Initial Thought on Archiving Social Media

My head is buzzing from the one-day Archiving Social Media workshop organized by the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University and our close neighbor, the University of Mary Washington. The workshop wrapped upon only a few hours ago, but I’m already feeling a need to synthesize some thoughts about archives, social media, and the humanities. And I know I won’t have time in the next day or two to do this, so I’m taking a moment to synthesize a single thought.

And it is this: we need a politics and poetics of the digital archive. We need a politics and poetics of the social media archive.

Much work has been done on the poetics of traditional archives—Carolyn Steedman’s Dust comes to mind—and there’s emerging political work on social media archives. But there is no deliberate attempt by humanists to understand and articulate the poetics of the social media archive.

And this is exactly what humanists should be doing. Matthew Kirschenbaum asked today, incisively, what can humanists bring to discussions about social media and archives. My answer is this: we don’t need to design new tools, create new implementation plans, or debate practical use issues. We need to think through social media archives and think through the poetics of these archives. We need to discern and articulate the social meaning of social archives. That’s what humanists can do.

6 thoughts on “Initial Thought on Archiving Social Media”

  1. Thanks for the shout-out. And you’re right, humanists, not just “digital” humanists.

    I think we could do worse than start by compiling a casebook of use scenarios.

    1. @Matt: I agree, we could definitely do worse than thinking about use scenarios. And no doubt there will be incredibly talented and forward-thinking digital humanists doing exactly that.

      Much of what I wrote was really directed toward myself, a reminder that I personally don’t have to focus on tools, implementations, or casebooks simply because I call myself a digital humanist. My own inclinations—and dare I say, talents—lie elsewhere, and that’s where I should direct my own attention.

  2. Agreed, though I should note that to a digital humanist, thinking through problems involves designing proof of concept tools and implementation plans. That is how we think. Articulation is as much an experimental upshot as theoretical.

  3. With an event like this, I hope that we’re all walking away, like you, with a need to synthesize out various angles.

    The politics and poetics are rich. . . right now, I’m leaning toward thinking about the politics side, and this will spur me into a post. The upshot I’m thinking of is not politics and poetics, but politics and aesthetics. I have in mind the politics and aesthetics of photo-journalism. Seems like part of what we missed was the value of one observer’s snapshot of the social media in action?

    Awesome to have these convos started off in good form!

  4. […] SAMPLE REALITY · Initial Thought on Archiving Social Media We need a politics and poetics of the digital archive. We need a politics and poetics of the social media archive. (tags: socialmedia archiving digitalarchiving asome poetics) […]

  5. […] Last weekend’s Archiving Social Media workshop, sponsored by the University of Mary Washington and George Mason‘s Center for History and New Media, focused on the problems and opportunities social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and others pose for archivists, historians, and anyone interested in studying contemporary life. (See also Travis Kaya’s writeup for Wired Campus, or the Twapper Keeper record of the event, or Mark Sample’s blog post as the event was wrapping up.) […]

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