A Beautiful WWW posted A Review of MemoryArchive.org. MemoryArchive, founded by historian Marshall Poe, is a new MediaWiki based website aimed at collecting first person accounts that they term ‘memoirs’. In sharp contrast with the communal authorship approach of most wikis, MemoryArchive locks down edits of each entry after a format review.
What sorts of memoirs are they looking for? In their FAQ they say they want “pretty much anything you remember that someone else might conceivably find interesting, now or in 500 years”.
I spent some time exploring. I read a very moving memorial titled Death by Aids The Goodbye Party, 1992, by Jay Blotcher (ed note: Jay emailed me with the correct title for this memoir). I wandered through some 9/11 memories. Eventually something dawned on me. Maybe it is the fact that I am spending most of my days lately thinking deep thoughts about metadata and classification — or maybe my archives course work is to blame — whatever the reason, I realized that I wanted more information about the storytellers. Right now it appears that each memoir includes Who, What, When and Where data – to whatever degree the contributors choose to furnish such information. Categories are also available and seem to be frequently employed.
But I want to know more about the individuals who are telling the stories. I appreciate that some posts will be made more powerful through anonymity, but for those cases that an individual is willing to share additional biographic information it would be great to have an easy place for that information to be captured.
I think the most interesting aspect of the Memory Archive to the archives community is the Memory Archive Affiliate Program. The theory behind this program is to support the collection and archiving of personal histories online. It is described as being of interest to the following types of organizations:
- historical societies (urban, state, or national)
- institutions interested in recording their own history (a club, society, or military unit)
- educational institutions teaching history (high school or college)
- public history projects (oral history gathering, or document collection)
This is a powerful idea. Any time you can accumulate a critical mass of of a single type of information on the web (in this case, memoirs) you have the chance of becoming a destination. There is also the added benefit of enabling smaller organizations to launch an online memoir collection initiatives without needing to worry about the technology, costs and people-power that would usually be required.
There does needs to be an easy way for the Memory Archive Affiliates to download these born digital memoirs for offline use and preservation purposes. This could be accomplished by an ‘export’ or ‘format for printing’ button on each memoir page, or perhaps some form of bulk download for all memoirs collected for a single affiliate’s project. I will say that the default print format isn’t bad. It seems to already do some special reformatting (such as displaying URL links in their entirety). I still also would want more metadata, though perhaps the definition of attributes to be collected could be customized per project.
I am curious to see the overall quality of the memoirs a year from now. I suspect that memoirs collected is association with a topically focused program may be more compelling than the average ‘man-on-the-net’ first person narratives. That isn’t to say that there is no value in the memories of someone who feels compelled to share their story – but a collection created around a theme would have the additional power of that common thread. The affiliate program memoirs would also be more likely to come with some contextual background explaining the source and origin of the solicited accounts. I am a fan the existing thematic memory sites, such as The April 16 Archive and the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank. I love that the Omeka software used to create these two example sites is open source and free. Unfortunately, I don’t think the average small historical society or public history project is likely to have the resources to build and support a site like this even with free software. I think that a program like the Memory Archive Affiliate Program (or something like it) could bridge the gap for these smaller organizations and make the creation of online memoir collection projects a reality.
Glad that you like Omeka, and the collecting plugin that has made the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank and the April 16 Digital Archive possible. The collecting plugin is just one of the many flexible options that Omeka users have for configuring their exhibit sites, including geo-location, blogging, and bilingual metadata plugins.
In fact, Omeka is modeled on WordPress, the quick flexible software that you use to power your blog. With a five minute install, and easy theme switching and plugin activation, using Omeka to publish narrative exhibits and to interact with the public won’t be any harder for small museums and historical societies than the work that thousands of people have done to self-publish with WordPress and similar blogging packages. Eventually, there will be a hosted version of Omeka for those museums and historical societies that don’t want to set-up their own hosting. Our hope is that these options will allow small museums and historical societies the easy of presentation and community building that bloggers have take advantage of on an individual basis.
I agree that Omeka looks pretty cool. It also raises the question of context–there is no easy way on the Hurricane Digital site to see how items relate to each other (i.e., someone uploads several items at once, or several items relate to each other) other than by tag machinations.
Nor is it clear who contributed the items or what the provenance of the items is.
This isn’t a Hurricane Digital problem, per se. I think it’s a human nature problem. People may casually share their stories or digital objects, but that doesn’t mean that they are comfortable sharing much about who they are, or that they will take the time to tell much. So, we are left with intriguing piles of digital stuff–the digital junk of the future?
We need better interfaces to help discover connections, and perhaps, over time, we’ll also build up norms of trustworthiness such that people will contribute enough personal data so as to give items provenance and context for meaningful use as historical artifacts. Or, maybe we continue to live in a sort of speeded up archeological age. Instead of digging through piles of rubble hundreds or thousands of years old and sifting through artifacts left by unknowable people back when, now we can get the same effect (but more quickly and with greater digital fidelity) in significantly less time.
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