Session C.19: Digital Archiving and Cultural Representation: Nonlinear Rhetorical and Interdisciplinary Theories and Praxes

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Presenters: Jaime Desantiago (The University of Texas at El Paso), Bibhushana Poudyal (The University of Texas at El Paso), and Veronica Cruz (The University of Texas at El Paso)

At the core of this panel was the sense that archives, at their most productive and generative, cannot be approached as and conceived of as static and monolithic repositories. Rather, archival work and archival spaces must be approached as always in process, a constant negotiation between evolving theoretical perspectives and ongoing curatorial practices.

Jaime Desantiago, “Rethinking Agency: A New Materialist Approach to Hip Hop Archiving”

Jaime Desantiago began the panel with his talk “Rethinking Agency: A New Materialist Approach to Hip Hop Archiving.” He used a new materialist lens, based on Laurie Gries’s Still Life with Rhetoric, to reconsider the artifacts curated for the Houston Hip Hop Research Collection at the University of Houston Libraries. He drew a connection between new materialisms and, what he identified as, the “objects of hip hop,” including cassettes, sound recordings, written lyrics, business papers, and photographs. According to Desantiago, new materialisms emphasizes the “fluidity/transformation of meaning as ‘things’ progress through time/generations,” much as the recordings in the archive evolve in their meaning making across generations of remixing. He focused on the “chopped and screwed” method of remixing hip hop, originated by DJ Screw in Houston, that severely slows the music, lengthening beats and distorting lyrics. During the Q&A, Desantiago played a clip of this genre, describing the way the slower tempo emphasized certain aspects such as storytelling. Finally, he suggested that we consider sampling as cultural preservation, even as it involves remixing from old to new. Such a claim might align well with Kristin L. Arola and Adam C. Arola in their consideration of ethical assemblages, remix, and sampling in “An Ethics of Assemblage: Creative Repetition and the Electric Pow Wow” from Assembling Composition (2017). New materialisms certainly offers a lens for considering the agency of archival artifacts and complicating curatorial and analytical approaches.

Bibhushana Poudyal, “Critical Digital Archiving Against the Grain: Precarities, Negotiations, and Possibilities”

Shifting the conversation to methodologies, Bibhushana Poudyal repeated: “Theory and practice! Practice and theory! Praxis!” Her mantra emphasized the inextricability of theory and practice as she worked to complicate Western notions of archives, especially archival representations of non-Western countries and cultures. She began her talk, “Critical Digital Archiving Against the Grain: Precarities, Negotiations, and Possibilities,” with an anecdote about trying to describe Nepal, her home country, to a stranger. She realized that a Google search of Nepal and the archival sources available for the country focused on the 2015 earthquake, tourism, and exoticism. In an effort to complicate this flattened view of Nepal, Poudyal has begun working on two fronts: 1) a practice of generating an archive that counters “linearity in portrayal of non-Western worlds” and 2) a theoretical approach that disrupts Western notions of a “fixed past, museumization, and preservation.” Her methodologies, among others, include critical digital archiving and critical intimacy. She employs both methodologies in her archive Rethinking South Asia via Critical Digital Archiving, now housed on the Omeka platform, which presents an ongoing project for cataloguing everyday photography in Nepal. Her archive provides an alternative to “dominant” representations of Nepal, and in doing so, she offers a perspective of Nepal that counters a flattened, Western narrative. As she explains, “Critical Digital Archiving is under (de)construction and will forever be so” because of its constant negotiation between theory and practice.

Veronica Cruz, “Cultural Representation: Revitalizing Indigenous Languages”

Veronica Cruz focused on languages of indigenous people—for this presentation on “Cultural Representation: Revitalizing Indigenous Languages,” she specifically focused on indigenous peoples from the area where the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP) now exists: Tigua, Navajo, and Apache. Her presentation toggled between mobile language apps and people involved with UTEP’s Academic Revival of Indigenous Studies and Education student organization (ARISE). Cruz explains, “To resist dominating hegemonic ideologies, some Native Americans are turning to apps to learn, or to re-learn, their language.” For her study, she considered “technacy education” to evaluate the usability and mis/representation of three language apps: Ogoki, Rosetta Stone, and Duo Lingo. Members of ARISE tested these apps, and Cruz compiled their experiences. Although the apps offered accessible options for (re)learning indigenous languages, they also illuminated several problems: an exclusiveness of language, overlooking of language variation, and mispronunciation. During the Q&A, it became clear that these apps operate as archives of languages, but are problematic because the apps are limited in their ability to evolve alongside the liveliness of language.

Takeaways

The panel, considered holistically, asks creators, curators, viewers, and participants in archival spaces and activities to reconsider locations of agency in and across artifacts, to question assumptions embedded in archival structures, and to engage in processes of archival methodologies. New materialisms offer a robust set of frameworks that might be useful for analyzing archival artifacts and practices, particularly with regard to questions of agency across artifacts, curators, and institutions. Archival work is a necessarily constant negotiation between theory and practice, especially when we begin to question the linear, dominant, and Western foundations of many curatorial and archival practices. Archival functions might go unnoticed in unusual spaces, locations, and technologies like mobile applications. With that, it becomes even more crucial to render curatorial and preservation practices visible, recognizing the way such practices have the potential to mis/represent languages and cultures. Approaching archives as evolving and ongoing projects helps negotiate tensions between agency and power, preservation and usability, and theory and practice.

About Author(s)

Jessi Thomsen is pursuing her PhD in English with a specialization in rhetoric and composition at Florida State University, where her golden retrievers supervise all of her scholarly endeavors and occasionally answer her emails.

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