Neither a beginning nor an end

Applying an ethics of care to digital archival collections

Authored by: Michelle Caswell , Marika Cifor

The Routledge International Handbook of New Digital Practices in Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums and Heritage Sites

Print publication date:  November  2019
Online publication date:  October  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138581296
eBook ISBN: 9780429506765
Adobe ISBN:


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In a 2016 Archivaria article, Michelle Caswell and Marika Cifor challenged archivists to shift their thinking about archival ethics from an individual, rights-based model to a feminist ethics model. In a feminist ethics approach, archivists are viewed as caregivers, bound to records creators, subjects, users and communities through a web of mutual affective responsibility based on radical empathy. This chapter examines how a feminist ethics approach can be applied to digital archival projects such that digitisation is just one step (neither a beginning nor an end) in an ongoing ethical relationship between records creators, subjects, users and communities. Such relationships must interrogate, address and repair structural power inequities. We will use two case studies to illustrate this shift. First, the South Asian American Digital Archive’s attempts to document Islamophobia point to the importance of centering privacy, trust and empathy when working with targeted communities. Next, Visual AIDS’s digitisation of records documenting the work of artists living with HIV and AIDS from its Archive Project is analysed. This case highlights concerns around privacy and disclosure, expands understandings of preservation and exposes the complexities of ongoing relationships with records creators and subjects within a grassroots community archives context. As these cases illustrate, a feminist ethics approach to digitisation calls for culturally situated, mutually dependent, ongoing relationships between stakeholders of digital archival projects.

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