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Monday, July 2, 2018

Digital Archiving: A Borderland?

“The actual physical borderlands that I’m dealing with in this book is the Texas-U.S. Southwest/Mexican border. The psychological borderlands, the sexual borderlands and the spiritual borderlands are not particular to the Southwest. In fact, the Borderlands are physically present wherever two or more cultures edge each other, where people of different races occupy the same territory, where under, lower, middle and upper classes touch, where the space between two individuals shrinks with intimacy.” -Gloria Anzaldúa, from the introduction to Borderlands/La Frontera. 

            Gloria Anzaldúa is well known for a number of her books and pieces of writing. One of the most well-known books is Borderlands/La Frontera. A borderland is exactly what you think about when you think of a literal border between two places, but for Gloria it moves beyond just the physical. As you can see in the quote pulled from her introduction to Borderlands/La Frontera, Gloria was very aware of the border that divided Mexico and the Southwest. This idea extends, though, into a psychological, sexual, and spiritual border anytime two persons of different cultures occupy the same territory or space. Borderlands aren’t just the physical divide between spaces and places, they're the overlapping of cultures and ways of life that can be present when two individuals enter the same room. 


 In an interview with Ellie Hernández, Gloria Anzaldúa discusses the origin of the Borderland as she knows it. She tells Hernández, “We try to open up these spaces where different cultures overlap. This is what I did with Borderlands. I wanted it to be accessible to white folks as well as people living on the fringes of society. But to open up the discourse and embrace others is to risk being taken over.” Gloria extends this explanation by saying, “One of the reasons that Borderlands has been so well-received is because it allows people from all cultures to read themselves into the text and it articulates an identity and a reality that the cultural mestiza can be anyone” (Hernández 11). So, Borderlandsboth explains Gloria’s theory behind the word—her experience, and it is acting as a physical borderland that can connect people from all cultures. 
Gloria has an extensive body of work. In fact, according to the University of Texas Archival Resources Online, her Austin, Texas based archive takes up 128 linear feet of space, and houses 239 boxes that are filled with written work, emails, letters, interviews, pictures, artwork, and other miscellaneous items. On top of that, the archive is home to Gloria’s personal library. Needless to say, the archive is incredibly extensive and it continues to grow as more of her work is processed, and as some of the restricted work becomes available after a certain date for reasons of confidentiality and requests made by Gloria. The archive, unique in so many ways, is unfortunately only available for study if you have the means to get there. 
Current scholars are some of the luckiest in terms of the vast sea of knowledge available to them. The constant growth and expansion of electronic based books, papers, interviews, etc. means that more scholars have access to online databases and digital archives that they previously would have had to travel in order to access. Digital archiving, according to the Archaeology Data Service, differs from traditional archiving in that it “seeks to preserve the information regardless of the media on which that information is stored” (Guides to Good Practice). This means that physical objects, artefacts, and non-print items are typically photographed in order to be archived. Anzaldúa’s work was multimodal. She would doodle, make lists, construct different art pieces, and sometimes she would cut her written work into strips so that she could continuously rearrange it and find new order and make new meaning with her words. Her archive sounds absolutely fascinating, but unfortunately, the Gloria Anzaldúa archive hasn’t been digitized for online access. 
Yan Peng Lim, Kong Cheng Tan, and Pei Shin Lim, Faculty of Creative Multimedia, conducted a study on the necessity, and the process, of digitizing new media arts. Digitizing text and word documents is a well-known, straight to the point process, but they wanted to study the process of archiving non-print materials. In their study, “Archiving New Media Arts in Interactive Digital Space,” the trio states, “the need for documentation and archiving complex new media artworks is now increasingly crucial for future preservation and representation” (1). As they state in the quote, digital archiving is becoming a necessary step in the preservation process, because without it we won’t be able to preserve materials for future generations of scholars. On top of all that, with the access to digital archives, the need to travel to the archives will diminish. In turn, researchers will more than likely save money without the cost of travel and a short time frame ticking down until they have to return home. 
