Critical Digital Archives
Critical Digital Archives are simply collections of manuscripts, images, or records assembled in an archive that can be accessed through computers. What makes them different is that these kinds of archives demonstrate scholarship that reflects a critique of existing heritage institutions in their subject matter, organization, and access. First defined in a 2021 American Historical Review article by Itza A. Carbajal and Michelle Caswell, the nature of Critical Digital Archives owes much to the scholars who have been interrogating the role of archives and their connections to power for more than twenty years in what has come to be called critical archival studies. Like that work, scholars working with Critical Digital Archives use their collections to identify the societal wrongs made visible and perpetuated by archives, while creating tools and methods that give information science ways to to improve society. The point of Critical Digital Archives is to show by example the positive work that digital collections can do, rather than describing what is wrong with today's libraries and archives.
Defining the Archive
These digital collections can be built from the born-digital records of contemporary society or by digitizing historical resources. More and more, research datasets, academic writing, and social media interactions have also been put into various kinds of archives. So, the materials in digital archives reflect culture in many ways, but their curation in the critical archive also reflects back on the theories and practices used in assembling cultural heritage. The field of Critical Digital Archives has a lot to say about how we handle memory and how primary sources are prepared for the many types of history that will come out of them. The critique directed towards archival science can be seen in the identification of new standards and ethics to be used in building modern collections, so that they address long-term issues of core archival practice, such as appraisal, organization, description, accessability, and sustainability (Carbajal and Caswell 1102). All need to be reassessed and focused on new ideals, in order for new digital collections to have real impact on the ways that archives work to increase our knowledge, serve justice, and support people's sense of identity.
This work is important. Contemporary users tend to think that all information is online, and that everything online is accurate (Mak 1520). Oftentimes, "curators," are understood to select what is most appealing from the huge assortment of products now available, such as whiskey, jewelry, or golf gear. Popular literature, however, suggests that real truth can be found most certainly in the institutional archive (Keen 27). But the job of the archivist is very different from these varieties of common understanding. In the real archive, curators have to wrestle new accumulations of digital material, massive but also misleading and incomplete, into something positive for users today and preserved for posterity. Doing this work requires a full understanding of the cultural forces that create collections, as well as the labor and circumstances that go into turning them into digital archives (Mak 1521). In recent decades, questions have arisen over the ways in which archives support a functioning society in ways that strengthen the workings of injustice and subjugation that lay at the heart of much culture. A clear theory of Critical Digital Archives, one that sees the workings of power underlying the construction and use of archives, can guide the development of future collecting and make archives powerful tools to shape the world to come in positive ways, avoiding the failings of earlier institutions. Such a theory, however, must start with an understanding of what the archive does and consider how digitization has changed its use and significance.
This requires a consideration of both the standards of practice in information science and the theories of Cultural Studies. In a 2016 article, Caswell criticizes how humanities scholars write about archives, highlighting the conflicts can make such an approach complicated. Even though, "'The Archive' has been deconstructed, decolonized, and queered by scholars" in numerous fields, little of this work acknowledges the work of archivists or even the real nature of archives (par. 4). Partially, this has come about because these scholars have come under the influence of theorists in Cultural Studies who, for several decades, have mused on the idea of The Archive, and what they imagined the goals of such an idea to be.1 Walter Benjamin, for instance, faults archivists for insisting that people acknowledge what archives are for, i.e. doing the essential work to preserve memory, which he thinks they can only do imperfectly, certainly worse than any personal, emotional evocations of memory. The archive not only fails, therefore, to do the job of sustaining memory but in fact weakens it, according to Benjamin. Revolutionaries must write about history to save the dead from oblivion and to redeem the past (Beiner 429-31), but the archive serves the work of public memory poorly (Bohn 429-31). Siegfried Kracauer, like Benjamin a writer of the Frankfurt School, notes the provisional character of the records in any archives, as well as the histories that result from them (191), freezing moments like a photograph, but like a photograph never offering the full truth. Jacques Derrida takes a somewhat different approach in that he understands The Archive, as something much more substantial, but its main purpose is to cement government power (Steedman 1). The Archive in any form subverts its own influence in pursuit of devious, seductive secrets (Harris 57), because the hermeneutic decisions of archivists focus on the future needs of the state, and that undercuts the ability of the archive to reflect the past (Suchak 57). "The technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its coming into existence and its relationship to the future. The archivization produces as much as it records the event," writes Derrida (17). So, here again archives express power, among other things, but their usefulness in maintaining that power is not quite clear. Derrida sees the falsity of the information housed in institutions undermining the goals of preservation to some extent. Certainly the archivists only create loose and unstable connections to the past in all of these notions of The Archive even when working for state institutions of cultural heritage.
Caswell describes Michel Foucault's vision of the archive as "a hypothetical wonderland" and very different from The Archive created by institutional memory ("The Archive" par. 3). This criticism actually highlights the distance between theorists and archivists in an unintended way, in that Caswell misses an important point. In describing his history of European knowledge as an archaeology of intellectual life in The Archaeology of Knowledge, Foucault uses the term archive to denote the meanings and assumptions available to a culture, a shared repertoire that makes discourse possible. In fact, he is careful to point out that this use of the term does not mean the sum of historic texts, nor the institutions that keep them. "The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events" (128-29). His musings on the archive here have nothing to do with records, or their connection to history. Where Foucault does discuss historical manuscripts and their role in the episteme, in an earlier book on the archaeology of the sciences, The Order of Things, he groups the enhanced organization and cataloging of records at the beginning of the Modern Period with the tables in the scientific books about language groups or biological genera that became tools of a new understanding at the time, an approach to established information that let people develop science and history in new directions after the Enlightenment (132). Elsewhere, Foucault agrees with Derrida in seeing archival institutions as tools of power that look toward the needs of the future. Foucault,for his part however, finds them, either as instruments of knowledge or of authority, to be neither good nor bad, merely part of the dynamic relationships of power, which actually do have the potential to give voice to the powerless (Eliason 11-15). So, Foucault's adds to the discussion of heritage institutions as expressions of power in Cultural Studies by showing how archival collections contain many examples of statements as events worthy of study, which reflect intellectual life in many ways (Steedman 2).
