OSA Seminars

Starting November 6, 2012, OSA hosts a new series of in-house seminars. As part of our ongoing archival activities, the seminars will constitute an opportunity for larger self-reflective, explorative, interdisciplinary debate, integrating archival theory and practice, and different professional and intellectual interests. Linked to the experimental ArchivaLab , the seminars are intended to foster creative thinking about archival services and operations and to embed them within a research-oriented platform. They are therefore also open to the CEU community and will address issues ranging from information management and technological implementation to archival theories, viewed through the lenses of historical epistemology, archival ethnography and cultural studies.

The seminars will be moderated by OSA research archivist Ioana Macrea-Toma. Outlines are listed below, with the most recent first.


November 29, 2016

Debating Digital Archeology

Moderator: Oksana Sarkisova

We will review the questions of new media impact on social memory and debate how archival imaginary is visually represented in contemporary audio-visual production. The starting point for the discussion are the articles addressing representations of archive as a memory industry. The film and the written pieces are addressing a variety of issues, but the theme of the archive, and the digital representation of memory ties them together.

Recommended Materials:

The Age of Stupid (director Franny Armstrong, 2009, UK)

Wolfgang Ernst ‘Electrif ied Voices’: Non-Human Agencies of Socio-Cultural Memory

Ina Blom, “Rethinking Social Memory: Archives, Technologies, and the Social”

The chapters are taken from Blom, Ina, Lundemo, Trond & Røssaak, Eivind (eds.) Memory in Motion. Archives, Technology, and the Social. Amsterdam UP 2016.

How do new media affect the question of social memory? Social memory is usually described as enacted through ritual, language, art, architecture, and institutions? Phenomena whose persistence over time and capacity for a shared storage of the past was set in contrast to fleeting individual memory. But the question of how social memory should be understood in an age of digital computing, instant updating, and interconnection in real time, is very much up in the air. 

Full text: http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=619950


May 13, 2015

Archives of Human Rights

Guest moderator: Csaba Szilágyi


- David Kaye, "Archiving Justice: Conceptualizing the Archives of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia," Archival Science 2014 (14): 381-396.

- David Katelaar, A living archive, shared by communities of records, in: Jeannette A. Bastian and Ben Alexander (eds.),  Community archives. The shaping of memory  (London: Facet 2009) 109-132.

Film: Material Witness , directed by: Susan Schuppli, 2014

In 2013 the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals took over all duties and the workload of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) as the last step to final closure of the tribunal. The ICTY will leave behind a disputed legal reputation and a heterogeneous archive of judicial, historical and administrative records.

Our seminar will examine one possible way to conceptualize the ICTY archives and to asses whether, in and of itself, it has the potential to inform or shape the reconciliation process in the Balkans.

Imagining new ways of re-contextualizing these documents for broader understanding and access also brings up the issue of building "expanded archives" in the digital age.  Therefore, this seminar serves as a more generic inquiry into modes of organizing and shaping legacies for records that are only considered to "speak for themselves". The clip is a poetic introduction into the evidence-based dimensions of media materials that emerge out of political violence and conflict.


January 27, 2015

"Are We Charlie?"

Reading: Teju Cole, "The Unmournable Bodies," New Yorker , January 9, 2015

Film: C'est dur d'être aimé par des cons [It's Hard Being Loved by Jerks], directed by Daniel Leconte, 2008.

Invited guests: Tincuța Heinzel, Maxime Dubois

The recent, tragic events in Paris that took place in early January—the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo editors and the subsequent terrorist killings—prompt us to think about the much invoked freedom of speech norms and practices in today's world.  

The seminar is envisaged as a reflection on the relationship between media and politics both in the planning of the attacks and in the aftermath. What is the proper "reading" of events, taking into account not only the widespread forms of religious radicalization, but also the conditions and motivation of so-called, ‘terrorist violence?’  Histories of terrorism, international policies, state-management of immigration, together with the decontextualized circulation of satirical imagery and the tragic clashes between cultures and value systems are all part of a much longer the story.