With physical archives and collections as vast and unique as Anzaldúa’s, there are questions as to how the archiving would even take place. For instance, Suzanne Bost, in her essay, “Messy Archives and Materials That Matter: Making Knowledge with the Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers,” goes on and on about the depth of the archive: 
This collection of material thus decenters what we previously thought constituted her literary corpus. It knocks the presumed author of Borderlands/La Frontera off her axis and replaces her with an Anzaldúa whose work ranges across many media, shape-shifting as much as her characters who oscillate between human and animal, male and female, alien and ghost. My obsession with this archive has led me to rethink the function of the archive and to theorize the ways in which we produce, reproduce, and coproduce knowledge in our archival work. (Bost 615)
Bost is adamant that her experiences inside the Gloria Anzaldúa archive changed how she understood not only the archive but also how she understood Anzaldúa as a scholar. Later in the essay she explains that her experience led her to want to “show how recognizing the multiple material actants at work in an archive transforms research, in general, and Anzaldúan studies, in particular” (616). Bost’s findings, though, led her to a differing opinion on digital archiving. 
            This paper aims to showcase all the reasons why the Gloria Anzaldúa archive should be digitized, but Suzanna Bost believes it should remain a physical and spiritual experience. She explains to her readers that, “the research process I found/made in the archive exceeded disciplinary conventions. The Anzaldúa papers taught me that the archive is not a passive storehouse of history for scholars to explore; it is a setting that ignites a variety of processes” (617). Her experiences in the archive fueled her to use and create new processes in her own research. As incredible of an experience as this was for Bost, it’s an experience that can only be had by those with the necessary funding or convenient geographic location in order to get there. Anzaldúa is becoming a more common academic name, but for the time being only a small number people have the luxury of calling themselves ‘true’ Anzaldúan scholars in the sense that they’ve read and studied the vast sea of work she left behind unpublished. Bost herself states, “this huge archive has the potential to produce a great variety of responses, ranging from critical essays to Facebook posts to unauthorized leaks of unpublished texts” (617). Limiting the archive to a strictly physical space decreases the potential for the very variety that Bost boasts about in her essay. 
            Anyone that visits the Anzaldúa archive mentions the organized (or disorganized, depending on how you look at it) chaos that’s held within. Bost calls it “an experience of disordered simultaneity in which it is impossible to separate literature from the author’s doodles, her notes, or sometimes torn and folded napkins and fliers she wrote on the back of” (618). Kelli Zaytoun, an Anzaldúan scholar and a professor at Wright State University, said she had a similar experience at the Anzaldúa archive. She mentions that sometimes when she would open a folder strips of paper and miscellaneous items would tumble out. She also discussed the spiritual experience of being in the archive, and how when you're in there with all of Gloria’s things it feels like she's there with you. “Because I, a mestiza,/ continually walk out of one culture/ and into another,/ because I am in all cultures at the same time,/ alma entre dos mundos, tres, cuatro,/ me zumba la cabeza con lo contradictoria./ Estoy norteada por todas las voces que me hablan/ simultáneamente” (Anzaldúa, 99).This spiritual experience that Anzaldúa and her scholars discuss cannot be recreated entirely from behind a screen, but there are some studies that have tried to offer a solution.
            Bost states resolutely that, “digitalizing would also be unable to capture the multidimensionality of coffee stains or the effect of reading a document printed while the ink was running out” (618). These examples, though, are the ones that would gain a lot from being digitized. These materials, coffee stained, bent, folded, faded, etc. could be photographed and then the ones with print could be paired with a new digital write up of what the original says. This would offer, at least, the electronic experience of seeing the original material, and when that’s hard to see/understand on a screen there would be an option to read the plain text word document that would accompany the original. In fact, Sum Wai Yuan Hedren conducted a study that looked at the range of formats that could be used on material and digital aspects in order to put them in a digital archive. 