However, archives as understood by archivists also must play some role in the historicity of History that Foucault includes in the new episteme that sees humanity as subject to many external histories, such as those of language and of economics, which can be revealed through the use of his archaeology (Order of Things 371). "The archaeological description of discourses ... seeks to discover the whole domain of institutions, economic processes, and social relations on which a discursive formation can be articulated" (Archaeology of Knowledge 164). Archives, and History, are among the institutions that affect people and their discourse, but Foucault makes the point that what he does is neither philosophy nor history. It does not uncover hidden figures of the past (Archaeology of Knowledge 206). He does note, however, in a 1970 lecture on the discourse of language, that other historians have not given up on discussing individual events but rather have enlarged the scope of events, making it possible to discover massive phenomena by looking at large amounts of different documents (Archaeology of Knowledge 230).
Foucault, thus, highlights the new types of research that can be done in modern archives. Over the course of his career, particularly with the books, Discipline and Punish and The Birth of the Clinic, He makes use of the archaeological technique to show how institutions develop a discourse that supports the episteme and is guided by its structures.2 These works would had tremendous influence on the humanities by the late twentieth century, because of his focus on the evidences and mechanisms of power. Not only do institutions support discourse but they are themselves shaped by it, which allows intellectual advancements only a limited course. Taken up in discussions of imperialism and feminism, this analysis of discourse helped scholars develop new approaches to understanding the workings of insitutions and to uncovering the boundaries of intellectual cultures. This has not only meant new ways for scholars to work with the resources available in archives, but also a deeper understanding of the significance that collections and repositories have for an understanding of society.
One remaining issue for Critical Digital Archives, though, is that the disconnect between theory and the reality of archives that Caswell identified still perisists. This is largely because of a lack of theory in archival science, in general, focusing as it does on the tasks of handling records rather than on academic arguments ("The Archive" par. 6). Much of the theory about the purpose of archiving goes back to the guides to institutional practices from more than a century ago. Archival science has long focused on making certain that users of records and manuscripts can trust and use the items transferred from working repositories. Archivists have only recently begun to examine the assumptions and goals of heritage institutions and to critique them. "The field has not done much to trouble its origin story," write James Lowry and Heather MacNeill. According to them, Foucault's work on the archaeology and genealogy of European intellectual history has been useful in this for understanding the episteme at play at the time when archival science developed, while also making clear the importance of questioning archival discourse (2-6).
Archives show us many examples of the connections between the history of ideas and the workings of power, but in the collections we can also find the voices of the people whom the state made subject to its archival records, as can be seen in the historical documents that Foucault himself edited (Eliason 13-16). And so, Foucauldian ideas lay behind all three major intellectual trends currently at play in what has been called critical archival theory: examing the connections between the archive and the creation of archives, expanding the questions that history answers through broad readings of historical records, and seeking out evidence about the lives that archives have traditionally ignored. As Michelle Caswell, Ricardo Punzalan, and T-Kay Sangwand note, quoting Horckheimer, critical theory is explanatory, in the sense that it exposes the wrongs of society, and practical, in that it proposes attainable solutions (2). Much of this scholarship, however, has involved the development of new practices to solve the old problems of historic injustice, explaining how archives used to be bad to determine how to make them better in the future. Few archivists have questioned the educational purpose of contemporary archives, their political meaning, or their support for institutional power. Nor has the field given much consideration to the fact that the reading of any collection being done today is not the only one possible (Orazem). To overcome these issues and to understand the full potential of Critical Digital Archives, it is necessary to examine an array of scholarship on digital archives from wide-ranging fields and to connect this work to more general criticisms of contemporary institutions.
To understand the place of archives in society, it is necessary to start with the history of how they have been used, to see what governments and researchers expected from collections. In Cultural Studies, and increasingly in History, the significance of archives in past centuries has long been understood to rest in both memory and hegemony. Markus Friedrich writes that it was Max Weber who first connected the use of written records to the formation of bureaucracy, that is, the organization and administration of state institutions (9). Government collections were focused on gathering and safeguarding information for the management of society, by the effective use of records resulting from trade, property, laws, and taxes. As bureaucracy became more systematic during the the Early Modern period, archival practice began to take on the trappings of other branches of knowledge of the time, with treatises that explained the principles guiding systematic document management. Bureaucratic knowledge could be organized like any other intellectual realm, such as biology or linguistics. Users did not truly mine such document collections for a deeper understanding of the past, however, until historians came to be seen as a academic professionals in the nineteenth century, with their own standards of research and interpretation (11-13). Scholars developed practices, historiographical tools, and national heritage institutions to support their work along the way (Nora 4-5; Gerhardt 234-38). The records created by earlier institutions for effective administration became the sources for historical work, as well as models for document collections and national archives to be used to make it easer. Many of the early historians working with archives sought to tell the stories of their modern nations, which worked to shore up the project of state building and also justified the importance of professional history (Foner 9). National memory, gathered and interpreted by university professors, shored up state authority.