December 5, 2014

Preservation, Access and the Reuse of Moving Images as Audiovisual Heritage in the Digital Era

Reading: Karen F. Gracy, "Moving Image Preservation and Cultural Capital," Library Trends , Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 183-197.

Guest   speaker: Luisa Fernanda Ordóñez, Historian

Preservation and presentation of moving images are important in a context where cultural institutions are no longer the exclusive gatekeepers of knowledge and where the notion of audiovisual heritage is at stake. We will discuss the principles, contradictions and ethical dilemmas of archiving audiovisual material outside the institutional realm.   

The case study of Colombia will reveal the impact of cultural, public policy in managing moving-images collections and reveal the challenges of archiving traces of more than 60 years of an ongoing armed conflict.  Victims' organizations, official institutions, broadcasting channels, legal and illegal organizations, and even the general public, have been producers as well as users of these audiovisual sources.

The seminar will spur further thinking about ongoing, in-house archival processes, similar to the cataloging of the heterogeneous materials connect with the Yellow Star Houses Project.


May 16, 2014

Uses and reuses of audiovisual archival material


- Rachel Bracha, “Artists and the film archive: re-creation – or archival replay,” Archival Science (2013) 13:133-141.

- Anik Fournier, “Archival Gambits in Recent Art. What Can an Image Do?”, European Journal of Media Studies , NECSUS (2013) 2: 337-358.

Guest presenter: Oksana Sarkisova

The topic follows a previous debate on the status of “slumbering” audiovisual archival material, and finds echo in some of the interventions from the Archive/Image Conference which took place at OSA Archivum on March 7–8, 2014. 

Archiving audiovisual materials in the epoch of image abundance and crowdsourcing is becoming as creatively challenging as the use of materials (due to the need for [re]creating and displaying them). The seminar addresses questions related to the treatment of “found” materials, and the artistic engagement – be it enriching or damaging – with the historical record. It also raises the issue of to what extent the digital ideologies of archival re-use should influence archival decisions with regards to ensuring mass access. Should archives digitize and publish collections en masse (for the sake of indiscriminate quick access), or should they more finely select what is to be published and provide research-based descriptions for online collections?


March 28, 2014

Interpreting unfolding history

Reading: Timothy Snyder, “ Fascism, Russia and Ukraine ,” New York Review of Books , March 20, 2014.

Moderator: István Rév

The recent events in Ukraine prompt us to deal not just with archives of the past, but with those of the present as well. How to interpret and take a stand in front of unfolding history, about which information is as abundant as it is ephemeral, distorted and non-organized? How to deconstruct the media clichés of the “2 Ukraines” while relying on media sources?

Timothy Snyder seems to have a firm perspective, although one also informed by his almost activist agenda. His writings demonstrate an interest in recuperating the unknown history of the Eastern part of Europe in the 20th century for a Western audience that he himself characterizes as “lacking imagination.”


January 30, February 14, 2014

RFE Photos archival seminars series


- L. Daston, P. Galison, “Mechanical objectivity” in Objectivity (New York: Zone Books), 115-139.

- Lev Manovich, “ Database as a Genre of New Media ,” AI & Society .

The RFE Photos seminars are part of an ongoing OSA discussion about a future research project incorporating photographs from a Radio Free Europe self-documenting and self-advertising operation about their own activities. 

Numbering more than 500 photos, this collection offers a unique series of images depicting the workflow inside Radio Free Europe in Munich, from reading incoming newspapers and monitoring Communist broadcasting output to discussing, broadcasting and archiving the information. The internal engineering of news is made visible, but through the eyes of Radio Free Europe itself. The collection is therefore an insight into the technical production line of Cold War distant broadcasting, and also into the very visual discourse on man-machine produced “objectivity.”  

