Back from SF, to the office, first day of school, general fall craziness. I want to post just a couple of other notes re SAA before I move on to other topics.

The session “Returning Displaced Archives: Legal and Ethical Perspectives” moderated by Trudy Peterson. The panelists, to whom scenarios (hypothetical and actual) were put included an ethicist, and attorney, and two archivist/scholars. A key question asked and discussed: is the nationalist concept of archives ownership/repatriation flawed, and is it changing? Kirk Hanson, the ethicist, argued that we are “piercing the veil of nationalism” as evidenced by challenges to state sovereignty in the legal realm, international justice and rights, the ICC etc. Patricia Grimsted spoke about archives in the various permutations of the Soviet/Russian state and its various republics; needless to say the Russians have not been amenable to repatriating collections sized after the revolution. A few conclusions/recommendations:

  • challenges to national patrimony will create their own complications;
  • there should be a sort of “archival escrow”, a concept put forth by Trudy and others, which would provide protective custody for disputed or at-risk collections;
  • SAA should have a liaison to the Bureau of Cultural Affairs to monitor the “red list” of cultural property brought into the US.

Another presentation which particularly resonated for me was Katie Shilton’s “Ethics in the Digital Archive: Balancing Privacy and Participation” which was part of the “Changing Practices: The Imapct of Technology” session. She addressed the implications of how our lives are increasingly documented in ways we don’t choose – phones with GPS, CCTV, Google accounts, etc, and we engage in ongoing personal negotiations around privacy. How do archives deal with these new forms of data, new types of documents, which may allow greater representation across the spectrum, but which may erode privacy? Who is empowered to make such decisions; when do we impose restrictions vs. when do we allow decay (“forgetting”, ie allowing information to be erased). She stressed informed consent as an important guiding concept, which is true, but easier said than done within an archival context.

At WITNESS, as the Hub grows and evolves, the Media Archive will soon be grappling with the issue of cellphone and user-generated video, and the attendant technological, ethical and legal issues embedded therein. I will post more about this soon.

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