Collaboration, Community, Memory, and Joel Jonientz

Two years ago today, my buddy Joel Jonientz died. I’ve posted about him on this blog before, but I urge anyone who cares about creativity, collaboration, and collegiality to surf around my archive of posts on Joel and his impact on my little community of friends and colleagues.

Go and look at this.
Listen to this song while you look at it.
I dare you not to cry.

Then to feel better, check out his podcasts with Bret Ommen, check out some of his insane videos, or head over to his website.

I didn’t quite grasp it at the time, but Joel’s passing marked a significant changing of the guard here in Grand Forks and at the University of North Dakota. There was this crazy moment from about 2010-2014 where it felt like a group of us had genuine synergies on campus across the arts and the humanities. I was lucky enough to hang out at the periphery of this group and watch them create podcasts, animated films in Mayan, video games, public art, some sweet posters, and other collaborative endeavors. Joel was instrumental in so many of these collaborations and was the co-founder of the The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota with me and Kyle Conway. He designed Punk Archaeology, which remains the most widely distributed and cited book from the press. We dedicated the book to his memory. Download a copy. Then, go write a review on Amazon, then buy a copy to support our little press, and give it to a local library!

As I looked back on those years, I feel intense nostalgia, especially today, but I also worry. I worry that we’ll forget the impact of Joel on our lives and on our community. After all, we’re busy, some of us have moved away, there is (always) a crisis on campus, most of us are overcommitted. I worry that is emblematic of a more alienated, individualistic, and atomized campus culture that recognizes community as only a manifestation of administrative structures, shared financial priorities, and ranks as faculty, staff, administrators, or whatever. Maybe we cling together when there’s a crisis and it seems mutually beneficial, but disperse to our private priorities and responsibilities when the crisis has passed. I know I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I remember Joel, I become aware of how much less generosity there is in my world since he’s left. There is less collaboration, there is less mutual understanding, and there is less collegiality. More importantly, there are fewer bad plans. 

A few weeks ago, I was out for drinks with Mike Wittgraf, who was a close friend of Joel’s and a longtime and inspiring buddy of mine. Toward the end of the night, he said, “When I’m done my current crop of projects, I want to do something collaborative with you.” I was sort of stunned by this. I didn’t have any ideas of what that could be. The next day, I felt bad. This is the kind of thing Joel would have embraced in the most creative way possible. I need to get my act together. I need to understand that remembering isn’t just feeling bad, marking the date, or making sure I check in with old friends, but actually keeping alive some of the lessons that he taught me. Fuck.

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Christmas Eve

Start a new Christmas tradition by listening to Professor Footnote’s (Brett Ommen and Joel Jonientz) podcast: “Santa Clause, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and the American Christmas.”

Slow Archaeology, Publishing, and Collaboration

Yesterday, Brett Ommen released, as a kind of epilogue, a podcast made up of recordings of Joel Jonientz, him, me, and Mike Wittgraf. In my little section of the podcast, I talk about what collaboration meant to a guy like Joel as an artist who was willing to work with folks in the humanities.

At the same time, I’ve been working on revising an updated version of “Slow Archaeology” article before I head to the Mediterranean this summer. In my revisions to that paper, I try to put a bit more emphasis on the social organization of archaeological work and how modern archaeological practices, including the growing use of digital tools, has tended to reinforce longstanding social divisions. For example, digital tools have tended to exaggerate the role of  field teams – excavator and field walkers – as data collectors capable of (and obligated to) producing detailed, “pure data” that project directors analyze later. In fact, the view of the archaeological process as fundamentally destructive has pushed archaeologists to place ever more emphasis on the efficient extraction of information from the field. In fact, at the Mobilizing the Past Conference, a comment I made about whether we were perhaps focusing too much on efficient data collection was met with a stern reminder that as archaeologists we need to collect as much information from the field as possible to compensate for our destruction of archaeological contexts. As Gavin Lucas (and others) have rightly critiqued the idea that a site can be reconstructed from the documents that archaeologists produce during excavation and that this reconstruction will somehow reveal the processes that produced the site. Lucas offers the useful observation that this view of excavation frames it as the opposite of construction. Construction begins with plans and ends with a finished building. Excavation starts with a completed context and finishes with a plan view. The archaeological builders of these backward buildings tend to occupy the same role in archaeology as manual labor does in construction. Excavators engage in the dirty, physical phase of the (de)construction process (at least in the traditional view of archaeological practice and knowledge production) and, as a result, occupy a subordinate social position to the trench supervisor (the contractor) and the project director (perhaps the architect). To be clear, I’m not saying that I agree with this or even the idea that excavation is destructive (which implies a finality to this event rather than a stage in a continuum of formation process), but our interpretative assumptions contribute the social organization of archaeological practice. 