In separating individual memory from collective memory in the 1920s, Maurice Halbwachs describes society's memory encompassing what each person remembers in creating a shared landscape of the past. People position their own lives in the national history, which is so much more than dry dates but rather a landscape of meaningful events and trends that link the person to the country, to the national state (51-55). The connection between our individual pasts and the larger society creates a cultural memory that is important for who we are and who we have been (Blom 14). So, the construction of national histories did more than justify the formation of the state or place modern government in a longer narrative. History created a connection between personal experiences and national events, turning peasants into citizens and residents into patriots. As Knut Ove Eliason says in describing the importance of archives for Foucault, "Archives, along with their corresponding technologies and their various formats and ordering principles, provide nothing less than the ordering principles of our collective memory; as genuine memory palaces they can truly be called the hardware of our unconscious" (3).
Historians illustrated the significance of archives for both the running of the state and the construction of individual identity. Over the course of recent centuries, the narratives of each country came to include the culture and variations of different regions and classes, making up one shared mosaic of society. Scholars also came to recognize that the goals of many of their historical arguments not only sought to get closer to the truth of the past in pursuit of professional ideals but also to support different points of view and different politics. Ultimately, the grand truth of history had to be abandonned in recognition that each generation and each group uses the past for its particular needs (Foner 11), and the nature of archival sources offers few cases of certainty (Kracauer 17-19). Particular truths could serve certain interests but not without coming into conflict with the ideal of truth. Even with its shifting uncertainties and controversies, however, History often explains the state as the natural and proper development from the primitive cultures of the past to the modern bureaucratic state (Bohn 40-47; Rodowick 136). The variety of cultures, and even political views, within countries came to be seen by many historians as proof of the strength of democracy and the vitality of the modern state, as society supplanted the nation (Nora 6). Some truths remained important to historians, even if they had to be reworked.
Stuart Hall, in a short essay on the importance of a new archive, offers a view on the creation and function of archives. "Archives are not inert historical collections. They always stand in an active, dialogic, relation to the questions which the present puts to the past; and the present always puts its questions differently from one generation to another" (92) He highlights the many varieties of work that go into assembling archival collections: artists, writers, curators, and scholars. Critics help to situation archives in their contemporary meanings, explaining records through debate and discussion. The main point of the piece is that the many routes to interpretation are the numerous, unknown, purposes to which collections will be put. A cultural approach illustrates that a central job of the archivist is to preserve resources that can be useful to future viewpoints and technologies, divorced from contemporary institutional concerns. Archives serve perpetuity even as historians use them to create scholarship about the past that often has the present as its main focus, even preserving contemporary institutions in some ways. So, the archivist challenges authority from within the "lines of force of cultural power" of archival practice, which means that archives require heterogeneity to truly live. "Thus it is extremely important that archives are committed to inclusiveness" (91).
In a 1978 comparison of Foucault and Derrida in Critical Inqury, Edward Said writes that Foucault's notion of archival records determines the possibilities of collective discourse available for saying something. The shared nature of archives limits individuality in Foucauldian criticism (677). This means that in looking at the interests that texts serve, Foucault must affiliate them with institutions, academies, and other ideologically defined parties (701). Archives dictate the possibilities of the archive. In many ways, this is what Hall identifies that archivists must struggle against to truly serve the future. For Foucault, literary scholarship attempts to uncover discourse, which has become hidden behind text in the modern world, functioning at the level of base not superstructure, as Said writes (705). But this type of scholarship fails to sufficiently explain the foundations of power at this base level, however. In fact, Jürgen Habermas argues that Foucault's reading of history results in a relativism that erodes the confidence of History itself (Hohendahl 17). Said sees this as a major weakness of Foucault, in that he does not address the expansion of European power in the nineteenth century and the resulting development of discursive power. The colonies bore many similarities to the prison system that Foucault examines, and Orientalism clearly worked as a discourse to maintain European power (711).
In his book, Orientalism, also from 1978, Said shows how Europeans defined the rest of the world as part of the cultural hegemony at play in their project to rule over the colonies (15). This book is incredibly important in placing Foucault at the center of so much recent scholarship in the humanities, including archival studies. Though Said writes at one point that Orientalism is not to be found in archives (21), the book actually discusses the archive, in both senses of the term, repeatedly. Europeans created archives to aid them in administering their empires and in cementing the varieties of Orientalism that helped in this (197, 223, 274, and 361). To do so, writers, scholars, and politicians drew from the Foucauldian archive of what could be said amongst themselves to create a shared discourse, which in this case was often far removed from reality. We might even say that discourse shaped their reality, and had real effects on their colonial subjects. Understanding Orientalism as an epistemological distinction between rational/irrational or civilized/barbaric, has led academics to see the oppression of colonialism in so much of European culture, so that even Marx has much that is chauvinist in his emancipatory ideas (Traverso 164). Many historians and literary scholars have followed Said's lead in uncovering countless examples of Foucauldian discourse that show how texts point to the hegemony supporting colonialism, or sexism, racism, or nationalism, or any number of beliefs that rest on assumptions of superiority that support claims to power. The expanded history of many topics that Foucault promoted has been taken up with his idea that the study of discourse can tell us a lot about power, following Said's lead.
