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Database | Narrative | Archive

Seven interactive essays on digital nonlinear storytelling
edited by Matt Soar & Monika Gagnon

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Recent, prolific scholarship on the evolving phenomena of archives and archiving describes how  traditionally, archives were affiliated with established institutional organizations and housed in a building/place with structures that managed records and documentation of historic activities. Media-based  archives have generated ever more complex issues concerning the ontology and nature of archives primarily with regards to the primacy and uniqueness of the original object. But also with epistemological questions concerning access, circulation, authenticity and representations of truth. With the advent of photography, then cinema, the reproducibility of images challenged conventional ontologies of the unique artifact. Digital media, and by extension, digital archives in their multiple forms (encompassing media that are 'born digital,' as well as objects that have been reproduced and migrated to a digital format), produce exponential volumes of data that have to be managed, and trigger the tensions (and hierarchies) between a material original and digital copy. In addition to increased possibilities for access and circulation, questions about ethics, copyright and ownership emerge in new forms, as do issues of storage. Exploring different forms of archival animation to engage media artifacts and histories engages the past in creative and transformative ways that digital media and internet archives make particular. With regards to traditional archives, historian Carolyn Steedman’s reflections in her book Dust: A Cultural History remind us: “… Nothing happens to this stuff, in the Archive. It is indexed, and catalogued, and some of it is not indexed and catalogued, and some of it is lost. But as stuff, it just sits there until it is read, and used, and narrativised.

Nothwithstanding the pervasive drive to digitize archives and place them online (often over more nuanced considerations of effective navigability, relevance and user comprehension), media archeologist, Wolfgang Ernst and new media theorist, Wendy H. K. Chun, write of the ephemeral ontology of digital archives, their ongoing imbrication with material objects, and the productive tensions between them. Ernst has stated:
Let us, memory-politically, not underestimate the on-going impact of traditional paper archives or present audio-visual archives; the quest for access to such archives makes us feel immediately that they are still real. With digital archives, though, there is – in principle – no more delay between memory and the present, but the technical option of immediate feedback, turning every present data into archival entries and vice versa. The economy of timing becomes a short-circuit.
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