Slow Archaeology emphasizes field practices as the proper space for archaeological interpretation. Collecting data is not distinct from analysis and interpretation and any practice that segregates data collection from analysis in the name of efficient and exhaustive recording is guilty of the neglecting the primary context for archaeological knowledge production: the trowel’s edge or the survey unit. 

Now, back to Joel. Joel was willing to collaborate with anyone who could pique his imagination, but he was totally unwilling to subordinate his role in the creative process. So, if he created a poster for your event, he became part of the event. He viewed collaboration as an intensely democratic process and while he was willing to accept critique, he demanded that his views carry weight and that everyone around the table have a voice. 

In many ways, I’ve tried to carry on his perspectives in the development of our Digital Press at the University of North Dakota. I’ve taken to calling it a cooperative publisher which breaks down the barriers between the author, the editor, and publisher. Rather than the author standing apart as content creator and the rest of the publishing process being regarded as subordinate (and maybe even a bit subservient) to the process of authoring content. This not only reinforces a social division between the intellectual work of writing and the (traditionally) manual work of layout and typesetting, but also supports a system that uses this increasingly outmoded division to limit the circulation of intellectual work and to extract value from its production. This is not to say that traditional publishers and editors do not add value to scholarly work, but rather to ask whether this division of academic labor is worth the cost.

Joel saw collaboration as a continuum of practices rather than a division. As a result, the value of collaboration was not generated by those who engaged in one part of the process negotiating their cut of the final results from the those who engaged in another part. Collaboration obligates and entitles every participant (and certainly someone as skilled and assertive as Joel) to both their share and to the final product. This, of course, requires a tremendous amount of trust and a willingness compromise. I hope that I can continue to develop the willingness to trust my collaborators and to find ways to compromise for the greater good. 

Always Touch the Art

IMG_0010A year ago tonight my friend Joel Jonientz suddenly died. Over the past year, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to think about the mark that he made on our community, friends, and my life.

At his memorial service, his colleague Lucy Ganje made a stack of letter press cards that read: “He Loved a Bad Plan.” This is absolutely true, and was a common, endearing, and supportive (in a backhanded kind of way) remark that he made often enough during the 5 years or so that I knew him.

But one story he told has stuck with me even more than his love for a bad plan. A few times, Joel told me about his habit of touching works of art. Apparently, he would go into museums and wait for an opportune moment to go up to paintings and touch them. At first, he argued that as an artist, he was interested in encountering the artist’s technique in a firsthand, tactile, haptic way. But in a few conversations, he told me that he just enjoyed that immediate encounter with art.

As you might imagine, I was equal parts horrified and jealous of his willingness to make physical contact with objects in a museum. As an archaeologist, I’ve been schooled to understand that even prolonged looking at certain works of art will lead to their rapid demise. Photographs are almost always forbidden (and photographs of people posing with objects threaten the very soul of the artifact).

Jonientz Mural Unveiling 50This is a photo by my buddy Tim Pasch which I have ruthlessly cropped. The hand is Joel’s daughter who is being held up by his son, Oskar, to touch his mural in downtown Grand Forks. Tim recorded a great version of The Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” to memorialize Joel.

The more I thought about his habit, however, the more I think I understood what it meant. Joel was willing to try his hand at nearly anything. He was first-and-foremost an artist, but he also developed a video game, he co-produced a podcast, he was planning to score a “space opera,” he rebuilt my porch, he co-founded an academic press, he worked with Mayan children to produce animation, he co-founded an “arts and culture conference,” directed the Working Group in Digital and New Media, he wrote academic papers on the history of animation, he actively sought out collaboration, and he still had time to be a good friend, a good father, and supportive member of the community. In short, Joel made sure that he touched as much art as possible in his life. In a world where we regularly encounter people who are too busy or “really working on saying ‘no’”, Joel was actively touching the art.

People who read this blog know that making time to collaborate is is a bit of a pet cause of mine. I suspect that I got some of these ideas from hanging out with Joel for a few years. Here’s a tribute that our friend Brett Ommen produced for Joel based on their work together on Professor Footnote and some conversations that Brett, Michael Wittgraf, and I had shortly after Joel’s passing:

So, as a little tribute to my late friend, I invite everyone to touch the art. Go and check out Joel’s blog, go and watch one of his insane little videos, go and listen to one of his podcasts, or go and leave some flowers by his mural in downtown Grand Forks (but if you do that, be sure to touch it!). Or listen to his laugh.