The fields of history, literature, and even anthropology have all experienced the "archival turn" in recent years. This new examination of archives began with discussions of the difficulties in finding the voices of people suppressed in traditionally-used historical resources (Friedrich 10).3 Some of the new attention has come to archives because of general trends in academia such as the historicizing of sources and digital access to new collections. It has led, as well, to consideration of the archive as an information technology or political tool (Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri 422-24). Much of the archival turn in all fields, however, is indebted to the Foucauldian analysis of the archive as a creator of knowledge, with that knowledge suffused with hegemonic world views, such as Orientalism (Basu and De Jong 6-7). Frustration over the lack of sources on many topics of interest today has added to the sense that past collections have failed current scholars and the subject peoples they recorded. In seeing the archive as a tool of unjust administrations, many have come to see the silences of the historical record as a form of archival violence (Shetty and Bellamy 47). Such scholarship has caused great anxiety among many archivists, who fear that their work has been inadequate for historians and harmful to the underprivileged. Most of this work, however, even in archival studies, has done little to provide direction on what should be done differently to make heritage institutions more enlightened or effective. The creators of Critical Digital Archives must recognize the hegemonic uses of the archive that writers in Cultural Studies and adjacent fields have made clear, while looking to Information Science for practical solutions to these concerns in the systems they build.
Understanding the Digital
In an afterword to a 2006 issue of Cultural Studies, largely about intellectual property, Siva Vaidhyanathan describes a new field of scholarship, which offers some direction. Critical Information Studies, he write, "sits at the intersection of many important areas of study" (292). Scholars in CIS examine topics such as copyright policy, encryption, and heritage preservation to understand the ways in which culture and information relate to commerce, politics, technology, science, and creativity. In his attempts to identify a canon for this new field, Vaidhyanathan affirms that it is not a subfield of Cultural Studies, so much as a transfield that interrogates the global flow of information from different directions (293-94). Critical Information Studies has blossomed in many directions since then, as information has become such an important part of today's media. Many books have been written on the ways that information can affect our lives when it comes into the hands of companies such as Twitter (Tufekci), Spotify (Ericksson et al.), and YouTube (Burgess and Green). Politics can be found at work in our use of these poweful information tools, but many studies on new media neglect to examine the workings of capitalism involved (Mansell 100-02).
The archive, as an administrative tool and historical resource, continues to sit at the center of many discussions of information in society, with a great deal of recent scholarship considering changes to modern libraries and archives. In 2017, Litwin Books began publishing the Journal of Critical Library and Information Studies. However, a great deal of the scholarship in this field comes from practitioners and their criticism dwells on the work being done in institutions like theirs, often specifically theirs. Jonathan Cope's manifesto for CLIS, in that initial issue of the journal, demands that writers focus on the work that libraries do, and also accompany any criticism with practical alternatives. Later issues concerning neoliberalism in the archive, the Anthopocene, or archival empathy, all discuss improving what archivists do without considering what the archive is for or how it came to be. However, Louise Craven calls for a reassessment. "To a profession which has long focused on the ‘how’, rather than the why of archival work, these collective developments - technological, social, political, academic and professional - present hugely significant issues" (1-2).
In his afterword mentioned above, Vaidhyanathan groups archives with other institutions that seek to increase human liberty through access to resources in the new ways that technology now makes possible (304). Improved access through computer technology has radically changed the nature and capabilities of the archive. This is the major reason for critics to reconsider why archives exist. We can see the potential for ready information in Vaidhyanathan's earlier imagining of the perfect library. It would offer free access to the whole world, for the poor especially, with search capabilities that make it easy to discover the proper materials. The perfect library changes everyone's relationship to information. Even in the reality of today, with their belief in maintaining records and protecting patrons, he writes, the library enshrines Enlightenment values (119-21). In a similar vein, Shannon Mattern considers the archive an essential part of urban civilization (Code and Clay 84-85), one for which scholars must consider the creators of and its brokers, but also the users and critics. She writes, "Archives ensure financial accountability, symbolically legitimize governing bodies and colonial rulers, ... In the modern age, they also support scholarship." The postition of the archive in society exists in some ways by the fact of its own existence, its placement in a cultural space, as well as the data it contains, because of the ideals of knowedge, service, and popular power that it represents ("The City" 136). The ideals supporting archives, and libraries, puts them at odds with those who want to control what we know or profit off their intellectual property. These institutions have often been sites of conflict (Vaidhyanathan, "Perfect Library" 118). Clearly the archive carries significance beyond the work that the people there do each day.
Nanna Verhoef writes in "Archival Poetics" that, "An archive is a place replete with three things: objects from the past, the mission to preserve these from disappearance, and the categorizations that make them accessible" (1). While the stress here is on the historical repositories that scholars use, it certainly can be said that all archives keep old things safe and in order, so that they may be used when needed. Even in business or government, the archive is largely the same. Theories of the archive in Information Science are largely interested in the practical concerns involved in making all of that happen efficiently. According to Nicholas Dirks, "Archival science has been born out of the generally accepted mandate that the modern archive maintain records that satisfy two conditions, first that they were records of state administration, and second that they can be demonstrated to serve historical and administrative purposes distinct from the original one" (47). Dirks rushes past the typical separation between the two conditions, however. Records collected for immediate use are handled according to policies that keep them manageable, while historical collections need to be preserved and identified, in terms of creators, users, and subjects. These usually happen at different institutions, involving different sets of archival practices. Most scholarship on the archive, including practical views coming out of archival science, leaves out the different types of records management that deal with administering information. Archivists prepare collection policies that weigh scholarly, economic, physical, and political factors, but heritage institutions are often at the mercy of the documentation strategies pursued in the initial collections. These may look to the future but cannot predict future research questions (Samuels 113-17).