            Hedren explains that he aims to “explore an approach on how digital assets from an interdisciplinary research project can be captured, preserved and (re)presented in a form of a digital archive,” and then he explains, “it also explores how digital archive contributes to knowledge transfer of the research outcomes” (1). Hedren details the plethora of online tools that are available to aid the process of digital archiving, and he provides a database, DiRT Directory, that links them all. He understands there is an issue with “multi-format entities” so he is proposing a solution to the atypical websites that house archives (1). Hedren proposes a:
design of the digital archive [that] is constantly evolving…Customized interfaces allowed dedicated views to be created for different types of digital asset to suit specific viewing needs. The varying formats, such as videos, images and publications, were presented using a mash-up of digital tools to optimize viewing experiences…As the content in the digital archive grows, added emphasis should be placed on relationship among content and people, such as creating thematic paths between different digital assets, developing researcher profiles to consolidate research contributions and impact, and creating new ways to explore research content using information visualization techniques. (3)
What Hedren has proposed and come up with in this study is a creative way to digitally archive, well, physical materials in existing archives. As he mentions in the passage above, there are digital tools that can be used in order to really create the experience that you want for the viewer. The creator of the archive could choose thematic elements to incorporate into the digital archive that would imitate some of the physical experiences that researchers have had. For instance, both Anzaldúan scholars mentioned earlier had experiences with materials slipping out of folders. The digital archive could realistically function in the same way. When you open a folder online it could flip open and randomly drop the contents to the bottom of your screen, then the researcher would have a similar experience reordering all the pieces they are presented with. 
             On her experience with the organized chaos in the physical archive, Bost says, “I have gained from my archival experience an appreciation for competing processes of meaning making, each with its own forms of circumscription, expansion, and collision” (623). These experiences of meaning making are accompanied in her own essay by images of the slips of paper that she reordered multiple times in order to create her own meaning, and when she was done she could put them in the folder however she wanted, ultimately impacting the way the next person receives the slips. Sticking with the digital folder design, this experience could also be recreated. Although the slips of paper would be digital, so no hands would touch and move them around, it would be possible to write a program that randomized the slips of paper for each new person that opened the folder. It may also be possible to write a computer program that would release the papers in the order that the last researcher on the site left them. Bost actually discusses the effect that the physical space may have on her as a researcher: “My experience will depend on the environment of the archive (hot or cold, quiet or filled with talking) and what materials are available then. It will also depend on how the preceding visitors to the archive have left the materials” (625). Ultimately, the organized chaos that is found within the physical archive could be recreated in many ways on a digital platform. 
            The Gloria Anzaldúa archive, as it exists today, can be best explained by one of her own passages in her book Borderlands/La Frontera:
I see a mosaic pattern (Aztec-like) emerging, a weaving pattern, thin here, thick there. I see a preoccupation with the deep structure, the underlying structure, with the gesso underpainting that is red earth, black earth. I can see the deep structure, the scaffolding. If I can get the bone structure right, then putting flesh on it proceeds without too many hitches. The problem is that the bones often do not exist prior to the flesh, but are shaped after a vague and broad shadow of its form is discerned or uncovered during beginning, middle and final stages of the writing. (88)
The archive itself is literally unfinished. Do to publishing agreements, deeply personal information, and contracts made before Gloria passed, there are still items that haven’t been added to the archive. After the agreed-on amount of time passes, these materials will be added, but until then it’s still missing part of its structure. That seems to be part of the reason that the archive hasn’t already been digitized. There are missing materials, and with the work they are still doing at UT Austin in terms of cataloguing, some may argue that it doesn’t make sense to digitize an archive that isn't yet complete. 
