Blog: Person, Place, and Thing

Heidi Klise

Cultural Heritage Preservation

Cultural heritage and heritage preservation are significant components of information studies. A beautiful line from the movie The Monuments Men does a good job of explaining why it is important to preserve heritage. George Clooney’s character Frank Stokes declared, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and that’s exactly what we are fighting for.” (1) The protection of heritage has been tasked to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). UNESCO divides heritage into two categories, tangible (physical items, monuments, geography, etc.) and intangible (oral stories, traditions, events, etc.). My research paper will delve into examples of heritage preservation by refugees in new communities. For this assignment I want to highlight non-refugee related examples of tangible heritage: the Hawaiian mountain Mauna Kea, the journal of a WWII prisoner of war, and Swiss archaeologist Paul Collart.

Person: Paul Collart 

This coming Wednesday at NYU there is a talk called, “Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation.” I will be unable to attend due to class but I wish I could as it is a topic of particular interest. The keynote talk will be presented by a professor from the University of Lausanne (Unil), which, according the the event invite, “is home to the Collart Collection, the world’s most comprehensive archaeological archive of the Temple of Baalshamin in Palmyra, Syria.” (2) The temple was destroyed in 2015 by ISIS. The collection is named in honor of Paul Collart, a Swiss architect and professor at Unil, who UNESCO entrusted with the inventory of the cultural property of Syria and Lebanon. (3) Collart also led the excavation of the Baal Shamin temple in the 1950s, which was classified as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1980. It’s a mark of the 50s that a Swiss man and not a Syrian was entrusted with the cultural property of two Middle Eastern countries. However, the photographs that he took during the excavation are even more important now that the real temple has been destroyed. In a video from Khan Academy, Dr. Salaam al-Kuntar and Dr. Steven Zucker discuss Palmyra. Dr. al-Kuntar says, “[A]nd then we start asking ourselves, what is the meaning of a world heritage site if that site cannot be protected?” (4) This brings up an interesting point about heritage sites, they are protected from development but what resources does UNESCO have when sites are at risk? And if militaries are entrusted to protect sites, that leads to a larger conversation that is somewhat addressed in The Monuments Men, is a life worth sacrificing for art or architecture?

The image of Collart is from (5)

Place: Mauna Kea

Mauna Kea is the peak of a dormant volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii. From base to top, it is the highest mountain in the world at 32,696 feet, of which 4,205 rise above sea level. (6) The summit is sacred to native Hawaiians and is believed to be a home to the gods. There has been a long-standing struggle between builders and locals since the first telescope was built by the University of Hawaii in 1970. (7) This past summer, protests stopped construction of the proposed Thirty-Meter Telescope (TMT), which would be the 14th built on the summit. 

Since mid-July, native Hawaiians, transplants, celebrities such as Jason Momoa, and others have set up camp and blocked the access road to the telescope area. Organized largely on social media, the “we are Mauna Kea” protests have even taken place in cities such as Las Vegas and New York City. I read an instagram post from actor, local, surfer, and business owner Kala Alexander that said something to the effect of, ‘we’re not anti-science or against learning more about the stars, what we’re against is the further desecration of our sacred Mauna Kea.’ What’s interesting is that the University of Hawaii has largely been at the forefront of observatory construction. Information about a lawsuit by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs explained, “the state and the University of Hawaiʻi have continuously neglected their legal duties to adequately manage the mountain. Instead, they have prioritized astronomical development at the expense of properly caring for Mauna Kea’s natural and cultural resources.” There have been rumors of another equally appeasing TMT location in the Canary Islands of Spain, but not much has been reported. 

(image from Kala Alexander’s instagram page)

What is also interesting, is that two of the other volcanoes and sacred locations on the Big Island, Kilauea and Mauna Loa, lie in Volcanoes National Park and are under protection due to their dedication as UNESCO world heritage sites. Why was Mauna Kea not included? Remember the ‘S’ in UNESCO stands for ‘scientific.’ Mauna Kea Observatory is listed in the category of astronomical heritage, “The smooth shape of the isolated mountain, along with its high altitude, produces astronomical image quality that is among the best of any location on Earth.” (8) So, who decides for what purpose something should be preserved? In this case it was the UN, but in other cases it could be information professionals and archivists. I am reminded of Shwartz and Cook’s article about archives and power, “records are also about power,” they wrote, “They are about imposing control and order on transactions, events, people, and societies[…]” (9) The discrepancy between the Hawaiian volcanoes’ protection is an example of the potential bias within preservation, and how the bias can be directed by the controlling body that funds preservation. The “We are Mauna Kea” movement 

Thing: Secret Journal

            During research for my undergraduate thesis about my grandpa’s WWII story, I found a unique and rare book: a collection of journal entries and sketches by a man who was in the same prison camp as my grandpa. I use the word rare because the only new copy on is selling for $860 (there’s also a copy for sale on In the archives of the Air Force Museum on Warner Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, I also found scans of the pages, and other drawings and handwriting, in a folder about my grandpa. 