Heritage archives can look to various sources for building their collections. If an archive has the resources to purchase items or a reputation for curation or a government mandate, it can amass substantial collections of sources and even refuse incoming donations if they do not match collecting policies. Unlike many libraries, however, archives rarely refuse items. "Memory is the amassing of things to prevent forgetting," writes Pierre Nora, which gives the sense of most archival acquisition policies that seek to gather as much as possible (8). The nature of most of this acquisition complicates the idea that archives create historical silences in the service of hegemony. Paul Basu and Ferdinand De Jong remind us that historians blame silences on the sources, but it is really an epistemological issue. They refer to Trouillot's idea that silence enters history at four points: creation, assemblage, narrative, and significance (8). Most assemblage in such a scenario takes place at sites of administration, with the original collection procedures functioning as an unintentional first step in what will become a process of safeguarding cultural memory. Past records become the recorded past when transferred to the archive. This is not to say that archives do not support and even serve as important hegemonic tools for the state. But we should understand that the archive as a place of power begins with numerous decisions about what material to accept and to pursue, what to reject and even destroy from what is available from other repositories. What were once considered recorded facts get used to create subjective interpretations (Rodowick 122-23).
For many decades, archivists sought to remain neutral, amassing material for future generations without comment. Part of the recent archival turn, however, has been the study of the "evolving processes of selection, ordering, and usage that produced archives not as neutral repositories of sources but as historically constructed tools of power" (Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri 421). Archivists have begun to see how hegemony is at play in the fine details of what was once considered apolitical (Ilerbaig 85). Several writers in the field of refugee studies have pointed out recently that the very existence of the archive as a source of history has been part of the efforts to build the modern state for several centuries. By the nineteenth century, nations, especially newly established ones, needed stories to justify the continuing development of state power (Saber and Long 445; Marfleet). Sources came from regional, business, and religious administrative archives. Narratives came from professional historians working for research universities. All of it served to tell a national history that could convince citizens of the success and inevitability of the state, so foreigners and minorities often played the roles of enemies to be overcome. Refugees threatened the state by their very existence, because they illustrated failures of national politics, and so we should not be surprised that they were excluded from archives.
Even the tools of the archivist serve to present a vision of the past presecribed by the institution. Mattern includes the organization of an archive as part of the information that it imparts. We can learn a lot about society from how people sort their records ("The City" 136). Foucault, in linking archives and libraries to the new types modern knowledge, stresses their filing systems as part of the restructuring of thought (Order of Things 132), while Aakash Suchak notes that Derrida thought of the order imposed on the archive as not only significant, but part of what gave it the power to determine the future (56). Of course, it has always been the case that few administrators have been able to remember the place of every record they used, making it necessary to maintain some sort of organization. By the sixteenth century descriptions of how to set up useable archives began to show evidence for the beginning of systematic reflections on how best to do this (Friedrich 13). Archival science, as it could now be called, considered the logical methods for grouping records together to be one of its most important concerns, and the treatises on how to do this soon created a small number of systems adopted by experts to organize materials. Elizabeth Yakel, somewhat akin to Mattern, considers the type of information management that developed in archives to be largely determined by wider cultural forces (6). By the nineteenth century such forces included the idea that knowledge had a structure and that understanding could be deepened by increasing the complexity of how things fit together.
Eric Ketelaar, in a wide-ranging discussion of archival turns, sees one of the most important of them occuring in the shift from considering the archive as a place of sources to an epistemological site resulting from cultural practices (228). In archivistics the creation of knowledge is considered to be quite conscious. It is not that the archive became something else or began to do something different. Rather the archivists understood their job to be more than keeping records manageable for users when they started to be concerned with documenting the creation and handling of collections. As Ketelaar writes, it was a shift from product to process (236). However, as Friedrich notes, the focus on process began before the archive came to be seen as a place to turn for national histories or an information system that mirrored human understandings of modern science. So, according to him, it does not really work to say that a shift from adminstrative record collections to archival institutions happened in one specific era (13). Rather, the development of archival tools in earlier periods and in different types of institutions meant that national archives could be run efficiently for nineteenth century concerns by using the results of those systems.
It is important to remember that the number of documents produced for administration exploded as rational practices became the ideal, so some of these practices grew out of modern concerns that had little to do with history or nationalism (Vivo, Guidi, and Silvestri 421) What we do see by the nineteenth century, however, is that the increasing political importance of archives joined together with the sense that they contained a truth not to be found in chronicles. Archivists began to examine their own practices as logical methods to assure users of the reliability and longevity of the history that they contained (Friedrich 167, 199). What Foucault identifies as a new search for intellectual order without concern for the past, sought to serve the interests of the new scientific history of the mid-nineteenth century, itself working to make the past more orderly (Steedman 9). A Dutch manual for archivists from the time stressed that the order necessary for modern historians did not always exist in past collecting, but a professional could read the sediments of amassed documents like the layers of a geological study. In this metaphor, records could be seen as organisms, living and growing for their own interests. With the proper scientific analysis, the sediment of past disorder could be explained and even put to use for a better, modern organization. Such an understanding saw science not in Early Modern practices but in both the analysis of the resulting collections and in rational systems of curation that made them useful for the present. Archivistics could offer up the entire story of production, collection, and organization to be read and interpreted by researchers, while guaranteeing that as many sources as possible were made available through the logical methods of archival science.
