Asian Pacific American Digital Archives: Three Examples
This week, I came across this post on Angry Asian Man about a new digital archive collection of posters, artwork, and photographs documenting the work of the Kearney Street Workshop, a multidisciplinary Asian Pacific American artist collective, founded in San Francisco in 1972. The collection includes works primarily from the 1970s and 80s. I thought this open access archive was a fantastic example of a collection focused on APA community activism. I decided to do a quick search to see what more is out there in terms of Asian Pacific American Digital Archives. For this blog, I’m going to talk about three that I found that I thought were quite good.
To say a bit more about the Kearney Street Workshop collection, it is housed at Calisphere, which is a University of California archival project focusing on “the diverse history and culture of California and its role in national and world history.” (Btw, I would love to see something like this about Michigan–anyone know of a site that exists?) So, there are several collections within this site pertinent to Asian Pacific American culture and concerns. As I took a few moments to explore Calisphere, I noticed that some of its distinct features are that it is open access, and that it has been designed for classroom use. For example, the site includes lesson plans and worksheets that encourage students to do rhetorical analyses of some of the visual artifacts included; however most if not all of these resources have been made to be integrated in primary- to secondary-level classes (as opposed to college-level coursework). I think it could be cool to see the site expanded in this direction.
I also thought this particular digital archive was well-designed and I found it the most visually appealing out of the three listed here. The site itself is clean and appropriately modern-looking, with coherent color and font schemes. I like that there are a few featured images tiled up at the top–not bare, and not overkill either. Perhaps more importantly, I found the site quite easy to navigate, especially with the way the various collections are presented on the home page. On the other hand, I could not find Kearney Street Workshop itself listed under Themed Collections or Browse A-Z, so there are still some limitations depending on what the user is looking for and whether or not s/he has something specific in mind. I really like the layout of the gallery–I tend to like being able to see a lot of thumbnails on a single page. Finally, assuming that these documents have been manually scanned, I appreciate that they have been well-done (I used to have a job where we’d have to scan boxes and boxes of documents and this was definitely not always the case, especially when efficiency was a concern).
A second digital archive that I looked at was Densho: The Japanese American Legacy Project. As stated at the top of the home page, “Densho’s mission is to preserve the testimonies of Japanese Americans who were unjustly incarcerated during World War II before their memories are extinguished.” Thus, the focus of this particular project is much more narrow than that of something like Calisphere. Densho is also open access (with free registration), and also includes a Learning Center, which includes lesson plans and “curriculum packages”, again, for primary- to secondary-level classes. These materials seem to be a bit more comprehensive than the ones included at Calisphere, and seem to take more of a historical approach in its presentation. As far as the archive itself goes, I think it’s cool that it includes video interviews. On the other hand, I think the layout of the archive could be much better–there are a few separate panels going on which seems busy to me, and I found it difficult to view more than one artifact at a time.
Finally, I looked at artasiaamerica: A Digital Archive of Asian/Asian American Contemporary Art History, which specializes in “Asian American visual culture from 1945 to the present.” As stated in the site’s About section, the current emphasis of the collection is on “artists participating in Asian American Arts Centre (AAAC) exhibition program initiated in 1983.” Unlike the other sites mentioned, this collection seems to be a bit more of a publicity tool for the physical archive–the homepage states that this digital collection is a small portion (10%) of the physical archive located in New York, and the site also includes a finding aid for the physical archive. Still, there is a good amount to see in the digital archive. The layout of the gallery seems to me much like that of a museum, with information about the artist followed by a collection of several works. The items included also have more detailed descriptions, including information like size, materials, techniques, and subjects.
I thought these examples were good to look at, particularly as I’m thinking about the design aspect of my project, and how that plays into the presentation of particular disciplinary slants. I thought Calisphere was the most clearly multidisciplinary. Densho seemed to want to take that approach, but somehow I found it more history-based, and I think the nostalgic design of the site added to that feeling. Finally, I thought artasiaamerica was very much in the realm of art and clearly modeled after the layout of a museum.