            Prisoner of War: My Secret Journal, (10) was written by Squadron Leader B. Arct from 1944-45, during his time as a POW at Stalag Luft I in Barth, Germany. It is a compilation of artifacts including handwritten journal entries by Polish Air Force Officer Bohdan Arct, hand-drawn maps, a detailed list of the contents of Red Cross parcels, weekly rations from the German guards, and an illustrated chart of how those rations and parcels depleted towards the end of the war. There are also lines written by the other men in Arct’s bunk room that include poems, journal entries, songs, and notes much like those at the end of a school yearbook. The many instances of cartoons and different men’s handwriting alone make this book a precious source for preservation. Sure, this book exists but who knows how many copies were made, those that I’ve found are difficult to acquire, and as the 90-year old former POW’s pass on it becomes harder to find more information. For example, one man wrote his Canada address for Arct to find him later, it’s doubtful if the man or his family still live there. There’s also a note from a New Zealand soldier named Kai Ora, all of the time I’ve spent researching WWII over the years and I had forgotten that New Zealand was involved. 

The image seen here is from my Grandpa’s folder in the archives and is similar to the drawings in Arct’s book.

I feel the heavy sense of information overload from this one book alone. It is such a unique and precious resource, but I don’t know what to do with it. In the spirit of information sharing, I’ve wanted to create a website to upload research from my thesis and bits of my interview with my grandpa so that others searching for information about their ancestor might find a little more. However, the copyright for this book is strict and I don’t know how to contact the rights holders-Arct’s descendents. The following poem is from the book and was also written in a small notebook that my Grandpa made while at Stalag Luft I (covers from butter tins and pages from cigarette packages). I remember that he became choked up when he read it to me during our interview. 

High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr., 1922-1941

“Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of earth And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings, Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sunsplit clouds and done a hundred things you have Not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and spun high in the sunlit silence. Up, up the long, delirious burning blue I’ve topped the windswept heights with ease Where never larks or even eagles flew, Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting winds Along the footless halls of air, And while with silent lifted mind I’ve trod the high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand and touched the face of God.”

1. Clooney, George (Producer & Director). (2014). The Monuments Men [Motion Picture]. United States: 20th Century Fox. 
2.  Heritage in Peril: Digital Approaches to Preservation. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from–digital-approaches-to-preservation.html
3.  Paul Collart. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from
4.  Palmyra: the modern destruction of an ancient city. (n.d.). Retrieved from
5.  Exhibition from the Archive of Paul Collart Includes Previously Unpublished Images of Palmyra | Aga Khan Documentation Center. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019, from
6.  Society, National Geographic. (2013, April 8). Mauna Kea. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
7.  Mauna Kea. (n.d.) Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
8.  UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal – Show entity. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2019, from
9.  Schwartz, Joan M. & Terry Cook. (2002). “Archives, records, and power: the making of modern memory,” Archival Science 2: 1–19.
10.  Arct, B. (1988). Secret Journal: Life In A World War II Prison Camp. Great Britain: Webb & Bower.

Preserving our Digital Afterlives

This morning, as I was scrolling through Instagram, I came across an interesting post by Oroma Elewa, a Nigerian-born visual and performance artist, writer and director. Under the Instagram post, Elewa captioned “Please make this go viral. Don’t love and follow me secretly. Show me you care. Do not let me be erased. This is very painful.” Elewa was addressing a viral quote she had originated in 2014 on her personal Tumblr that has been repeatedly falsely misattributed to Frida Kahlo since 2015: “I am my own muse. The subject I know best. The subject I want to better.” If you Google that quote, you’ll find hundreds of images, articles, products, and social media posts attributing it to Frida Kahlo. In the comment section, people who followed Elewa through her journey as an artist on social media, supported her while others were skeptical. Frida Kahlo, an iconic artist and figure in popular culture and an inspiration to all women of many different backgrounds, didn’t say those words–but, who would believe that Elewa originated the quote?

As a young rising artist, Elewa was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s actual words: “I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.” Although this is an issue of the spread of misinformation and the blurred lines of ownership and authenticity in the online world, Elewa’s fear of erasure brought to mind Michele Valerie Cloonan’s concept of the paradox of preservation and the transient or ever-changing manner of one’s digital remains. Cloonan wrote that “it is impossible to keep things the same forever. To conserve, preserve, or restore is to alter” (235). Frida Kahlo is not alive to disprove that she ever said Elewa’s quote. With endless digital copies of her image being attached to the quote, how can we manage to support Elewa’s claim? How can Elewa make sure her work lives on without the fear of being erased, silenced or altered in the digital world? And most importantly, how can we protect and preserve our digital afterlives?

