A quick and incomplete explainer

Some folks in my social media network have expressed surprise or dismay at the force of negative reactions on display this week. For those of you who legitimately (as opposed to rhetorically) don’t get it, let me do a bit to address one piece of the puzzle: the immediate and personal fear expressed following the presidential election.

Are you familiar with Schrödinger’s Rapist? In brief, it refers to some of the risk assessments women perform: an unknown man may be a perfectly decent guy, but he may also be a rapist, and it’s tough to tell one from the other. I’m going to steal that concept to talk about Schrödinger’s Deplorable.

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The dispersal of photographs

I’ve started to catch up on professional literature, and earlier today wrapped up “Archival Diasporas.”1 As a case study, Punzalan looks at photographs that have entered a variety of institutions at different times, courtesy of different individuals; how those photographs continue to acquire a history and context in the repository; and how blind spots in professional and institutional practice conspire to hide materials.

Now I want to read more about Worcester, his family, and their connections to various institutions. More broadly, Punzalan’s chosen a great example of why metadata matters…but also how archival questions sometimes need to be essays, not multiple choice. This stands in contrast to the morning’s reading: concise notes on Jenkinson, which emphasize strict adherence to archival principles and a resolute refusal to consider future historians’ use cases.2 (And yes, the wartime archives of England are a different animal from American special collections.)

I buy into the idea of archival diasporas, in part because I am a historian. I can see the “danger” to which Jenkinson refers, insofar as that training gives me an additional set of considerations when making appraisal decisions. It also makes me dismiss the possibility of objectivity, which I assume would make his head explode. (But I do indeed keep processing records. My initials are all over a couple of collections, which has more to do with MacNeil than Jenkinson, but I think he would approve, once he scraped his gray matter off the walls.)3 Switching off the historian impulse as soon as materials enter the repository denies the new meanings that materials acquire. It also limits the role of archivists, who can be so much more than passive (if knowledgeable) service providers. I like the idea of defining communities of artifacts–whether those communities or artifacts are virtual or material is kind of immaterial–and the nearly infinite opportunities to recontextualize them.


  1. Ricardo L. Punzalan, “Archival Diasporas: A Framework for Understanding the Complexities and Challenges of Dispersed Photographic Collections,” American Archivist Vol. 77, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2014), 326-349. 
  2. Hilary Jenkinson, A Manual of Archive Administration (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1922). Thank you for the notes, Bryan! I’ve at least skimmed chunks over the years, but now is not the time to sit down and read it.
  3. For the potential value of colophons, see Heather MacNeil, “Picking Our Text: Archival Description, Authenticity, and the Archivist as Editor,” American Archivist Vol. 68, No. 2 (Fall/Winter 2005), 272-273, http://www.jstor.org/stable/40294291.

Educating women

A week ago, I wrote about how Bryn Mawr’s Health Center screwed up. Today, the Board of Trustees sent an e-mail where they got it right.

“It,” in this case, is the question of how to navigate complicated questions of individuals’ gender identity at an institution for women. The letter comes down on the side of gender identity trumping biology, which pleases me. (A person who, it should be noted, is cisgender and only affiliated with the college as an alumna.)

Of course, the devil is in the implementation details. The bar for living and identifying as a woman could be the applicant’s affirmation, or could be set inconveniently high. The letter addresses transgender and intersex applicants but not, for instance, individuals who identify as agender or gender fluid. (On my initial reading, I assumed they would be welcomed as applicants on the basis of general flexibility, inclusivity, and “not men.” But those identities do present a somewhat thornier philosophical challenge to the concept of a gendered institution, so perhaps they are not merely unaddressed corner cases but intentionally excluded on the basis of “not women.”) Time will tell.

It’s only a letter. But it’s a pretty good letter.

Ethics, BMI, and PR disasters

My alma mater has been in the news, thanks to an exceedingly ill-considered e-mail offering a weight loss program to select students. Said selection was made using students’ BMI data, leading to student outrage and headlines regarding fat-shaming. (Or “fat-shaming,” which I can only assume means some news outlets aren’t entirely sure fat-shaming is a thing and not just, I don’t know, all those liberal girls getting hysterical about their looks.)

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Care Leavers

I encountered the term “care leaver” for the first time a few weeks ago.1 It refers to people who were formerly in some type of foster care situation (Australian and U.K. usage). It sounds very awkward to my ears, though it made sense once explained. Adverbing is, perhaps, an empowering aspect of the term, centered on the individual. And “leaver” is a value-neutral word: one could leave the grocery store, or a job, or an abusive situation.

I started wondering about equivalent terms in the American context. I have seen references to children who “age out” of the foster care system, which is descriptive but not quite the same sort of label. It’s also quite passive—it’s not that they left, it’s just that time marches onward.

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Not actually about open access

While following AHA tweets, I found the text and slides from a lecture about open access journals (or, more specifically, the OA movement, its implications, and discourse). The contents overall seemed sensible: OA has potential benefits and costs, and they should all be considered when discussing publishing models.

I am generally informed, but by no means deeply knowledgeable, about academic journal publishing. I have a sense of the debates, pressures on library budgets, and so forth. I’m not an academic, or an academic librarian, or involved in academic publishing. I don’t really have a dog in the fight, but I’m an animal lover so I’m quite interested in the outcome.

I thoroughly approve of the idea of finding data, analyzing it, and talking with stakeholders. My quibbles with the piece are either very minor or very fundamental, depending on one’s perspective. (Me? I consider them unrelated to the specific question of OA, but important for communication in general and particularly online, where you have people with varying backgrounds, expertise, and agendas engaging in conversation, and it can be tough to figure out who’s actually a dog, and whether it matters.) The tweet I saw (which I can’t find at the moment, so can’t quote directly) also called attention to the nature of the comments on the piece as a useful illustration of the problems of comment sections.

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