Who makes collections?
Normally, we plump for the easy answer. The creator of the collection is the person who produced all the items in the collection.
But what if the person who ended up with the stuff made
some, but not all, of it? What if some of the items were the result of collaborative projects?
What if someone created records about a person without that person's consent? Who do the records belong to in that case? Who should they belong to?
Are there different types of creation?
Jennifer Douglas did a lot of work on the personal collections of writers. She found five main acts of creation, which turn 'a bunch of stuff' into a 'collection'.
1. When the writer produced the material herself.
2. When the writer's community produce and collect material about her.
3. When someone else is caring for the writer's stuff. Perhaps by rearranging it, or adding more material.
4. When an archivist selects the material to be set aside for long-term preservation. This links writer's stuff to the lives of other people who may have had nothing to do with the writer before.
5. When other people use the writer's material for a new purpose. Perhaps an activist uses a person's story to raise awareness of a cause he cares about. Perhaps a teacher can see a lesson in the writer's unfinished work. Or perhaps an artist gets inspired.
Why does this matter?
It matters because of ownership: who gets a say in what happens to personal collections?
Our habitual way of thinking is that the only person who gets a say is the person who created the item or collection. So, by this reckoning, Kafka's work should have been destroyed, as per his request.
What about if someone has invested their creative energy into the work of someone else? How tangled up can the creation and/or ownership of collections get?
And this isn't just an Intellectual Property thing either:
When someone is not the creator, but the subject of the records, then what? Say if you travelled to the UK as part of the Windrush Generation, for example...? Shouldn't the subjects of records have some kind of ownership over them?
As usual, I'm posing all questions and no answers here. These were just some thoughts I had after reading:
Douglas, Jennifer. ‘A Call to Rethink Archival Creation: Exploring Types of Creation in Personal Archives’. Archival Science 18, no. 1 (March 2018): 29–49. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10502-018-9285-8.
This was part of my Deep Dive into Personal Digital Archiving Series.
Series Intro: Why Stuff Matters (to us!)
Previous Article: Getting in a tangle with Memories and Records
Next Article: Making digital and non-digital things
And if you'd like to keep up with the rest of the articles in this series, then drop me your email address. I'll send you a monthly round-up, and a free downloadable workbook on How to Start Your Digital Archive.
Until next week: thanks so much for reading, you lovely people! I really appreciate it ;)