Mussell – Question 3
3How do you reconcile originality or creativity with values and practices often central to archival representation such as “authentic” or “faithful” representations of source materials and respect des fonds?
Associate Professor of Victorian Literature – University of Leeds
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 This question implies that authenticity depends upon a form of mechanical reproduction, in which mediating editors and curators passively let the source objects somehow write themselves into new media without getting in the way. In these terms, creativity is to be avoided as it permits an eruption of illegitimate agency, where whoever is doing the representing imposes him or herself upon the representation under his or her supervision. However, as mentioned in Question 1, the authenticity of archival representation is always established retrospectively. The new object, in whatever form it takes, posits connections with certain aspects of the object upon which it is based. If these connections are suitably coded, the archival object appears to have some sort of mediated presence in the new representation. If not, the representation appears derivative, gesturing to the archival object that remains outside of it.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Keeping things the same involves active creative work that is often overlooked. For instance, until recently, scholarly referencing systems made a point of signaling that websites were a different form of publication than printed sources (insisting on the inclusion of urls, access dates, etc). Despite this, it is common – especially for scholars using Modern Humanities Research Association (MHRA), Harvard, or Chicago style – to reference journal articles as if they were consulted in print, even though very few are. In this instance, all the work that goes into producing the digital article is discounted as the text is simply assumed to be equivalent. This practice ignores all the ways in which the digital version differs from its print counterpart—the very reasons why a scholar consulted the digital version in the first place—insisting instead that the text is identical. However, this text does not exist beyond its media, and this fidelity is the result of hard work. The Modern Language Association’s recent stipulation that the media of all sources must be explicitly stated creates a way to cite a journal article while noting it derives from an electronic resource. This is a recognition that media matters, but also that the labor necessary to make something stay the same should be acknowledged.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 All editorial acts are creative, but it is a mistake to see this creativity as jeopardizing the authenticity of whatever is edited. Even the most slavish documentary edition must work out whatever it will reproduce about the archival object and then devise a way to do so in the new media. As it is the representation’s readers/users who will ultimately become the arbiters of its authenticity (clearly guided by the imprimatur of the press, the name of the editor, the scholarly apparatus, etc.), this is a kind of encoding, where a language must be used that these readers/users already understand. This requires creativity. Authenticity results from a transformation that is also a translation.