Kairos 17.3

One of the primary motivations for creating an electronic database for the postcards was our understanding that there is a distinction between having a collection and having an archive. For us, an archive is a specific kind of collection, one that has been systematically compiled, organized, and documented according to a predetermined set of principles. By compiling, organizing, and documenting our postcards, we would be preparing an inventory for research that would be available to faculty and students in our rhetoric and composition program. "Inventory" is used here in the sense described by Mary Carruthers (1998), who articulated a connection between inventory and rhetorical invention via their common antecedent, the Latin inventio. Inventory, Carruthers wrote,

refers to the storage of many diverse materials, but not to random storage: clothes thrown into the bottom of a closet cannot be said to be "inventoried." Inventories must have an order. Inventoried materials are counted and placed in locations within an overall structure which allows any item to be retrieved easily and at once. (p. 11)

Our digital archive can be organized according to any number of criteria: Each of the metadata fields we use to describe the artifacts (or a combination thereof) is a standard for arrangement, a potential filter. Insofar as a given digital representation of an artifact is composed by an arrangement of metadata relationships, the archive and its interface contribute to the modality and materiality of that artifact.

Thus, the inventory is a co-production between the artifacts and the archivists, which results in metadata. That metadata presents opportunites for textual enagement yet is also necessarily limiting, as Fleckenstein notes in the video here.

Click here to investigate the metadata associated with "Fort Lauderdale Airport Travelodge."

With the inventory in production, the postcards in our archive are organized and catalogued according to fully searchable metadata vocabulary. Watch the accompanying video to see the search engine in action. Here, you will see two options for searching the archive. First, a general search will query all metadata fields. Second, a search can be limited to specific search fields. Using this option, researchers can limit their search returns to a specific genre, date, and so on.

One of the production challenges we face is consistently selecting terms to put into each metadata field. Obviously, the engine can't see or read the visuals so we as archivist-researchers record images as linguistic texts. This is where we have to acknowledge our biases and subjectivities. How we read and record the images within the metadata tags is based on our assumptions, backgrounds, and beliefs—our Burkean terministic screens. And, while we value individuality, we also need some level of consistency. If one of us records only the people in the image, we'll miss out on some important metadata. As well, we want to have some consistency in terminology since the search engine can't connect similar words: girl, girls, women, woman, etc. Part of the training of an archivist-researcher is to consistently record the primary characteristics of the image. The most important check and balance we have is the ability of users to tag the postcards and add their own searchable terms. If ours aren't specific enough or targeted to a person's research interests, they can add terms for themselves and future researchers to use.

Neal ・ Bridgman ・ McElroy