Lorraine Daston's text on objectivity addresses both the issue of objectivity (in its historicity) and its technological photographic substance (as one of the “mechanical” practices of achieving undistorted observation). As a way to start thinking about how to visualize a collection within a research platform, Lev Manovich’s text discusses the tension between database logic and the linearity of a story to be (un)told.


December 2, 2013

From Documents to Records: Dematerialization of the Archive

Reading: Cornelia Vismann, “From Documents to Records,” in Files: Law and Media Technology , translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 71–102.

Film clip: “Wittgenstein,” directed by Derek Jarman, 1993.

The seminar takes on previous questions regarding the transformative power of archiving by shifting the focus from archivists to technologies.

Without endorsing claims about technological determinism, Cornelia Vismann’s text places archiving within larger authoritarian and administrative practices, thus regarding archives as the by-product of the autonomous, impersonal machinery of law and power. Rooted in the media archeological approach, the chapter provides useful insights into the history of automation of infrastructures, thus regarding the File (and the subsequent Registry) as a self-generative tool of political and legal administration. The paradox underlying such machineries is that they acquire their own empty logic (of updating, transmitting, recording) while inheriting the aura of preserving, accounting and revealing. Following on from the paradoxes of transmission, the movie excerpt deals with the impossibility of semantic transfer from one life-world to another from the perspective of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language.

In a time when archives have become mobile and diffuse, the text represents a unique opportunity to reflect upon the current differences between documents and records, to think about specifics of different archival institutions within larger knowledge-power systems, and consequently to address the inherent contradictions of data migration and centralization.


June 27, 2013

Coping with information overload: Zotero as case study

Reading: Roy Rosenzweig, “ Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era ,” The American Historical Review , Vol. 108, 2003, No. 3, pp. 735-762

If in the previous seminar we discussed the status of the “invisible” worker within the archive-laboratory, the current session will address the invisible power and underpinning ideology of tools designed to integrate (re)search and data-management, such as Zotero.

The seminar is intended as both a practical introduction to Zotero  — how it functions and how it can be used — and as an analysis of the cultural context of its creation at the Center for History and New Media (CHNM) at George Mason University, Washington DC. The text by Roy Rosenzweig, the founder of CHNM, opens the dialogue towards archival concerns regarding preservation in the digital era and, at the same time, places Zotero within Rosenzweig’s theoretical and practical engagement with technology.

Besides being a bibliographic management tool, Zotero incorporates features that reflect the need to integrate research with stable archival systems and practices. It further illustrates the drive to automatize research queries, as well as bibliographic responses to online information overload. One particular archival problem derives from this: are we also inadvertently following the trend towards comprehensive preservation and digitization, within a technological environment that is moving towards research practices such as data mining?


April 5, 2013

The Invisible Technician

Reading: Steven Shapin, “The Invisible Technician,” American Scientist , Vol. 77, 1989, No. 6, pp. 554-563

Leading on from the seminars dealing with conceptual and practical issues regarding cataloguing and classificatory procedures , this discussion focuses on people and their (in)visibility in relation to information processing, machines and definitions of knowledge in a laboratory.

Steven Shapin’s text takes us directly to the 17th century laboratory, a place where new knowledge is produced, and where as many social pressures exist as in the outside world. Shapin argues that science is a socially produced phenomenon which, in the process of describing nature in mechanical fashion, anonymized people, including the lowly lab technician. Regarding the transformation of low-status, “mechanical” work in the digital age, the main challenge for archiving will be how basic skills and procedures will be changed by the need for reflexive and creative choices.  


