Celebrating National Archives Week!
"Archiving the Ephemeral Experience"
by Jennifer L. Jenkins, MLIS, PhD, English Department
As 21st century archivists move out of the stacks and into increasingly dynamic and multicultural communities, we confront the issue of how to archive such communities’ events and lived histories. In response to a query from a campus museum to help archive an aerosol art performance/installation, I asked my students to consider how to archive an ephemeral event using one sense beyond audio and visual. As an example, I offered John Waters’ 1981 film Polyester, filmed in “Odorama” with scratch-n-sniff cards distributed at screenings. How do we describe, arrange, and conserve the sensory moment that is lived experience? On a theoretical level, phenomenology offers some pathways, specifically Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space. On a practical level, what’s an archivist to do? Much the critical literature relies upon A/V media as a recording and preservation end in itself. The professional archival literature is largely silent on archiving sense experience. Yet thinking outside the (Hollinger) box and digital capture has pedagogical value for rising archivists who will confront heretofore unexpected materials. Collecting and processing with a full complement of perceptual aspects also has profound implications for engaging with disability communities.
I propose to discuss the design and execution challenges to archiving the ephemeral experience, be it fiesta, graffiti installation, community march, political protest. How do we capture what it feels like to be in the moment and conserve that for future researchers and generations? (What did Woodstock smell like? How do we reproduce the feeling on the ground at the “I Have A Dream Speech”? What is the taste of aerosol in the air when artists are tagging?) I’ll examine assignment design, student response, what worked and what didn’t, and propose methodologies for both students and practitioners confronting archival materials in the realm of the senses.