Or, go and download a copy of Punk Archaeology, which he designed and laid out, and we dedicated to his memory. (Or go buy one here if you want to touch it.)

Or at least read his chapter from Punk Archaeology:

It’s funny, the month Joel died I had learned that Paul Worley was going to leave town to take a job elsewhere; Brett Ommen had decided to resign his position at the University and put his house on the market. I was worried that Joel would go on sabbatical and leave me stranded by myself in Grand Forks. The reality was much worse.

Some thoughts on the Bakken Boom Exhibit at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo

This weekend, I was able to hang out in the Bakken Boom exhibit down at the Plains Museum of Art in Fargo. It took up the top two galleries in the Plains and featured over 20 artists from around the U.S. I was fortunate enough to know a few of the artists whose work was on display making the show a bit more intimate than an ordinary visit to a gallery. In particular, I was excited to see one of Joel Jonientz‘s last works “Chérie, tu vois quelque chose de nouveau ici?” We also had a chance to check out contributions by Kyle Cassidy and John Holmgren who are both collaborators in the North Dakota Man Camp Project. My buddy Ryan Stander, who is now a professor of photography at Minot State, also had some fascinating contributions to the exhibition including a visually arresting print of the fire ball that emanated from the tanker train derailment outside of Casselton, ND.

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Rather than review the show, I’d rather just encourage you to go and check it out, and offer a few observations.

1. The Real and Documentary. One of my favorite things about the show is that is messed with our collective view of what was “real” and what was “documentary” in the Bakken. Several documentary photographers were represented including a series of Alec Soth’s photographs made famous by his New York Times Magazine spread in 2013. The juxtaposition of these well-framed photographs with the numerous mixed media pieces in the exhibit made them seem somehow detached, abstract in their own way, and perhaps even a bit inauthentic. While most of approach critically the tradition of literalism and even objectivity that frame the unwavering gaze of the camera, it was still quite shocking to feel so jaundiced and skeptical about the photographic images in he show. I couldn’t quite figure out whether it was the complexity of the mixed media pieces that made them feel more authentic and real, or whether I was lured into overlooking the complexity of the photographs by the stares of the subjects.

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2. Anxiety. The anxiety of the exhibit was palpable. I thought the frenetic character of many of the mixed-media pieces created a kind of vibrating filter through which made the Bakken appear constantly shaking, out of focus, and contingent. A video installation from the artist collective “Road to Williston” provides a great example of this feeling some of which comes through just by watching the video at their Vimeo site. Ryan Stander’s massive, fragmented print of the Casselton, ND explosion, titled “Missing Information” likewise provided a feeling of angst as the flames billow skyward over a series of panels leaving the viewer to search for its origins in the obscured tank cars at the lower left. The archaeologically arranged discarded objects in Jess Christy’s “Through the Window” designed to document her life as a single woman, living in Minot on the edge of the patch. Her installation left me feeling particularly anxious as it communicated some of the impact of the oil boom at a personal level.

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3. Alternate Perspectives. One thing that was missing from the exhibit were perspectives that considered the possible benefits of the oil boom in the Bakken. The images used frequently seem to overlook (or maybe occlude?) the pre-Boom residents of the Bakken and to locate the Bakken boom against the backdrop of a depersonalized pastoral landscape. (There were two pronounced exceptions to this, Joel Jonientz piece and Sarah Christiansen’s haunting “Skogens’ Bedroom Window, Cartwright, ND, May 2013”). The photographs from Wayne Gunderson’s “Road Conditions: Faces from the Patch” blurs the line between “locals” and “New North Dakotans,” without much explicit social comment. Lucinda Cobley’s “Last Tree” and Molly McLain’s “Gold Boom/Critical Habitat” strike ecological notes, that while obviously relevant, side step the trickier question what and whose environment we should preserve. 

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I hope this critique doesn’t make me sound like an advocate of big oil or an apologist for the environmental, human, and social cost of extractive industries in the Bakken, but the potential for positive outcomes does exist. The challenge, of course, is that these positive outcomes need to be imagined. The contributors to this show demonstrate that the Bakken Boom has stimulated our collective imagination is dramatic and exciting ways, I only wish that the show had reflected more broadly on the stakeholders, possibilities, and future of the boom. 

