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Wednesday, March 29 • 9:45am - 11:00am
Session 1: Research Horizons

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Whose Life Is It, Anyway? Photos, Algorithms, and Memory (Nancy Van House, UC Berkeley)

Digital Workflow and Archiving in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Smiljana Antonijevic Ubois, Penn State University)

Mementos Mori: Saving the Legacy of Older Performers (Joan Jeffri, Research Center for Arts & Culture/The Actors Fund)

Exploring Personal Financial Information Management Among Young Adults (Robert Douglas Ferguson, McGill School of Information Studies

Presentation Details: 

  • Whose Life Is It, Anyway? Photos, Algorithms, and Memory (Nancy Van House, UC Berkeley).

    Photographs and, most recently, videos are key components of many personal archives. They are implicated in performance of identity and in the narratives that we construct about ourselves, individually and collectively. Images (including video with audio) are especially powerful memory objects.  They are typified by excess referentiality, that is, they reveal more than the maker intends; and with repeated viewing they reveal more and more.  Furthermore, as sensory objects they carry considerable emotional weight.

    Viewing, retrieving, organizing, preserving, and sharing the current deluge of digital image files is problematic due to, among other things, their volume, varying file formats, dearth of textual annotations, and dispersal across individual and shared storage sites and technologies.

    In addition to or even instead of local archives, people increasingly rely on shared repositories like Google Images or Flickr.com in which algorithms often used to label, retrieve, and prioritize (“best,” “most interesting,” “most relevant”) images. Popular services like Google Photos, Apple Photos, Flickr, and Adobe Lightroom are now bringing machine learning (especially facial recognition) to consumers’ own collections. While useful, algorithmically-derived metadata can be highly problematic. Images lose the meaning derived from contexts, groupings, sequencing, and the situated practices of making and use.  Descriptors are flattened into a pre-chosen “universal” vocabulary.  The specific is replaced by the general.

    The content and structure of archives shape what we remember, and so these disembodied, decontextualized, “impersonal” tools threaten to torque our memories. These supposedly-impersonal algorithms are rooted, not only in specific practices and histories, but assumptions, values, and power relations.    In this paper, I discuss how, by relying on uninterrogated algorithms, we are unknowingly delegating the work of maintaining critical resources for individual and collective memory, and thus identity. 

  • Digital Workflow and Archiving in the Humanities and Social Sciences (Smiljana Antonijevic Ubois, Penn State University)

    This paper presents findings of a Mellon foundation funded study conducted at the Pennsylvania State University from 2014-2016. Through observations, contextual inquiry sessions, and interviews the study examined how scholars across disciplines engage with digital tools and resources in their research workflows. This paper focuses on digital workflows of scholars in the humanities and social sciences, and highlights diverse approaches to personal archiving, including those that bridge paper-based and digital collections of scholarly materials.

    The results showed that humanists and social scientists increasingly use digital technologies to collect empirical data and other primary sources. In the social sciences, scholars regularly use online surveys, Skype interviewing, digital audio-video recording, and smartphones to collect their data. In the humanities, digital technologies have become indispensable for collecting materials in physical archives where humanists take photos of materials by using their cell-phone cameras, and store those materials for further use. Two main ways of storing data include computer hard drives and cloud-based services like Dropbox.

    The engagement with digital technologies has had positive effects on scholars’ workflow, enabling them to create their personal digital archives of primary sources and to keep those materials at hand for further analysis, making their research much more portable. Yet it also brought significant challenges in managing and archiving those digital materials. Humanists commonly return from the archive with an overload of digital photos that require a lot of storage space, which are not searchable, and for which they often cannot recall the contextual meaning. In the social sciences, problems are commonly related to data privacy and ethics in handling sensitive fieldwork materials.

    This paper reports about the strategies that scholars use to address those challenges, and provides a set of recommendations for academic institutions in supporting digital scholarly workflow and archiving in the humanities and social sciences.

