I recently listened to Jason Scott‘s “Now and Then, Here and There” talk for the Eleventh Hope (Hackers on Planet Earth) Conference. Jason is a free-range archivist working at the Internet Archive. His work with browser-based software emulation over the last few years has been amazing, not to mention his ongoing work since 2009 as a member of the Archive Team—the folks who saved Geocities.
— Jim Groom (@jimgroom) July 25, 2016
Anyway, during his recent talk he has a great bit about why people should “steal from work.” It starts at about 25:30 and lasts a couple of minutes and he makes the point that history has shown stuff does not so much get archived institutionally (as I was bemoaning in regards to the New Media Consortium recently) but rather in the attic of the one-off closet archivist. He tells the story that Atari’s prototype artwork for their classic video games was not saved by the company, but rather by someone who bought two filing cabinets from Atari that happened to be filled with these historical documents. Companies, educational institutions, non-profits, etc., change leadership, personnel, direction, etc., and as a result stuff gets lost, forgotten, and discarded. Some of this is inevitable, but at the same time it is made worse by the prevailing logic that this is not our work—and by taking it and archiving it we are somehow stealing it. This is often true based on out warped ideas of intellectual property, a mindset that continues to impoverish the critical history of our culture.
if you’ve worked at one institution for any significant amount of time it’s fairly easy to see the value of the “steal from work” mantra. What’s been different in regards to my work at UMW for a decade was that I made the choice to openly narrative, document, and archive just about everything I did for UMW on my own domain, and it may have been the single best professional and personal decision I’ve ever made. I was “stealing” back the way we should work. I understand this is not possible in many scenarios for all sorts of reasons, but it will be interesting to see how much of institutional history we begin to get from self-hosted blogs, websites, archives, etc., in the not-too-distant future. There is a vast history of teaching and learning across thousands of universities that took place beyond the campus network that sits on servers at blogger, wordpress.com, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc. It would be an interesting archive project to try and preserve the history of teaching and learning during the age of social media. In many ways, that is what UMW Blogs represents for me when I think about it. An ongoing historical record of a new way of thinking about teaching and learning online.