Spelunking Down into NiCHE’s Backlogs

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During the fall of 2023, Eva Chang has worked with NiCHE as part of the University of Toronto’s Department of Art History internship program. This post is a reflection on some of the important work Chang has done. NiCHE would like to thank Eva very much for all their wonderful work!


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The early years of the NiCHE blog consisted of a few writers making announcements and exploring the ways in which a blogspace could be beneficial within an academic sphere. It was messy, but in a way that brings back a nostalgia for web simplicity when branding didn’t matter so much.

Over the past few months working as an intern for NiCHE, I have been editing the site’s backlogs, which extend from 2007 to the present, spanning a total of 2,200+ posts and counting. The task, and what will inevitably end up on my resume, is simple: “assist in editing older blog content to bring in line with more recent style guidelines and technical features and in updating older website resource pages.” In addition, I keep a spreadsheet of issues I have encountered and fixes I have made. The physical actions of clicking, downloading, typing, uploading, etc., however, I’ve realized, is contributing to a process of historiography, toeing the line of time-traveling.

Hal Foster notes in “The Archival Impulse” that the implosion of the internet has readjusted the meaning of the archive.1 The archive has bled into the internet and out of national historical institutions, and in this growth a new interest emerges in uncovering the lost and unknown in a time when the “archive” has experienced an implosion. In Foster’s case, he talks of the artist’s archival impulse. Maybe I share the sentiment in my internship work, falling into both the objectivity of archival maintenance and the subjectivity of artmaking.

The affordance of an online blog like NiCHE is that it’s very likely that every single post that has been made on the site is still accessible via the WordPress dashboard that I have access to, barring those that have been actively deleted. NiCHE’s digital space is unlike other material or physical sources: in both a negative and positive sense, the content is easily malleable. It is easy to manipulate it, with no fear of causing damage (there will always be autosave), but on the other hand, it is easy to make changes to what could be considered NiCHE’s primary source documents, and that is where a certain taboo arises. As obligated as I am to be editing these documents, why should I, even if it makes them more accessible? To what extent should they be kept as is, an artifact of academia’s exploration into the early internet?

On a broader scale this question seems easy to answer: go ahead, I have permission to, I’m not editing the actual post’s content or arguments, and honestly, who would choose to look back so far? Visual fixes such as center formatting images or capitalizing titles seem harmless, but I would argue that nonetheless I have to make other small decisions that affect the tone of these articles that in their essence did not involve me at the time of their creation.

An unedited post. The alignment of the photos are imbalanced and even cut off the middle of a sentence. Posts also can contain unfixable issues, such as why the footnotes start at [7]. From ““Catastrophic Flooding: Manitoba’s Perennial Challenge.”

Images seem to be the most egregious example. For one, the cover photos—most if not all posts before 2011 did not contain a cover photo behind the title like they do now. And, even throughout 2011 and going forward, as more begin to appear, it was not a guarantee that I would see a high quality one for each post. I opt to choose images related to the post: a picture of Toronto for an announcement of a conference happening there, or a specific animal for a post on that species. Soon enough, though, I had encountered the problem of not what images to use or where to find them, but whether it was okay that some of them had been technically taken after the post had first been made. I wonder what that means for those who go back and see that.

In “What is Canada’s National Bird?”, I realized that in the time since that post, Canada still does not have a national bird. It seemed like a strangely political position to give preference to one of the birds mentioned in the content, given my knowledge in hindsight. What would the author have wanted? He’d probably laugh at me for asking that. I place a photo of a national bird watching society.

There are more slight changes: I break up paragraphs into shorter ones, center inline photos to adhere to recent style guidelines. Sometimes I want to delete the posts that only consist of one sentence, or the occasional accidental posting of the same article twice. I keep tabs on what authors do not have bios under their account name, and I keep tabs on recurring writers, watching New Scholars participants go from graduate school to professorial positions. Given that the New Scholars program is still ongoing, the set of candidates will go through the same cycle, bringing questions cyclicality and the preservations of their academic journeys.

Early 2010s blog aesthetics. Link from “Fruitful Collaborations: Libraries as Partners in Historical Research.”

I am in a dialectic with the NiCHE backlogs but in the sense that it resists my editing presence and instead invites my viewing presence. Sean Kheraj had his Knowledge Mobilization Blog series in which he posted about the newest technologies (for example, “Will the IPad Help Historians?”, “Textbooks in a Digital Age: The History of Canada Online“), and in that same vein, I continue my interest in how we approach archiving academic historical resources. The backlogs would have remained untouched, but they also would have remained unread(able).

Notes

1. Fisher, Mark. 2012. ‘What Is Hauntology?’ Film Quarterly 66 (1): 16–24.

Feature image: Photo by author.
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Eva Chang

Eva Chang is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Art History and Cinema Studies. In the Fall of 2022 they worked as a NiCHE editing intern.

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