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Public Art, Grand Forks, and Joel Jonientz

We had a beautiful day yesterday celebrating the state of North Dakota’s 125thaversary and the art (and life) of Joel Jonientz. We hung his mural on a bizarre storage unit at the intersection of Walnut St. and S. 5th Avenue in Grand Forks. It looks great there. It got a nice story in the Grand Forks Herald. About 40 people came out to the event.

The program started at Centennial Part where we all admired City Councilor Bret Weber’s public orator and the fine broken clock that celebrates the timeless traditions of the Northern Plains.

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We then crossed the street and admired Joel’s mural. Bret told the story of how Joel and he got together on the mural project. He left out a few parts and for the historical record, I’ll clarify here.

First, when Bret began talking about public art in Grand Forks, I mentioned that Joel had painted murals with Americorp in Seattle and was (cough, cough) never all THAT busy.  So Bret and Joel and met at J.L. Beers – a local beer and burger place – to hash out details. I drank beer and Joel and Bret hashed. 

The result of that was a proposed mural by Joel. It appears to have involved sheep. I never saw this draft of the mural, but I hope they were as awesome as these sheep.

Bret was not impressed with Joel’s sheep, and told me so. 

I told Joel – probably after a beer or two – that Bret wasn’t feeling his mural. Joel laughed about it in that way that artists sometimes laugh leaving you unsure whether he was hurt or had just added Bret to his list of people who would never get it.

Bret, of course, had not communicated this to Joel, but the next time the two were in the same place, the first thing Joel said to Bret was “I hear you didn’t like my mural.” He then told Bret to go and look at his stuff. Bret later admitted that this was usually something you did before commissioning a piece of public art, but it didn’t matter because Joel was able to repurpose some of his Fatty Arbuckle work into the perfect mural to hang across from a police station and next to a rail line.

In a less public venue, it will be fun to recount the adventures involved in moving the prepared, but unpainted panels into Joel’s van late one evening…

Here are the murals, which were finished by students and colleagues in the Department of Art and Design at UND.

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It was cool to see the community embrace public art and got me thinking about what more I could do to make Grand Forks a more interesting place.

Celebrating Joel Jonientz’s Mural

This weekend the city of Grand Forks will hang a mural painted by Joel Jonientz and residents of the Near Southside Neighborhood and some of Joel’s colleagues in the department of Art and Design.

You can check out Joel’s progress on the mural here.

I was involved in putting Joel in contact with my buddy Bret Weber who is on city council. I feel pretty confident in saying that the project was a pain in the ass for both Joel and Bret, but it will be nice to have the mural hung to commemorate Joel’s time as part of our community.

The event starts at 11:30 and is at the corner of Walnut and South 5th St.

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Here’s the official press release.

The City of Grand Forks, along with the Near Southside Neighborhood, will commemorate the 125th anniversary of North Dakota statehood with the unveiling of a mural.  A celebration will start at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, October 11, at Centennial Park in downtown Grand Forks.  Located at the intersection of South 5th Street, Walnut Street, and Kittson Avenue, Centennial Park – anchored by a clock tower — was developed 25 years ago to mark the State centennial.   The event will then move across 5th Street to unveil a mural sponsored by the Near Southside Neighborhood.  Part of the Mayor’s Urban Neighborhood Initiative (MUNI), the mural project was a multi-year neighborhood effort involving brainstorming, fundraising, and hands-on community participation.  This event will also celebrate the life of local artist Joel Jonientz, creator of the mural, who passed away unexpectedly last year.   Jonientz was an art professor at UND, and his UND colleagues  helped complete the mural in his honor.   The event will wrap up at the 2nd floor of Rhombus Guys.  All are invited to attend this community event

Punk Archaeology, Digital Humanities, and DIY

A few weeks back my buddy Paul Worley penned an interesting blog post on digital humanities and “getting hit by the proverbial bus.” The post talked about the ripple effect of Joel Jonientz’s death in our little digital humanities community on campus. For the University of North Dakota, the digital humanities was an explicitly collaborative affair with almost all of the successful project from the Working Group in Digital and New Media involving more than one member. It seems like Joel was central to most of these projects as much for his willingness to learn a new skill (or fake it) as his interest in what another member of the Working Group called “O.P.P.” (other people’s projects).  

