Kairos 17.3

As we mention elsewhere, archivists relinquishing control is a resonant theme in the construction of the FSU Card Archive. As the archive is currently in production and open to researchers, this relinquishing of control over artifacts is central to the meaning that is emerging along the borders between print and screen. The experience that we have sought to enable for researchers is one of serendipity.

The importance of serendipity is underscored as these experiences of researchers in the material archive become prominent themes in texts such as Gesa Kirsch and Liz Rohan's (2008) collection, Beyond the Archives, Research as a Lived Experience. Here, readers find "themes of serendipity, chance discoveries, and personal connections as key ingredients for sustained research when working with archival documents" (p. 8). Accompanied by what James Gleick (2007) has described as an "exhilaration that comes from handling the venerable original" (para. 3), serendipity is often perceived to hinge on the tactile experience of the researcher with material artifacts. It's what Gleick has described as a "contact high" of sorts.

This leaves us asking, however, what happens to this "contact high" in the digital archive? Are archives like the FSU Card Archive endangering these experiences of serendipity? While many would say yes, we do not think that this is the case.

We reflect on serendipity as more than just a chance occurrence in the archive, a stumbling upon of something new. Experiences of serendipity also require an openness to the unexpected in the role of both archivist and researcher. Serendipity in this sense requires both parties to relinquish a sense of control over the material, a sense of what Sarah Werner (2011) called "knowing what is there." Given this relinquishment, unexpected meanings can emerge from the material at hand. While Werner suggested that this experience comes from time spent in the presence of the physical artifacts, we suggest that the FSU Card Archive is uniquely positioned to facilitate the serendipity of the unexpected through its carefully crafted metadata that highlights the many hands that have handled and contributed to these artifacts of everyday writing.

A more traditional understanding of serendipity—the chance occurrence of stumbling upon something of interest—can happen in the digital as well as physical archive. Take, for example, a researcher who might come to the digital archive looking for postcard images of American bridge design. By typing "bridge" as a search term in the archive, several postcards will come up, some of which are in America but others from around the world. In paging through the postcards, this researcher might stumble upon the design of a European bridge that closely resembles American bridges in design that she had not noticed before and that could contribute to the larger research project. Serendipitous connections like this are just as likely in the digital archive—perhaps even more likely because of the multiple search and navigation options—as in the physical archive.

Our approach to archiving these material artifacts of everyday writing is very much a process of seeing, of learning to see, the multiple hands and voices that shaped and continue to shape these artifacts, even as they exist digitally in this open-source, expandable archive. As such, one way of seeing the serendipity that this approach facilitates is to think of the serendipitous experience as one that requires an openness, a relinquishing of control by both archivist and researcher over the stable meanings of these artifacts. After all, the histories of many of these cards and the hands that brought them to us may remain silent, unknown forever.

Neal ・ Bridgman ・ McElroy