Metadata and Relational Architecture: Advancing Arrangement, Agency, and Access with New Methodology

Jenna Morton-Aiken, University of Rhode Island


Traditional archival information infrastructure is problematic because it limits the arrangement and description of any artifact to a single interpretation by a single archivist. This approach of one authority defining artifacts lacks mechanisms to effectively convey the rich and complex discourse in which artifacts were originally composed. While researchers have begun to develop feminist methodologies for working with archives after they have been formed, there has not been much attention paid to developing practical methodologies for creating and sustaining a more fluid and multi-voiced archival infrastructure that is also able to overcome traditionally isolating elements such as physical distance. In this dissertation, I introduce a networked methodology called relational architecture to fill critical gaps in current archival practice. I argue that information infrastructures should be anchored by a point of origin, but continually augmented by building connections among resources with relationships identified by contributing-users.^ Developed from archival practice in rhetoric and composition, inspired by open architecture of application programming interfaces (API) like Twitter, and validated by network theory, relational architecture enables a more flexible information infrastructure that is able to position the archivist as the first of many users rather than singular defining authority of traditional archival theory. I contend that relational architecture is more than simply a functional response to big data in archives, or even a best practice for archivists, but instead is an ethical response to the inherent silencing of the “other” at work in traditional archival process and principles. It addresses many of the gaps in the field’s methodology in specifically in Gesa Kirsch and Patricia A. Sullivan’s Methods and Methodology in Composition Research and tackles some of the challenges of methods and digital tools raised in Ridolfo and Hart-Davidson’s Rhetoric and the Digital Humanities by enabling users to speak back to the code of the information infrastructure itself.^ I designed and carried out a survey as proof of concept to demonstrate what, exactly, is added to the archive when more users were asked to collaborate in the authoring of the infrastructure itself. Participants contributed folksonomy hashtags (user-generated tags) to digitalized artifacts, and the results of the survey indicate that relational architecture does significantly expand the points of connectivity within the archive. Moreover, this methodology enables the folksonomy hashtags to record knowledge in themselves, thus illustrating and adding the diverse ways of doing and knowing now record in the archives. ^ These results support my argument that relational architecture builds multiple layers of connection into the information infrastructure itself; allows easy access beyond archival or institutional silos; calls for multiple voices to be documented and valued on the official record; enhances transparency and reproducibility; and documents pathways to track and quantify the ways that different communities build and share knowledge. Applicable most directly to archival work, these findings also have direct ramifications for the organization of resources in Writing Program Administration and other related work in the field.^

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Recommended Citation

Jenna Morton-Aiken, "Metadata and Relational Architecture: Advancing Arrangement, Agency, and Access with New Methodology" (2017). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI10262699.