Write the Docs: Amelia Abreu – Data, Documentation and Memory

I’m at Write the Docs today in Portland and will be post­ing notes from ses­sions through­out the day. These are all posted right after a talk fin­ishes so they’re rough around the edges.

Amelia talked about some of the theories behind documentation. She referred to it as a decidedly non-practical talk. Amelia started as an archivist.

The first question she looked at is, what is it that we document? Part of what we do as documentarians is actually looking for what is not documented. At times that’s just as important as what is documented. In her work as an archivist and ethnographer part of what Amelia did was look at that which happened off the record. You explore those areas that are hidden in the official record and poke at whether they can be defined.

Amelia then talked about movements during the early and mid-1900s in France. These were the communities that created microfilm and other standards of archival even during the disruption and oppression of World War II. While we’re in a far different circumstance than 1950s France we can still learn a lot from the work done during these periods. Some of the French researchers believed that shipping microfilm copies of great works of text around the world would help lead toward global peace.

Metadata is at the core of our institutional knowledge. Amelia used the example of Amazon which sold books at close to cost as a means to gather knowledge about the shopping habits of affluent customers.

As documentarians we are the providers of information architecture and infrastructure. Thinking about infrastructure need not be limited to human versus technological components. It can also be thought of in terms of interrelated social, organizational, and technical components or systems. We also must recognize human work as infrastructure. Infrastructures are often used in such a way that exhausts the best intentions of those who created them. Documentation is no exception to this process.