Digital Capture and the Abundance of the Present

When you want to document a particular event, you must avoid  what might be called “the danger of present abundance.” It is often the case that an event will receive a large amount of attention from news outlets and other sources when it is new(s). After some time, when excitement has calmed the news cycle is likely to move on, leaving documentation gaps.

We are currently in this situation at the Radical Archives. When we first started  to document the Occupy Philadelphia (OP) movement, material on the movement was ubiquitous. Every local news outlets ran stories on the movement, often several times a day. OP created several sites, including occupyphilly.org, occupyphillymedia.org and phillyoccupation.org.

This abundance caused some to question our attempt to download web pages. Why bother collecting this stuff when it’s everywhere? Luckily, we had a ready example to help us explain our motivation. The RNC Protest Material, held by the Radical Archives, has a large collection of photocopied news reports related to the protests surrounding the 2000 Republican National Convention  in Philadelphia.

In the days, weeks and months after the protests, news reports about the protest and subsequent arrests were everywhere. As time moved on, these accounts became increasingly difficult to find. And today, almost twelve years after these protests, compiling a comparable collection would be impossible.

OP is still in the news. They are still producing websites (occupyphillyga.net was just announced to the GA last night), and are even making increased attempts to centralize documentation on these sites. However, even though it’s only been three months since OP started, many of the news accounts that we have saved are gone. Broken links, deleted content and the deluge caused by months of new news-cycles, make many of the news reports from the earliest days difficult to find.

All of this is to say that when one wants to start an archives, keep an eye on the future and the impermanence of the present —  even when one is drowning in abundance.

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