states of the union (Kurtz, 1903, p.107). The fairgrounds were over 1,240-acres, over 250 acres of which were covered by buildings (Kurtz, 1903, p.16).

Gathering around this card over a century later, we imagine that Anna must have known that she was experiencing an event that would be remembered for years, possibly even centuries to come. As Anna informs the recipient of this card (a Mrs. Frank de Beur from Ramsey, New Jersey) of her safe arrival, Anna tells Mrs. de Beur that despite not arriving until 10:30 on Friday evening, she had seen enough of the fair to report: "Buildings and exhibits are wonderful."

As our imagination wonders from this writing on the recto of this card, we must acknowledge that we are no longer just looking at an image of the Mines and Metallurgy building at the 1904 World's Fair. Neither are we looking at the isolated writing of a young girl named Anna. Instead, as archivist-researchers, we are hypothesizing any number of relationships that emerge between modality and materiality in the meaning that we take from this card—the grandeur of the event, the excitement that it stirred in this young woman writing to let someone close to her know that she'd arrived safely, her choice to convey this excitement through a few words that spill down the edge of what must have been an imposing image at the time.

The intersections of modalities and materialities that weave through the meaning that researchers and browsers take from this postcard are acknowledged in our digital representation of the card in three primary ways: digitization of the actual card, Dublin Core metadata, and Postcard Item Type metadata. Our initial impulse was not to capture both sides of the card, but to focus on the front images of the cards. However, as we progressed through the project it became apparent that the "postcard" was not just the image on the front. Neither was it just the message often found on the back. Instead, the artifacts we were capturing in our archive were all of this and more. The meanings that researchers and browsers take from these artifacts emerges along the fluid and evolving boundaries of modality and materiality. While digitization undeniably takes away the visitor's felt experience of these tangible artifacts, it undoubtedly adds another layer to the complexities of modality and materiality that this archive must negotiate. As archivist-researchers, we can bring these traits to users' attention through a nuanced and robust metadata description of each artifact.

The metadata categories that provide these descriptions for each artifact explicitly acknowledge the role played by the fluid boundaries of modality and materiality. We have developed the Dublin Core metadata in keeping with a logic that approaches the cards as material artifacts designed for commercial distribution and mass consumption. Our use of the Dublin Core Standards turn our attention to elements of the card such as the original copyright holder, the country in which the card was originally printed, the copyright date, and the location of the distributor. The Postcard Item Type metadata reflects the cards as historical artifacts of vernacular, everyday writing. Here, we have developed metadata fields for the material of the card, the dimensions of the card, the type of image on the card, and the written messages added to the card by users. Thus, while the Dublin Core approaches the cards primarily in terms of their material existence as commodities for commercial distribution, the Postcard Item Type metadata category highlights the cards as artifacts reflecting the intricate relationships of individual authorship, modality, and materiality. Ultimately, it is our hope that as researchers and browsers of the FSU Card Collection experience the multiple iterations of each artifact, they will begin to see how, like us, they too hypothesize relationships between modalities and materialities that converge on these cards.

Neal ・ Bridgman ・ McElroy