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Analytic Autoethnography: Curatorial Decisions and Procedures

One of the primary methods employed in this dissertation is analytic autoethnography. Autoethnography is a method that uses narrative documentation to capture data about researchers’ activities and reflexive observations. This data can be coded to identify emergent themes, which can potentially be usefully generalized to the larger field. In analytic autoethnography, the narratives themes are placed in conversation with relevant scholarship to both locate the researcher’s experiences within the field and to evaluate the application of theoretical and experiential concepts in project-specific contexts. 

There are six autoethnographic chapters collected here, each focusing on a specific aspect of the archive’s development from its initial conceptualization through to the design of the digital exhibit. The chapters all follow a similar format: a brief introduction that establishes the purpose  of each chapter, a narrative detailing the specific actions and justifications for the decisions made as they relate to the chapter’s topic, and lastly a section called “considerations,” which are organized discussions of significant issues raised by the narrative experience and grounded in interdisciplinary scholarship. The chapters are presented in an order that best replicates the archive’s chronological development, although these categories have imposed artificial boundaries on recursive and interdependent processes. It is not necessary to read these chapters in the suggested order, and inter-chapter links have been embedded as needed to identify key points of recursivity. 

The Concept
Institutional Influence
Data Collection and Management
Digital Exhibit and Interface
From Fieldwork to Formalization: Implications for Archive Development

The Concept: This chapter represents the origin story of the archive and locates the archivist’s positionality in a scholarly biography. The considerations include discussions of the links between cultural archives and identity formation, implications for affective ties to research subjects, and Azorean-American archival representation.

Participation: This chapter provides a record of how archival contributors were identified and selected for inclusion in the archive. The considerations explore participatory archive scholarship with a focus on establishing trust and working with an ethics of care for privileging cultural communities’ needs and control over their own representation.  

Funding: This chapter details the archive’s funding sources and the associated costs of its development. The considerations explore the material constraints of funding on archival design and the ongoing challenge of funding digital archives for sustainable access and preservation.

Institutional Influence: This chapter illustrates how the positionality of the archivist within various institutions influences the archive design. The considerations explore these experiences through the lens of constrained agency and in the context of continual renegotiation of multiple stakeholder interests; a method of institutional critique is employed to locate mutable boundaries where institutional change is possible. 

Data Collection and Management: This chapter describes the technologies and organizational systems used to generate and store the archival records and to generate the autoethnographic data. The considerations discuss the affordances and constraints of the selected methods with particular attention to the ethics of archival transparency and the importance of methods that support the enmeshing of theoretical writing and maker practices.

Digital Exhibit and Archival Interface: This chapter is comprised of a series of autoethnographic data organized into Curation Notes. These notes provide of log of specific design decisions related to the delivery of archival records through the digital archival interface, with particular attention to the website layout, navigational structures, and content arrangement. The considerations explore the ethical management of exhibiting oral histories, the tension between ideal and possible design features, and the limitations of working within a content management system.

A separate chapter, From Fieldwork to Formalization: Implications for Archive Development, is presented to discuss considerations that emerge across the autoethnographic chapters and how these can be productively applied to future archival projects. Researchers may also be interested in further discussions of relevant scholarship and this project’s situatedness in the fields of archival studies, rhetoric, and interface design, available in the chapter Reciprocal Gifts: A Theoretical Framework for Developing a Rhetorical Archive.

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