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Identity, Representation and Preservation in Community Digital Archives and Collections is a 12 month project funded by a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award (2018) held by Dr. Sharon Webb (Principal Investigator). It is an intervention in three important areas; community archives, digital preservation and content representation.

As communities take charge of their heritage, and create their own digital archives, the long-term viability and sustainability of these increasingly important collections, is uncertain. LGBTQ+ communities, feminist networks, black communities, among other marginalised groups, use digital technology to ensure representation and to protect against future erasure from the historical record. However, these representations are at risk of loss because of the fragility of digital archives and their associated infrastructures, both the human infrastructures (i.e. volunteers) and the digital infrastructures. This project asks what are the implications of a community-driven approach to long-term sustainability of these materials, and how might we support community archives without removing their agency.

The programme of work, will bridge the gap between community archives and the individuals and institutions with the means to provide (digital) infrastructural advice and support. It acknowledges and recognizes the autonomy of communities seeking to capture their own narratives as digital archives; and does not seek to intervene in the process of community collection; instead, it explores how communities might be supported in the long-term; and along the way asks how we can link them to academic research infrastructures.

This project will also challenge the way in which archival, digital collections are presented. By engaging with digital artists and practitioners, it will experiment with the materiality of digital archives and question how we might explore and present, for example, oral histories, beyond traditional forms of presentation. We will attempt to reanimate these histories, exploring visualization in a range of ways, including the big data approach of graphs and networks as well as intensive methods of digital art performance and immersive experiences. The aim of these experiments is to challenge the fixity of archival objects, and question whether and how user-generated exhibitions should be “preserved” in the first place.

If you are interested in participating, please contact sharon.webb@sussex.ac.uk, we are especially interested in hearing from early career scholars, archivists and researchers running or developing community digital archives, members of digital preservation community as well as digital artists and creative coders.