In 2016, it is difficult to define what an archive is, its purpose and how it’s established. The explosion of digital projects and websites available that self-define severely complicate the framework. Essentially, it has become trite. The idea of an archive was believed to be incredibly simple based on the fixed location of material i.e. the library, is now nuanced and has become transcendental.

1967 Detroit is a project that confounds this enigmatic academic dilemma, yet provides some resolve. This collection of data—maps, photos and oral histories transcripts is both an archive and repository. Without being highly theoretical, an archive is focused on preservation of materials, whereas a repository is a curated collection with associated metadata. 1967 Detroit, mutually, is an archive and repository troubling the digital terrain of the researcher’s right to name and classify, while epistemologically adding to knowledge conservation. The oral histories and pictures were carefully selected, and the digitization process coupled with meticulous record keeping ensured that the related metadata was not lost in translation. This work yielded a narrative that would help to undo, rectify and confront years of inaccuracies. It’s a corrective measure. It’s removing the barriers to/of entry between the ivory tower and the community at large.

The need to name and classify is important, and born out of the scientific revolution, as Focault argued and historicized in The Order of Things, but Kate Theimer in Archives in Context and as Context argues that classical archivists cannot control knowledge production, information dissemination or the ways, in which, “…practitioners of digital humanities can and will continue to use it [archive] to mean whatever is meaningful in their discipline.”[1] Theimer acknowledges that the sanctity of the archive is lost when researchers hastily label anything and everything an archive, specifically digital work.

Practitioners on the other end of the spectrum, such as Marlene Manoff in Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines suggest that “if the archive cannot or does not accommodate a particular kind of information or mode of scholar, then it is effectively excluded from the historical record. Electronic archives have very different implications for the historical than do paper archives.”[2] Effectively, this is exclusion by ignorance.

Lastly, the archive speaks to an archaic Eurocentric model of preservation that privileges a concrete and steel structure over one that lives in perpetuity with written documents. It would therefore be highly discriminatory of cultures that value orality.

1967 Detroit has created a space for it to dwell as an archive and repository. This essay is not at all inclusive of my thoughts on the subject, but it’s the beginning of a robust discussion.


[1] Kate Theimer,” Archives in Context and as Context,” Journal of Digital Humanities 1, no. 2 (2012),

[2] Marlene Manoff, “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines” portal: Libraries and the Academy 4, no.1 (2004): 9-25,