In describing earlier methods of collecting to make ancient files understandable, archivists developed the notion of the fonds, taken from the study of charters and seals, to assure users that their products on the shelves were reliable as sources of knowledge (Ilerbaig 83-85). The sum total of information created by past activity as reflected in the fonds of historical sources made a deep reading of their meaning possible (Thibodeau 15). Even unreliable or confusing documents could be understood as representations of past society. This helped to make land deeds and parish records more important for writing history than the older perspectives of chonclers on rulers or major events. The Annales School and similar social historians used the results from new approaches to documentation and the greater amount of material gathered in state archives to discuss broad themes of life for the silent citizens of their country (Nora xxii). Heroes and geniuses, thus, competed with many millions of unknown forebears in shaping the story of the national state. This type of broad history, of course, helped to set the scene for Foucault's reading of institutions and their meaning for society in official documents.
Complicated systems for housing and explaining national archives depended on extensive description. The organization of records, and archival science itself, had to be described scientifically, as we have seen. Finding aids made up the main development in describing records by the nineteenth century, serving as more than just catalogs of what was available in a collection. Written according to strict guidelines by trained professionals, finding aids made it possible to get to material, understand the sequence of both creation and collection, and to assess its contribution to scholarship (Yakel). Materials became more accessible to staff and patrons through this tool, which became the main way for archival science to respect the fonds and to search the collections, often by collector, creator, or topic. Documents and collections could be in many forms but by the turn of the twentieth century archival science described an archive as a group of collections described by archivists with standard finding aids. The work of archivists made an archive.
Though the administrators of modern state arcives sought to preserve collections largely by making sure that only people with valid concerns handled fragile materials, the ideal of neutrality, of letting the documents speak for themselves, meant that the ideal of accessibility provided by efficient finding aids came to be extended to the collected records themselves. Professional archivists came to see direct access to the documents as one of foundational values of their field (Carbajal and Caswell 1103; Lee et al. 2268). Accessibility gave powerful support to the grand ideals of state archives in the nineteenth century. As John Seberger writes, "At least two gains are achievable through the appraisal, accession and accessibility of records: the completion of the past as something knowable; and the utilization of the past so as to inform the present"(20). More and more, access to the archives and thus to history came to be seen as the same right that citizens had to attend a school or use a library or visit a museum.
Early in the twenty-first century, archivists began to question whether the obsession with writing effective finding aids kept staff from serving patrons, because the time demanded kept countless items unavailable until they had been processed and described (Greene). Since then, the field has had its own archival turn (even while criticizing what it is that others think that they do), deciding that archivists cannot truly be neutral, and largely agreeing with scholars that the act of bringing together collections into state archives and describing them serves as expressions, and tools, of state power (Caswell, "The Archive" pars. 19-21). This has brought up questions about the very nature of custody, because it no longer seemed just to demand that people hand over their documents to the institution (Bastian 26). No one can truly say that archives merely hold records and help us use them. Even if that is still the goal in many places, earlier rules of archivistics are now seen as part of the problem, complicating reconsidered ideals of archival practice (Caswell Urgent Archives). The archive has become a tool of access to historical sources, in this new understanding, giving access to all sorts of sources from all sorts of places (Vaidhyanathan, "Perfect Library" 121). Digital archives, then, have come to be seen as the chance for a perfect archive, accessible to everyone, everywhere. In recognition of the potential power of digital repositories to meet this ideal of global access to a wide array of records, discussions and criticisms of the future direction of archival science now focus entirely on the issue of what happens to repositories of modern records and the digital versions of historic records, the new definition of cultural memory (Craven, "Search for Ithaca" 129; Harris 1419).
Much of the theory supporting Critical Digital Archives comes from archivists and their understanding of broader cultural critiques, interpreted through their applications of technology. As Carbajal and Caswell write, "We envision critical digital archives emerging from those theories, practices, and projects" (119). For Ira Blom, the work and theory involved in a shift to the digital changes the very nature of heritage and memory, with uncertain consequences for all social phenomena (14). While Critical Archival Studies have looked at costs and environmental concerns, little has been written about what it means for society as a whole to have archives to become part of the digital world. Information Studies, however, which as an academic field has come to include all realms of library science, has considered what this turn toward the digital means from multiple directions. Clearly, technology shapes society (Monea and Edwards 3177). Historians of modern technology such as Paul N. Edwards have also shown the many ways in which society affects the development and use of computers in complicated, interwoven ways. This includes the discourse available to leaders as they consider investing in and implementing digital technology (304-305). On the other hand, the legal scholar Daniel J. Solove has discussed how the precise information about us based on the minutiae of our digital interactions has created a whole new way for businesses to interact with people, a new form of persona. Technology now shapes society just as much as society influences technological innovation. In order for Critical Digital Archives to be constructed in ways which truly question the structures involved in modern archives, it is necessary that they address some of this issues raised by these discussions.
Joshua Sternfield remarks on how archival theory creates a framework for historians to use digital humanities effectively (572). Critical Digital Archives work in a similar way, in that their description, features, and uses give us insight into the significance of digital collections and remark on how creators in general can think about how to shape positively all of this digital culture that has become such a part of modern society. The 2007 book by Dan Schiller, How to Think about Information, gives some direction on how to approach the problem of information as a force in the world with a Cultural Studies perspective, in that he traces how information came to be seen as a commodity. Corporations, in fact, came to see it as a valuable new arena for growth, so that entertainment, advertising, engineering, and law were considered dynamic enough to invest in, because of their reliance on information (3). The focus on profit brought changes to all these arenas. While looking at how commodification shaped technological and cultural developments in information, Schiller criticizes approaches to understanding these changes that fail to take account of the role of capital in it all. "To the information theorists’ claim that information denotes organization, we say yes, but information itself is conditioned and structured by the social institutions and relations in which it is embedded. These social relations are today creating a specific form of capitalist organization across an unprecedented range. To the postindustrialsts’ assertion that the value of information derives from its inherent attributes as a resource, we counter that its value stems uniquely from its transformation into a commodty--a resource socially revalued and redefined through progressive historical application of wage labor and the market to its production and exchange. (Schiller 15-16).
