The making of a digital archive, by a non-archivist


Our choices are always influenced by the context we live within. Wurfel's inclination towards topics of agrarian policy and political processes in postcolonial Southeast Asia illustrates this. These interests can be traced in Wurfel's publications and are shown through the collection of documents and photographic slides that make his personal archive. I made use of his publications to interpret his photographic slides and identify those that from my perspective speak the most to his major thematic areas of interest. 

My decision-making process regarding the selection of photographic slides was mainly influenced by my interest in reflecting David Wurfel's concerns as best as possible. But of course it was also informed by my own academic background, my research interests, my personal history and my socio-political commitments. I am interested in socio-environmental relations, agrarian transformation, and socio-economic aspects of rural change. This informed the thematic choices I made. 

My awareness of my own thematic preferences and my deep interest in reflecting Wurfel's concerns on his digital archive led me to adopt an approach that required time, energy, commitment, and ethical practices for deciding what material to digitize. For selecting the photographic slides I digitized and included in David Wurfel digital archive I systematically reviewed all the slides contained in boxes 2009-060/002; 2010-033/008; and 2010-033/009. While doing that I identified recurring topics and classified the photographic materials by those main themes. I made sure to register how many slides for each theme I was able to find in order to get a sense of major topics. This quantitative exercise was complemented and supported by an exploration of Wurfel's publications and the documents he donated to York University. The qualitative analysis enabled me to find areas of interest for David Wurfel and check against the photographic slides. My final decisions were based on my interpretation of how some slides depicted the interest Wurfel had for various social, economic, and political processess occurring in Southeast Asia over time. 

Decisions in terms of the timeframe selected were based on a systematic assessment of what was the predominant period of time in the material. I counted and classified the photographic slides into the different periods of time they depict. By doing this I found out that over 1,100 out of 1,845 photographic slides belong to the period 1947-1956. However, not all the slides included in this time period show the themes I had decided to include. This situation, along my consideration of having to select 200 objects as a goal for the project, enabled me to be flexible regarding the inclusion of photographic slides dating from periods other than 1940s and 1950s. As consequence, David Wurfel digital archive also consists of slides dated to 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. In the process of making the digital archive my thematic decisions prevailed over my timescale selection. 

Considerations such as the importance of preserving damaged material came also to my mind. At the end, my digital archive of David Wurfel's materials demonstrates his own contributions capturing and interpreting the reality as my own understanding and reading of his material. 

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