One of the consequences of Joel’s passing is that many of us have had to pick up where he left off and actually try to learn new tools to complete our projects. The good Dr. Worley learned to animate using Photoshop, Dr. Ommen deployed his raw, but vivid illustrating skills to finish his adaption of Isocrates’ Against the Sophists, and I rolled up my sleeves and immersed myself in the intricacies of Adobe’s InDesign to keep The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota afloat. It is appropriate that the first book that I worked on is an edited collection of essays on Punk Archaeology where the DIY ethic thrives and compromised production values represent an aesthetic choice as much as a practical reality. 

As Paul noted, dynamic, collaborative Digital Humanities projects should always be somewhat fragile as DIY skills pass from one collaborator to the next and projects transform in changing contexts.  The significance and potential of collaboration will always extend beyond specific outcomes – e.g. a book or a successful grant proposal – and the value of catalytic individuals like Joel and spaces for collaboration like the Working Group, is in the transfer of specialized skills from one member of the collaboration to the next. From the university’s perspective, this transfer of skills provides stability and continuity for (sometimes well-funded) initiatives. From an individual faculty perspective, however, the fuzzy outcomes of digital humanities initiatives which often come in the form of skills rather than products, can be difficult to articulate, for example, within traditional tenure and promotion guidelines. To some, this tension is terrifying and represents the contradiction between the goals of the university as a community and the expectations placed on its individual members.

That being said, the task of taking new skills and using them is pretty scary too.

Collaboration

Today, Brett Ommen is going to begin recording the final episode – at least for now – of Professor Footnote. It is a memorial episode for Joel Jonientz who died late last month before more episodes could be recorded and produced. A number of his friends are going to swing by the the Working Group in Digital and New Media lab to chat with Brett about Joel and, in keeping with the theme of the program, any topic outside our area of expertise.

I want to talk with Brett about a couple of topics that I had just begun to share with Joel. So I thought I would get some thoughts down here before I head into the studio.

One thing that Joel could do better than anyone I’ve ever met was collaborate. He had the ability to shape his creativity into almost any form required in a project and manage his frustrations with us and the project in an almost superhuman way. Since he died, I’ve been thinking about what he had that allowed him to collaborate so easily with a range of other folks across campus and what we could take away from Joel’s commitment to collaboration.

First, collaboration is not longer a luxury in academia today. We’re not longer in a world where individual projects celebrate the lonely genius of devoted scholar. Today, non-collaborative work represents – in most cases – a poor investment for funding institutions and disciplines. Collaborative work takes advantage of economies of scale and the idea that two people working together and sharing expertise can accelerate the production of knowledge in ways that a solitary scholar working away in his or her dimly lit office cannot. Collaboration, of course, take many forms and should not diminish from an individual’s ability to contribute to their field or the debate, although it might effect the credit and control an individual has over their contribution.

In the humanities, our most common collaborative moments happen in the background. We regularly rely on editors, conscientious colleagues and interlocutors, and, of course, our students who rarely get explicit credit for their contributions. Perhaps it is our familiarity with that model that make more involved and elaborate collaboration between scholarly peers less appealing.

Whatever the reason, Joel had certain characteristics that made him an effective and willing collaborator, and while it is dangerous to generalize from a single example (I do live dangerously, of course), I think we can learn something from his methods:

1. Take risks. Over the past few weeks, we’ve probably worn out Joel’s enthusiasm for bad plans. That being said, his willingness to go along with a bad plan reflected his relatively high tolerance for risks and his own confidence that he’d be able to figure out a way to make something happen. In fact, as with many entrepreneurs, I suspect his tolerance for risk was no greater than most of us, but his confidence in his abilities to mitigate that risk was greater.

The ability to manage risk is crucial in collaboration. By including more people and more moving parts, the number of variables increases and our ability to control all aspects of a project decreases.

2. Have a dynamic body of work. Joel’s work was spectacularly dynamic from traditional humanities-type scholarship in the history of comics and animation to painting, computer animation, video work, and most recently sound. His ability to move from one medium to the next allowed him to both understand the challenges facing collaborators as they struggled to develop specialized skills, as well as to supply skills over a range of different areas.

Collaborations usually depend on our ability to understand the diverse workflows of various actors, the best academic collaborators have produced dynamic body of work that demonstrates both their ability to adapt and understand challenges outside their area of specialty.

3. Have skills. Closely tied to experience with different media, is the need for real, substantial, specialized skills. The best collaborators bring a specific body of expertise to a project. This expertise might be a distinct skill – in Joel’s case this ranged from graphic design to animation – or honed understanding of a particular set of tools – in Joel’s case this meant digital tools.

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Having a well-defined skill set or area of expertise helps to formalize the conditions of collaboration by defining clear domains of responsibility. Just as having a dynamic body of work ensures that a good collaborator can understand diverse workflows, a clear set of skills ensures that a collaborator have a set of realistic responsibilities.