  • Mementos Mori: Saving the Legacy of Older Performers (Joan Jeffri, Research Center for Arts & Culture/The Actors Fund)

    The Research Center for Arts and Culture’s PERFORMING ARTS LEGACY PROJECT (PAL) grows out of seminal research on older professional performing artists age 62+ in LA and NYC (STILL KICKING, 2011) conducted at Columbia University and using a rigorous methodology (Respondent-driven sampling) adapted from the social sciences to identify “hidden” populations. (http://artsandcultureresearch.org/portfolio/still-kicking/)  Its findings informed the creation of an interdisciplinary, intergenerational two-year LEGACY LAB with ten professional actors (67-92), young performers conducting oral histories with them, and graduate students from theatre, education, health and aging  who, with the actors, create a visual mapping of the actors’ careers and curated life reviews.

    The actors’ backgrounds range from classical, Broadway to off-off Broadway and performance art. The RCAC, now at The Actors Fund, works closely with universities, the NY Public Library, performers' unions, and community agencies. The RCAC is creating a web platform open to actors around the world to document their careers and save our national legacy. Its core elements are oral history, database documentation, and life review. In the second year, student interns will create a manual for clearing legal rights, a curriculum guide, and a user guide.  PAL also grew from an earlier project with older professional visual artists, ART CART: SAVING THE LEGACY, also based on original research (ABOVE GROUND, 2007 http://artsandcultureresearch.org/portfolio/above-ground/ ). While visual artists are about their objects which their stories reinforce, older performers are about their stories reinforced by their objects, and we have learned much in three iterations of ART CART to apply to PAL. We propose to present the interplay between research and practice, a discussion that includes aesthetics, control over the material of one’s life stories, as well as the health promotion and positive aging aspects of such digital representation. 

  • Exploring Personal Financial Information Management Among Young Adults (Robert Douglas Ferguson, McGill School of Information Studies

    Financial records are a key category in the collections of personal information of many people. From online shopping to day-to-day banking, an increasing proportion of financial-related records, such as receipts, bills, income tax returns, and budgets will be created, accessed, used, and preserved in digital formats. As a result, people will need to adjust their personal information management (PIM) and personal archiving strategies to account for the progressive and pervasive digitization of personal finance in everyday life.

    What is the impact of the digitization of personal finance on the short and long term use and preservation of personal financial information? How do the behaviors of young adults, as digital natives, compare to those of older age groups, which have already been studied by PIM researchers?

    This presentation reports on 23 guided tour interviews conducted with young adults between the ages of 18 to 25 in Montréal, Québec, Canada. During the guided tours, participants exhibited and discussed their financial PIM and PDA with the researcher. Interviews revealed ways in which young adults progressively rely upon the online portals offered by financial service providers to make available and preserve their personal financial information. Participants also described how information items within personal collections of financial information are used to establish mental models of financial resources, which in turn shape some of their financial behaviors.

    From a theoretical perspective, at present there are two competing models of PIM: Jones and Teevan’s (2007) consumption model and Whittaker’s (2011) curation model. Although significant overlap exists between these two models in terms of personal information management as a process, these models differ in how they define the central problems PIM research aims to resolve. The study of personal collections of financial information of young adults offers a vantage point from which to evaluate current conceptual models of personal informatio

avatar for Smiljana Antonijevic

Smiljana Antonijevic

Research Anthropologist, PCH
Smiljana Antonijevic (PhD, Cultural Anthropology) explores the intersection of technology, culture, and communication through research and teaching in the U.S. and the EU. She is the author of three books and more than twenty journal articles. Smiljana currently works as a consultant... Read More →

Robert Douglas Ferguson

McGill University, Canada

Nancy Van House

Professor Emerita, School of Information, University of California, Berkeley
Nancy A. Van House is Professor Emerita in the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley.  Her research is concerned with visual narrative, memory, and the intersection between personal photographic practices and technologies and social media.   Recent publications... Read More →
avatar for Joan Jeffri

Joan Jeffri

Director and Founder, Research Center for Arts & Culture/The Actors Fund
Joan Jeffri is Founder and Director of the Research Center for Arts and Culture housed first at Columbia University, now at The Actors Fund. Former Director of the Program in Arts Administration at Columbia, she is past President of the Association of Arts Administration Educators... Read More →

Wednesday March 29, 2017 9:45am - 11:00am PDT
Bishop Auditorium Lathrop Library, Stanford University 518 Memorial Way Stanford, CA 94305