Metadata and Mediation in the Digital Archive
Keywords:Image, Mediation, Metadata, Media history, Online image collections
In the cultural heritage digital archive, descriptive metadata makes images (re)searchable. Text-based searches seek terms that match metadata terms or terms referring to aspects of images that have previously been considered essential to select and describe in metadata terms. Such considerations are bound up with historically changing institutional agendas, ideas about user preferences, and implementation of metadata standards. This study approaches image accessibility from a different perspective. It aims to investigate how the infrastructure of the digital archive, comprising metadata and interface, intervenes with, circumscribes as well as enables, the images’ visibility and knowledge-producing capacity. The starting points are: first, that images in digital archives, exemplified by the online image collections in Alvin and DigitaltMuseum, are mediated, mediating, and “mixed” media objects that simultaneously represent the past and the present; second, that the digital archive in a media history of images functions as both a tool and an object of research. Using the platforms as tools of research, this study is based on test searches that aim to find viable search strategies for mixed media objects. The chosen search terms represent media-historically significant and common traits such as images that are combined with text and images that represent and/or mediate other images. The study discloses that the platforms give both false negatives and false positives. They do not support searches that focus media terms and relations between media elements. These problems are further related both to heterogenous metadata practices and to the simultaneously restricted and broad image concept behind them. As objects of research, both platforms are considered in relation to a future construction of a media history of images, where the digital archive is a particular node. The study demonstrates how the “hypermedial” environment associated with new media is prefigured by media interrelations in analog images – or images that are accessible as mediated through the archive’s interface and as policed by the archive’s metadata structure.
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