In examining the roles of technology and information in society, their connections to how things work in the modern world and the roles they play in creating culture and heritage, Critical Digital Archives must address how capital, institutions, and politics influence how memory and identity are seen through a digital lens. Many of the ways in which computer technology has changed our lives bear directly on the issues of memory, authority, and identity revealed by the digitization of archival tools and content. Social media, for instance, can feel like real-time communication among a close circle. Some people use it as their primary interaction with others. Our posts, however, become part of the public, recorded interactions for other people to engage with. In the United States such user opinions are not allowed to endanger the social media companies, in that they are legally protected as platforms instead of publishers of solicited content, but the comments on social media become protected speech when people engage directly with politicians (Sobieraj 1648-49). The nature of the digital space determines the sort of speech taking place there, and its authority in this odd public square provided by media corporations.
With greater authority, of course, comes greater protection and preservation for the digital traces we leave. Much of the data we create with the many digital interactions of our lives have the potential to form intimate archives of our daily existence. Every interaction can form part of collective record of our lives, an aspiration toward memory (Appadurai 16). The companies have their own reasons to keep every bit of data on our activities, though, having found the best source of profit in selling targeted advertising that relies on detailed knowledge of their users (West 21). At times users' visits, and the profiles they create various sites, gather information without their knowledge or permission, sometimes under the guise of privacy, to be sold to any company that wants it. Sarah Myers West identifies the data capitalism behind such behavior as the main support for much of what we experience online. The archives of our activities and experiences serve as mere content for "an industry premised on the collection and commoditization of user data" (35).
Shoshana Zuboff goes further than West, in that she describes a surveillance capitalism taking hold as the only route for internet companies to make a profit and thereby justify their investment in the infrastructure and expertise it takes to provide a platform for people to create content online. In doing this, the capabilities of companies like Google and Apple to provide communication and information have redefined everything, so that one can speak of an information civilization that ensnares us in new ways of work and socializing, all done in pursuit of data about our behavior and desires (4). Without our knowledge, our personal data is not only sold on to anyone who wants it, but companies attempt to shape behavior so that we create more information. Our attention is not the product, so much as every human experience is turned into data to be manipulated and sold. "Surveillance capitalism is not a technology; it is a logic that imbues technology and commands it into action" (15). The potential dangers of computers processing our personal details in order to influence behavior has been known for decades.4 Zuboff argues that instead of reining in those risks, the new information civilization has made the capture of personal details the primary goal of corporate capitalism.
Much of human behavior remains irrational. The biology of our brains affect our assessments of choice and even the final decisions we make. What we do arises from personality and individual situations, but also to some extent from the chaotic limitations of the mind. In the crowd, however, such weaknesses can be predicted (Hilbert 211-12, 219). General predictions of human behavior, just like economics, depend on complicated math and are improved by vast amounts of data. With both the surveillance of each person and the assessment of general trends, technology give access to the hidden truths provided by data (Beer 10). Capital investment in computer infrastructure provides the leverage to collect the data and to analyze it. Companies like Google and Microsoft have leveraged their leads in developing this technology from different directions to dominate the information civilization and focus it on returning a profit through the sale of predictions (Zuboff 162-65). Christian Fuchs makes the important point that the creations of data capitalism in our lives work to reify the social relationships we have online. Not only the work that digital creators do, but also entertainment, culture and learning have become tools of capital devoid of any markers of the labor that went into them (2270-73).
Much of what we call society consists of human relationships that grow out of the cooperation and communication involved in living together. While technology has a long history of facilitating the exchange of information, much of what we know and share now comes through the lens of tools created and maintained by others in search of the profits available in an an information civilization. Our computers have obviously changed society. In recent decades, however, data capitalism has altered education and learning, from which we get our knowledge and values, in so many ways that it is not just the changes in society that have unsettled things but the bases of truth, authority, and security (Osburn 1-4).
Neoliberal approaches to government have arisen in much of the world during the same era in which science appeared better at establishing truth. While the free market came to be seen as the route to prosperity, technology changed the tools of learning, and success was understood to result from the development of individual skills. These views interact and support each other in complicated ways, but one thing it all means is that education, especially higher education, has developed in radical new directions, not only because of the digital revolution. The result is that "our routes into learning have both diversified in this postdigital era and have also narrowed" (Jandrić 287-88). Shifting college learning away from what it has become in many countries, a personal effort to secure success, would take a radical unlearning of capitalism and a concerted effort to direct the capabilities of technology such as the internet and artificial intelligence toward something that supports community (Jandrić 292).
Ingrid Hoofd argues that the informatization of higher education driven by Big Data reflects the long entanglement of the university with technology, as well as the contradictions of its mission to master the world through understanding, which suggests that politics only add direction to problems that will not be going away (18). Nor is neoliberalism the only culprit. The changes in education, though, do offer a powerful example of how the growth of data and its use create the sense that it no one can master it all. The result is more information and less knowledge, certainly a diminished sense of what we understand (20, 25). One need not regret the loss of traditional methods of schooling or the changing nature of community to see that not only do we need to learn differently to be able to know what we need, in order to live a digital life, but technology has changed what we think of knowledge and where to get it.
