Digital Repatriation

27 July 2015

I’ve been having some really interesting conversations with fellow MSR interns this summer. One that stands out recently is a chat I had with Rhema Linder who mentioned that a dump of Geocities is available to anyone who doesn’t mind torrenting something like 1TB of data.

This news got me thinking about repatriation practices among archaeologists and the remains of Native Americans in the United States, and the two of us riffed about the idea of going and finding the original authors of a few of these Geocities pages and trying to contact them to see if we could “repatriate” their data for them. It would be purely for science, and we’d only have the case studies of a few people (I’m sure finding the original authors and tracking them down would be prohibitively difficult most of the time - although I came up with a few generic leads), but it might be an interesting exercise to think about “material culture” as it relates to people on the Internet, sort of like a “repatriation of the material culture of digital natives”.

If you’re an archaeologist or anthropologist and this kind of stuff interests you (and especially if you have any background or experience with NAGPRA or other human remains repatriation stuff), I’d really like to hear what your thoughts might be about this kind of stuff; how should content and data be repatriated to the users who generated it? Should it?

This is obviously a half-baked idea, but maybe(/hopefully) I’ll have time to distill it into something more tangible. Maybe it’ll even be a potential collaboration with archaeologists that are interested in digital cultures and the remnants they leave behind in their own “shards and bits”, distinct from the lithic shards and ceramic bits to which they’re so accustomed.

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