Studying the materiality of media archives in the age of digitization: Forensics, infrastructures and ecologies
Discourses on the immateriality of digital information have given way to a radical rethinking of digital materiality within information studies, cinema and media studies, and other related fields. This rethinking occurs as media archives are increasingly converting their collections into digital form, stored less and less on shelves in climate-controlled vaults, and instead stored and accessed through data servers. This newfound complexity and potential for the media archive to become “black boxed,” call for a critical approach to media archives that takes into account these new realities and their material entanglements at multiple scales of analysis. Newfound scholarly interest in multiple scales of materiality, from the micro (computer code, transmission protocols, etc.) to the macro (large, sociotechnical infrastructures) may offer new directions for rethinking the nature of media archives in the age of digitization. This paper reviews the literature on these recent trends and identifies three intertwined research approaches for analyzing emergent phenomena related to the digitization of media archives: Critical forensic, institutional/infrastructural, and global/ecological perspectives. These approaches help to extend postmodern conceptualizations of the archive by showing how the archive as infrastructure is bound up in unfolding political, ecological and epistemological struggles.
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