4. Be willing and able to work independently. One of the silliest things I hear from people resistant to collaboration is that they don’t like to work with other people. This is crazy. The best collaborations do not necessarily involve working together. In fact, I might suggest that the best collaborative ventures involve individuals with distinct skills working independently toward a common goal.

Over the past year or so, I worked with Joel in creating a new digital press. The project had (and will continue to have) its challenges moving forward. Even when the project bogged down in university politics or our own overwhelming schedules, I could rely on Joel to take the initiative and get things done without constant badgering or pressure. He could work independently to move a project forward.

5. Advocate for collaboration. Finally, the best collaborators are advocates for collaboration. One of the most bizarre things taking place at the University of North Dakota is how they go about encouraging collaboration on campus. They provide funding for collaborations at the beginning of projects, but so far have done little to reward collaborations when they’re completed.

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It doesn’t take much creativity to propose a collaborative project, but it does involve creativity to bring one to completion. I’d suggest that our fine university consider the the preceding criteria as a way to ascertain the whether a collaboration is likely to result in a positive outcome.

More importantly, however, they need to work toward practices that ensure that faculty are rewarded for successfully completing collaborative practices. Joel contributed to a white paper produced by our Working Group in Digital and New Media that helped ensure that faculty who do collaborate get recognized in the same way as those who toil away (inefficiently) on their individual projects. Recognizing the results of collaboration will do much more than funding projects at the onset to support collaborative work on campus.

I’ve blogged on similar topic here and here.

Curating Digital Joel

On Monday evening, some of Joel Jonientz’s University of North Dakota colleagues and I began the gut-wrenching process of preparing his digital archive. (For more on Joel, check out his blog here and my little post on him here.)

While Joel was trained as a painter, in the last decade he had moved heavily to digital media for his work. His animation, design, video, and audio content was scattered over three computers and a bunch of hard drives. After a quick look, we determined that almost everything on these machines was work related, but his organization was a bit complex, so instead of just grabbing content files, we imaged the drives on the computer (more or less) to make sure that we got everything we might need.

As we did this, we looked over the terabyte or more of data and realized that the process of curating this content would be more than just a long evening or weekend. Joel has three kids and a fabulous wife and they wanted copies of his digital legacy. Moreover, we wanted to make some of Joel’s legacy available to the university archives as part of its mission to archive the work of faculty. They are just now coming to terms with the complexities of archiving digital work, so my colleagues and I are looking to help them as much as possible.

So far, we’ve encountered three issues as we began to think through the process of curating his digital collection:

1. Formats. Joel worked pretty easily across multiple proprietary software platforms for image, video, and audio editing as well as layout and design. As  result, his hard drives are a bewildering array of file types that will have to be converted to archival formats. In some cases, that will be easy. Audio files can be converted to .wav files and Photoshop files convert easily to uncompressed .tiff formats. Video files present a different challenge, of course, as they have – from what I can tell – garnered the same kind of wide agreement for an archival format. 

More than that, the formats of files do preserve traces of Joel’s artistic process. Animation for example might easily involve both proprietary still image formats, design, and video. While we plan to have several copies of the imaged drives preserved, we began to think about how the relationship between proprietary file types and process should be represented in the more carefully and selective curated archive. Converting all the propriety file types to archival formats runs the risk of overwriting part of his creative process by obscuring the tools he used to make his works. 

2. Structure. The issue of curating process extends to file structure as well. When we produce a curated copy of his files saved to archival formats, we will have to make some difficult decisions on how to reconcile the formats present on multiple hard drives with multiple file structures that often preserved parts of the same project or projects. Some of this will involve working closely with people familiar with various projects. Joel was an intensely collaborative dude who worked with multiple people on multiple projects so it will be a challenge to figure out who can help understand the key components and organization of his work. 

3. Stability. This is the biggest challenge and one that we don’t have to face alone. We need to move a significant amount of data to a stable medium that will be there for his kids when they start to get interested in their father’s work. Right now hard drives are not particularly stable when we’re looking at a decade or more of storage. In fact, hardware in general is not stable over such long periods of time. So we’ll have to make a plan to keep migrating the data to new hardware and to make sure that it will be available for the future.

For now, we have a solid start on organizing and curating Joel’s digital legacy. Once I get back from summer fieldwork, we are going to start to digital curation process in earnest. As we do that, and make progress, I’ll keep the world in the loop.