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Archival Workshop at MoMA

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6 questions

Posted on 26 Feb

“When archivists speak of context, they refer to the original group of materials of which a particular object is an inextricable part.”

How can such a group of materials be distinguished from everything else that happened to be around at the moment the original group came into existence?

Who decides at what point the critical moment of origin occurred and how long it lasted?

By what criteria are individual materials given more or less priority within the group?

Why should the archival object be considered an inextricable part of this group?

How is it determined that the original context of an object, as it is inferred from a particular group of materials, reveals anything essential in the life of the object itself, rather than containing lots of things about the unacknowledged biases of the context in which we ourselves are situated?

Lastly, why is there so little material from the MoMA archives reproduced on this website? It seems like a good place to post it.

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“When archivists speak of context, they refer to the original group of materials of which a particular object is an inextricable part.”

How can such a group of materials be distinguished from everything else that happened to be around at the...

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Julia feldman pic

Thanks for your questions; maybe I can hazard an answer. Archivists and researchers rarely have the opportunity to make these types of decisions: history makes them for us. We often joke that an archive consists of "what doesn't get thrown out" - it's not an ideal grouping of items specially selected for their historical importance, but rather a haphazard collection of things that happened to escape the rubbish bin and find their way into an institution. That coincidental arrangement is often our best clue as to how these materials were used and what they meant to their creator, who was not thinking of them as historical documents but as functional elements in his or her everyday life. That's why we value original order so highly, precisely because it shows a snapshot of history as it was lived, rather than what any given historian or archivist finds important.

The individual materials that researchers, historians, and curators value in an archive will surely change over time - and of course, this is a wonderful thing. But that means that if we rearrange an archive in order to privilege any one interpretation, we do so at the expense of all future interpretations, as future researchers will not be able to start with that material's original context. The original order represents the closest we can get to that lost moment of history. Of course, you're absolutely right that our interpretations speak at least as much to our own culture as to the past; that's why original order is crucial, so that we can keep reinterpreting and finding new meanings in the archive.

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Discuss (3) Print

Thanks for your questions; maybe I can hazard an answer. Archivists and researchers rarely have the opportunity to make these types of decisions: history makes them for us. We often joke that an archive consists of "what doesn't get thrown out" -...

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Nealstimler 62web300pixel

I am interested particularly in Fluxus performance scores, such as those by George Brecht and Benjamin Patterson.

Has there been discussion on how to digitize archival materials from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection for public use?

How can MoMA enable these performances to be revived from the analog back into contemporary digital culture through online access, reuse and sharing via social media? What are the possibilities for online transcription of Fluxus scores and archival materials? DIY | History/ Transcribe from University of Iowa Libraries

Are distinctions as "organic" and "artificial" that may impact the ordering of physical archival collections, resonant once assets are digitized? Jon Hendriks post of February 15th seems to challenge these notions further.

How can the essential dynamism of Fluxus works be made manifest in the acts of processing of these collections for the public good online? Has the archival staff considered live streaming the cataloging process, holding open workshops online or tweeting images and links of ongoing research?

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Discuss (3) Print

I am interested particularly in Fluxus performance scores, such as those by George Brecht and Benjamin Patterson.

Has there been discussion on how to digitize archival materials from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection for public...

Show more »

Discuss (3) Print