Born Archival: The Ebb and Flow of Digital Documents from the Field

TitleBorn Archival: The Ebb and Flow of Digital Documents from the Field
Publication TypeJournal Article
AuthorsTurin, Mark
JournalHistory and Anthropology

Facilitated by an infusion of funding from philanthropic sources, descriptive linguists have been galvanized to document the world's languages before they disappear without record. Linguists have responded to the “crisis of documentation” (Dobrin, L. M. & Berson, J. (2011), “Speakers and Language Documentation”, in The Cambridge Handbook of Endangered Languages, P. K. Austin & J. Sallabank (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 187–211) by entering into increasingly collaborative partnerships with speech communities, producing “documents” that have both local relevance and academic integrity. The growth in access to digital recording technology has meant that contemporary research initiatives on endangered languages are not only born digital, but often birthed straight into an archive. Yet heritage collections of recordings made by ethnographers and linguists in the past are ever more endangered, becoming orphaned when their collectors die or fragmented into their component parts based on the medium of documentation when they are finally archived. Drawing on fieldwork in Nepal with a community speaking an endangered Tibeto–Burman language, and reflecting on the decade I have spent directing a digital humanities research initiative—the Digital Himalaya Project—I discuss how linguists and anthropologists are collecting, protecting and connecting their data, and how technology influences their relationship to documents.

Short TitleBorn Archival