Designing a Connected Archive

Designing a Connected Archive

During our time at Milli.Tech, we aimed to design a platform that democratized access to archives.

Introduction to Archives, Archival Processes and Archival Interface Design

Archives are fascinating vessels of history, embodying a rich mosaic of artifacts that range from private letters to copyrighted films, from land records to propaganda materials, and even taboo items. The task of an archivist involves categorizing, storing, and preserving these historical documents based on the specific orientation of the archive. However, this multifaceted array of artifacts doesn’t just represent historical records; they embody diverse narratives, interests, and stakeholders, all coalescing into what we term the Archival Record.

The establishment and functioning of an archive often inspire key queries around ownership, usage, description, and interpretation. Delving into these questions helps to illuminate the negotiations, conflicts, and complexities that swirl around the archival process. The nature and contents of an archive are significantly influenced by these negotiations and the changing environments, as archives are meant to serve as long-term repositories.

Archival Items and Collections

Archival items are the building blocks of an archive, taking diverse forms such as images, apps, songs, logos, clothes, and even other archives. But, an archive is more than a mere collection of individual items. It’s a curated and organized assembly of these items, wherein collections themselves become individual entities.

Consider an archive centered around the Indian Partition. Its hierarchical structure might look like this:

  • Found objects
    • Letters and Correspondence
      • 1950-1960
        • Ismat and Issac

In this structure, a specific item like a letter from Issac to Ismat dated July 23, 1956, resides within the “Ismat and Issac” collection.

Two Facets of Archival Items

An archivist analyses an archival item, such as the mentioned letter, on two levels:

  1. The Content: The actual substance of the letter.
  2. The Context: The surrounding questions about the item - who wrote it, when and where it was composed, its physical properties, the historical backdrop of its creation, and so on.

These facets play an integral part in the archival processes of accessioning, surveying, arrangement, description, ingestion, creating access points, etc.

Archival Processes and Workflows

Effective management of an archive involves systematic workflows. To get a more detailed understanding of these workflows, resources like the University of Florida’s Archival Processing guidelines provide insightful templates and forms.

For digital archiving, a unique set of workflows is required, for which platforms like the National Archives of the UK provide comprehensive digital preservation workflows.

See Also

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