Anzaldúa, though, was constantly rewriting and redrafting her work. This can be seen in the many drafts that are housed in the archive, and there are also more recent drafts of work she published. She would continue to work on her writing almost compulsively, even if it was already printed in a book or journal. In fact, Ellie Hernández asked Gloria about the reception of Borderlands/La Frontera and Gloria admitted, 
Originally this book was to be a book of poetry, mostly written to Chicanos looking for some symbols of what it meant to be Mexican and who were hungry for historias de la raza. For the younger generation, I intended it as a pop history crash course on some aspects of the Chicana experience. I felt that the poems needed to be placed in a cultural context so I added the introduction and it kept growing until it became seven chapter, half of the book. (Hernández 13)
Even in Borderlands/La Frontera, one of Anzaldúa’s most famous works, it was an idea that just kept growing and changing, and the end product was so much different than what she had intended. So, it seems that her physical archive is quite representative of her real-life writing process: it’s still a work in progress. It’s awaiting more material that will inevitably cause Anzaldúan scholars to revise their previous thoughts and theories when they get their eyes on the additions. 
It only makes sense that her digital archive could function in the same way were it created. Obviously archiving takes time, but, since the physical archive is still a work in progress, the digital archive could function in the same way. The initial website could be built with all the creative aspects that represent the experiences had by previous visitors to the physical archive, and after that revise and continue with additions. It would represent the Anzaldúan process, and allow more people to experience her incredible work. 
If there isn't an end goal of digitizing the Gloria Anzaldúa archive then a borderland of sorts is created that separates those with access from those without access. Gloria says it best in her poem “Interface”: 
Once I accidentally ran my arm/ through her body/ felt heat on one side of my face./ She wasn’t solid./ The shock pushed me against the wall./ A torrent of days swept past me/ before I tried to “see” her again./ She had never wanted to be flesh she told me/ until she met me./ At first it was hard to stay/ on the border between/ the physical world/ and hers. (170). 
The language she uses in the poem about reaching for something she cannot touch, and struggling to stay on the border between worlds is how the current physical archive is functioning. There are a lot of scholars who don’t have the funding to get to Austin, but would love to gain digital access to her full body of work. These are the people reaching out their hands, trying to touch her work, but they swipe through the air to find another dead end. 
            Finally, Gloria told Ellie Hernández that the part of her work that astounds and fascinates her the most is: “thinking in pictures or seeing the visual image or metaphor before finding the corresponding words. Once I get the visual, I get the emotion, the feeling accompanying the visual. I can ‘imagine’ or ‘dream’ the concept that I want to write about” (14). This right here exemplifies the need for a digital archive of Gloria Anzaldúa’s work. For her, one of the most fascinating parts of her work and her creative process was the visual aspect; the drawings, the doodles, the art, the torn pieces of paper, etc. This is why it is so important that the archive be digitized. Also, it would demolish the border between those who can and cannot access the physical archive—for whatever their reason. A digital archive that embraced the experiences that previous scholars have had in the physical archive would allow those who access the archive digitally to have similar Anzaldúan experiences, and it would allow people with cultural differences to share in the same space and cross over borders. 


Works Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands.2nded., Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Interface.” Borderlands. 2nded., Aunt Lute Books, 1987.
Anzaldúa, Gloria. “Gloria Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers.” Benson Latin American Collection, The 
University of Texas at Austin. 1942-2004.
Bost, Suzanne. “Messy Archives and Materials That Matter: Making Knowledge with the Gloria 
Evangelina Anzaldúa Papers.” PMLA. Vol. 130, No. 3, 2015.
Hedren, Sum Wai Yuan. “Digital Archiving for Interdisciplinary Knowledge Transfer in 
Intangible Heritage.” IEEE, October 2016
Hernández, Ellie. “Re-Thinking Margins and Borders: An Interview with Gloria Anzaldúa.” 
Wayne State University Press. Vol., 8, No. ½, Fall & Winter 1995-1996, pp. 7-15.
Lim, Y.P., Tan, C.T., Lim, P.S. “Archiving New Media Arts in Interactive Digital Space.” IEEE. 
October, 2016. 
“What is Digital Archiving?”Edited by Kieron Niven with contributions by Mason Scott 
Thompson.Archaeology Data Service / Digital Antiquity, Guides to Good Practice, 2011.
Zaytoun, Kelli. “Gloria Anzaldúa’s Legacy.” Gloria Anzaldúa Seminar, Spring 2018, Wright 
State University, Fairborn, Ohio. 

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