Archives, of course, serve as a central tool for research in most academic fields of the humanities. Many university scholars have shifted to using digitized archives for much of their research, just as they have begun to use various computer technologies to find articles, prepare notes, and organize teaching materials. Online access to collections not only makes the archive available to many more people but it also serves the needs of scholars who have come to expect it. Everyone acknowledges, according to Jerome J. McGann, "that the whole of our cultural inheritance has to be recurated and reedited in digital forms and institutional structures" (1). As more and more documents become available digitally in this process, it has become possible to rethink historic social connections, to mine texts for patterns, and even to use artifical intelligence to chart changes over time in massive corpora of literature. Powerful digital tools, however, change the work of scholarship and its focus, which in turn alters how the archives are used. A meaningful canon of shared knowledge understood by the few is replaced with discoverable mentions from everywhere, connected in every conceivable way by machines. This leaves aside the whole point of the humanities to some extent (47).
We are encouraged to think of all this information as one great archive, the memory of the world. Modern life is full of data archives, personal collections, and curators, linked to create one huge collection. But the internet is not an archive. It functions more like a great finding aid, making it possible to discover disperate documents from around the world with little information, however, on their value or meaning (Ernst 84-86). Nor do these collections serve as memory in any sort of constructed way (McGann 15). Commemorations have little power in the vast array of content. Institutional projects to collect and preserve materials, and make them accessible, draw attention more to the power of technology than the influence of any state or tradition, or at most the power of institutions to harness technology in the service of recollection. Astrid Erll, who has wrtten a great deal on cultural memory, states that new media carries a great deal of implict collective memory, unrecognized by many members of any society. This suggests that modern memory has become unmoored, no longer constructed by tradition or education, but revealed through the technological tools of scholarship, mined from the digital unconscious that is mediated in every direction by the products of data capitalism (10-13).
In this situation, a world full of archives without much connection to what cultural heritage institutions used to do, scholars too are changing their understanding of what the archive is for. In 2018, the Journal of Cultural Economy set up a page of published accounts of recent labor disputes in British higher education. Like so many internet archives, all it did was point readers, users, to where to find someone else's creations, or in this context, products. More seriously, John Hartley writes in his book about how technology provides an opportunity to rethink Cultural Studies, "Network archives (YouTube, the internet) are organized around the concept of probability. They are digital, contain virtual objects, and propose an uncertain relation between what you see and what you get" (160). In the past, experts not only gathered collections of items (which had been collected before by other experts for different reasons), but they also defined the meaning and importance of the items. Now, according to Hartley, the internet gathers countless things, created by all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons, and then it guides users to what is likely to serve their purposes. The result shifts the understanding of what is a sign and its meaning. It also shifts the ways in which expertise defines knowledge (169-70). The official library or archive can only lend authority to the discoveries of the internet, assuring us as to what is historic and real.
Much of the scholarship in Critical Archival Studies condemns how collections not only express power in society but also how the archive uses them to define memory, identity, and culture with some authority. In building new archives that address past injustices, scholars recognize that the use of new technology also changes the very nature of the archive. Wider populations may be served by the institions that go online, but digitization can also serve as a more efficient means of extraction and co-option (Carbahal and Casswell 1111-12). Archival authority on a global scale. Little of the work in the field, theoretical or practical, however, deals with issues akin to the points raised by Hartley on how access and search algorithms, as well as the competition with other sources of information, changes the role that the institutions play in the hectic world of the internet. So, it is necessary to review some of the central issues addressed by critical archives to say more about the current state of theory among scholars.
Absences in the archival record on topics or from people of interest to us today can result from the nature of the records kept at the time or from later retention decisions. For instance, the archivist Louis-Gilles Pairault notes that, "Records of the slave trade are almost exclusively those of the slave-traders: the silence of the victims is deafening" (259). Yet this is largely because of who had the power to write things down and what they wanted to write about. In the effort to give voice to the voiceless today, scholars need to use their expertise and the array of sources available and findable through technology to piece together what they can, perhaps even allowing for some creative reconstruction of what people experienced and thought (269). In modern cases, researchers often can use the technologies of communication and storage for the creation of record collections that serve their own purposes, arguing for the preservation of everything to retain information that might be needed to hear from people often ignored. Sarah M. Hughes and Lauren L. Martin use an intextual approach to understand the experience of immigrant detention and also to argue that the decisions of the National Archives inhibit scholarship and, really, accountability. "the politics of archiving and destroying digitizable data becomes all the more urgent. What does it mean to destroy documents in an age where so much is kept and stored" (427)? Digitizing serves scholarship and even justice, in this view then, more than the work of official curators.
Digital preservation, however, eventually means digital publication. As Monika Golonka-Czajkowska and Stanisława Trebunia-Staszel found in confronting twentieth century Polish conflicts however, giving people a voice is not always what they want. The abuses of authority can include bringing the past to light. So, digitization brings up an aspect of the complex ethical issues of handling sensitive data (110). While anthropology and other sciences might have traditions of respecting the wishes of their subjects, other academics working to uncover either the past or contemporary injustice do not always follow similar expectations. Golonka-Czajkowska and Trebunia-Stasze write that this can include critics of the archive (116-17). In using technology to expand research beyond the ways that institutional collections have been used in the past, the limits to its power to say something with any sort of academic credibility are still being worked out, as are the dangers.