Interaction and Expertise in an Appalachian Music Archive

Interaction and Expertise in an Appalachian Music Archive

Emily Clark
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2178-7.ch018
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In the world of archives, Web 2.0 means more than wider and easier access to digital surrogates of archival objects. Newly developing Web 2.0 applications provide multiple possibilities for contextualizing archival objects through the contributions of many users, rather than a few established experts, marking a shift in archival practice and the role of the expert archivist. For many archival objects with origins in collaborative and popular cultural traditions, a context for online access that invites collaboration and challenges the authority of the expert is particularly conducive to helping users make sense of the archival objects. While this may lead to tensions between innovation and tradition in archival practice, user-contributed knowledge and multiple interpretations of documents can be incorporated as a complement to institutional records, rather than a replacement for traditional methods of description and classification. The purpose of this chapter is to describe recent developments in interactive and collaborative online archives that challenge and enhance traditional ideas about archival expertise. For one Appalachian folk song collection in particular, a community of expertise, ownership, and collaboration may help to keep unique recordings in continued use as part of a living, and still-evolving, musical tradition.
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The nature and goals of archives are in flux. Technology is changing how the user finds information about historical documents and how the user interacts with the archival object itself. The traditionally distinct goals of archives, museums, and libraries are converging as Web 2.0 applications lead to the possibility, and even expectation, of universal, open, and easy access to cultural and historical objects.

Archivists are beginning to experiment with the possibilities afforded by Web 2.0, incorporating user interaction and contribution into websites displaying archival materials, while also trying to retain longstanding principles of archival practice. One manifestation of the tension between innovation and tradition in the archive is the question of authority and expertise. As archives become open to user contribution in organizing, describing, and making sense of historical documents, established experts are no longer the sole interpreters and designators of context and meaning. Though user-contributed knowledge may present a challenge to the expertise of the archivist and the authority of the institutional record, cultural memory institutions may include multiple interpretations of archival documents to complement and enhance traditional methods of archival practice. In this chapter, after discussing recent studies and experiments in participatory and interactive archives as well as a particular lacuna in the area of archives of music, I will explain how a reconfiguration of archival tradition in the Web 2.0 environment may serve to provide better access for diverse audiences, incorporating different kinds of expertise to highlight different facets and meanings of objects in the archive. By examining in particular a collection of Appalachian folk song recordings, I will show that music archives are a particularly interesting and appropriate arena in which to challenge traditional notions of the archive and archival practice and to explore new ways of serving diverse users in the Web 2.0 environment, in this case fostering a community of appreciation, knowledge, and expertise around a collection of objects with historical, cultural, and artistic value.

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