Session 15: Examinations of Digital Archives

Moderator: Heather Ryan (University of Denver)
President Barack Obama’s Birth Certificate is Trustworthy: An Empirical Investigation of User Digitized Archival Document Trustworthiness Perception / Devan Donaldson (Indiana University)

No person’s birth certificate has generated as much attention in recent history as that of Barack Obama—the forty-fourth President of the United States of America. The birth certificate controversy stems from concern over the President’s citizenship as well as the format and presentation of the document. Despite efforts by staff of the Department of Health of the State of Hawaii to verify the trustworthiness of the birth certificate, skepticism regarding the document, at least at some level, persists. Interestingly, no empirical research on trustworthiness perception regarding the document exists. This paper describes a study aimed at measuring user digitized archival document trustworthiness perception for President Obama’s birth certificate using the Digitized Archival Document Trustworthiness Scale (DADTS). Seventy members of the Genealogical Society of Washtenaw County (GSWC) evaluated DADTS in relation to Obama’s certificate. Results suggest high and positive digitized archival document trustworthiness perception for President Obama’s birth certificate among the study participants. Implications for understanding and measurement of user digitized archival document trustworthiness perception are discussed

Archival Realism in Digital History Projects / David Kim (Occidental College)

Through the critique of the identity’s “essence” in critical race/ethnic studies and the digital humanities’ interrogation of the objectivity of data in digital knowledge production, this paper examines the “archival realism” of digital history projects that provide access to archival materials of various minoritarian histories in the US. While digital tools and platforms certainly offer broader, and often more interactive, access to archival collections, digital archives are also, crucially, knowledge representations that inherit and advance cultural values. This paper looks beyond the rhetoric of inclusion and access for the minoritarian archives, in order to locate the layers of the “archival grain” (Stoler, 2009) that are reassembled through digital maps, exhibits, and visualizations. Using Digital Harlem: Everyday Life 1915-1930 ( as a case study, it argues for the importance of the archival studies’ functionalist approach to historical evidence in challenging the “archival realism” that abounds in the current moment of the digital archive fever, in which the archives’ evidential authority is often considered to be simultaneously self-evident and revealing of hidden truths. By activating the field’s longstanding attention to the processes by which records are created and arranged, this paper addresses the cultural politics of representation in the ‘data-ization’ of the archives in digital knowledge production.

Stories of Impact: The Role of Narrative in Understanding the Value and Impact of Digital Collections / Diana Marsh (University of British Columbia) and Ricardo L. Punzalan (University of Maryland)
Cultural heritage institutions leverage digitization to fulfill their mission to preserve, represent, and provide access to collections under their care. Despite their common interest in documenting the progress of digitization and online access, the library, archives and museums (LAM) sector lacks a conceptual framework for assessing and demonstrating the impact of digitized ethnographic collections. Reporting the findings of a yearlong interdisciplinary study, this presentation underscores the importance of storytelling in articulating the value and impact of digitized ethnographic collections held in cultural heritage institutions. We describe the different ways that stories and storytelling factor into understanding impacts of digitized cultural heritage objects. We conclude with a discussion of the implications of our findings for cultural heritage practice and collection development.