January 30, 2013

Deconstructing and re-imagining archival description (views and uses)

Guest moderator: Csaba Szilágyi

Readings: Wendy M. Duff and Verne Harris, “Stories and Names: Archival Description as Narrating Records and Constructing Meanings,” Archival Science , Vol. 2, 2002, pp. 263-285

Michelle Caswell, "Using Classification to Convict the Khmer Rouge," Journal of Documentation , Vol. 68, 2012, Issue 2, pp. 162 – 184

Elizabeth Yakel, Seth Shaw and Polly Reynolds, “Creating the Next Generation of Archival Finding Aids,” D-Lib Magazine , Vol. 13, 2007, No. 5-6

Clip: L'inventaire fantôme (Phantom Inventory), directed by Franck Dion, 2004

Following on from the previous seminar on cataloguing, this discussion focuses on archival description, namely the specificities, dilemmas and issues deriving from the archivist’s textual and emotional relationship with the records, as well as a number of questions on archival arrangement and description standardization that were raised at an OSA staff archival workshop on January 29, 2013.

Duff and Harris’s article lays the theoretical foundation for our discussion in its analysis of archival description as a field in tension, which aims at standardizing procedures within changing social contexts. The article challenges classical archival assumptions by exploring the archivists' role not just as transmitters of meaning of their holdings, but also as creators of significance through choices made in the archival architecture. Using a repository from Cambodia’s Documentation Center as a case study, Caswell’s text illustrates the importance of classification structures for holding perpetrators of human rights abuses to account. The article by Yakel et. al. describes a pilot project launched in 2005 at the University of Michigan School of Information to re-envision the display and functionality of archival inventories using the Polar Bear Expedition Digital Collections as a test collection. Finally, the “Phantom Inventory” clip explores the ungraspable “life” of things to be collected and archived, dramatizing a fictional account of the existential consequences of disembedding and (re)contextualizing.


December 12, 2012

Cataloguing: Between pragmatism and Utopianism

Readings: David Weinberger, Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder , New York: Times Books, 2007, pp. 47-83

Markus Krajewski, Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogues, 1548-1929 , Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011, pp. 87-104

Film clip: Biography of Paul Otlet , directed by Alle Kennis van de Wereld, 1998

This seminar continues our discussion on the transformative power of mediators in institutions that preserve knowledge items, and focuses in particular on cataloging in the library. The theme of cataloging is addressed with reference to the two texts about the birth and legacy of Dewey Decimal Classification, invented in 1876 by Melvil Dewey. Weinberger’s text analyzes the DDC and other information management systems that strive for comprehensive classification in terms of their in-built biases and shortcomings, while Krajewski’s history of the proto-computer traces the evolution of the card file to the “universal machine” used for data processing today. Together with the short movie about Paul Otlet, considered one of the visionary precursors of the web and one of the most eccentric masters of documentation, these materials address different understandings of information retrieval in North America and Europe, and also raise questions about the politics of organizing knowledge, and the stakes and “usefulness” of standardization.

Anticipating OSA’s forthcoming exhibition on library design, our seminar discussion focuses on the relationship between the collection and the catalog in analog and digital environments, how to preserve legacy data, what can be considered the item level in the digital world, and how the organization of virtual collections affects the retrieval (and even meaning) of information.


November 6, 2012

Libraries, Achives and Museums: Common roots and transformative practices

Reading: Daniel Heller-Roazen, “Tradition's Destruction: On the Library of Alexandria,” October , Vol. 100, Obsolescence (Spring, 2002), pp. 133-153

Film: Toute la mémoire du monde, directed by Alain Resnais, 1956

As the inaugural Archival Lab discussion, this opening seminar of the series starts with a return to the common institutional roots of archives, museums and libraries, to examine the notions of the archivist as objective keeper of static materials and archival neutrality as historical constructs. Our starting point for reflection on our own practices is also a start in time. In the Library of Alexandria, no distinction was made between collecting, curating or creating. Archivists regarded themselves as philologists who copied, cataloged and edited texts, thus processing and even partly destroying the original. The very act of preserving an artifact consequently transformed its status.

Heller-Roazen’s article explores the paradoxes of how tradition is formed and informed by the organization of knowledge according to physical format (the book), devices (such as catalogs), and techniques (codification). By following the book’s path from receipt to reader at the National Library of France, Resnais’s film projects and amplifies Heller-Roazen’s arguments about archival practices and procedures onto the screen.