The Digital Afterlives Symposium was held at Bard Graduate Center in honor of Professor David Jaffee who was the head of New Media Research. Prof. Jaffee was instrumental in introducing and creating a new direction for the Digital Media Lab at BGC. After his death, not only was his legacy as a leading historian missed, but he also left behind a plethora of files and media pertaining to his personal and professional projects throughout his life. The topic of the symposium came about while his late daughter and a few of his colleagues started a project to archive and preserve Jaffee’s work. This endeavor has led to the exploration of finding innovative ways to protect, prolong and preserve our digital afterlives and the impact technology has on the sustainability of our digital projects as well as the privacy and accessibility of our personal information.

Technology has become an extension of our physical world. As we increasingly develop and interact with technologies, we end up with a constant re-experiencing of the past. At the symposium, Abby Smith Rumsey, an independent scholar, spoke about her research paper on how memory creates identity and how humans create artificial memory through the use of digital technology. Our transformation from an analog to a digital environment has made us reliant on digital technologies to preserve memory and be reminded of the past. And there is a moral weight of dealing with a person’s memory, especially if the person can be immortalized in the digital world. In her presentation called, “Death, Disrupted,” Tamara Kneese spoke on the proliferation of “dead users” in the online world, particularly in social media. Social media is so embedded into our lives that it has become a space for ritualized mourning, memorialization and perhaps immortalization as personal profiles transform into actual shrines after users’ deaths.

But, not everything lasts forever in the digital world. Rosenzweig pointed out that the “life expectancy of digital media [can] be as little as 10 years, [and even so] very few hardware platforms and software programs last that long” (742). Platforms will eventually disappear over time. MySpace, Orkut, Friendster and OpenDiary are all remnants of the old digital environment. Inevitably, we have to address the issue of digital decay. In her presentation at the symposium, Robin Davis, an Emerging Technologies and Online Learning Librarian at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, proved the fragility of the digital world through her case study on the lifespans of digital humanities scholarship projects that were created in 2005. She found that only half of the 60 DH projects she studied were accessible online 10 years later. In some cases, she found that other projects had a shelf life of 5 years due to issues with hosting and the lack of funding while a couple of web projects were even taken over by fraudulent companies. Davis reiterated that digital scholars need to build a preservation plan into their projects and consider the longevity of their choice to create content for the web.

So, ultimately, our digital remains will disappear, but can individuals maintain and manage their own digital data in the hopes of living on as information after death? Is it possible to save everything? Rosenzweig wrote about “the fragility and promiscuity of digital data,” which requires yet more rethinking–about whether we should be trying to save everything…” (739). The debate over whether it is worthy or not to preserve everything was also discussed at the symposium. Overall, all of the speakers agreed that we do not have the proper tools or policies in place to be able to. And also that it is important to preserve more ephemeral data now in order to understand its significance in the future.  

According to Cloonan, “preservation must be a way of seeing and thinking about the world, and it must be a set of actions…[it] also has broader social dimensions, and any discussion of preservation must be include consideration of its cultural aspects” (232). Like Cloonan, Rumsey said that the primary issues of digital technology preservation are not just technical but are in light of larger political, economic, and education issues of our world. Companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook and libraries as well as government agencies need to put more effort into creating preservation programs. They also do not have the right capacity or policies of dealing with the ramifications of digital remains. If Verizon Media, the owner of Tumblr, were to step up and protect Elewa’s words from being misquoted as Kahlo’s, would it have stopped the proliferation of companies and individuals attributing the quote to Kahlo?

At the end of the discussion, Rumsey left us with a parting message–it is important for us to remember that there are people behind these machines or technologies. People program and create software and applications so that machines behave in a particular way, so it is only up to us to change how we use and think of digital technology. Technologies have no built in moral bias other than what we program them to be, but it is has become an expansion of who we are. The material and digital world are a connected space now. Therefore, we must take responsibility over our digitized selves.


Cloonan, Michele Valerie. “W(H)ITHER Preservation?” The Library Quarterly, vol. 71, no. 2, 2001, pp. 231-242. The University of Chicago Press,

Elewa, Oroma. “Elewa’s quote.” Instagram, 18 Mar. 2019,

Rosenzweig, Roy. “Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era.” The American Historical Review, vol. 108, no. 3, 2003, pp. 735-762. Oxford University Press,

Engaging Shared Heritage @ NYPL

Wednesday Sept 26 I attended the talk at NYPL on ‘Engaging Shared Heritage.’ Academics from around the world shared with each other the projects they are working on and the challenges they face. The panel on “Preserving Cultural Heritage” shared the different types of preservation work they were engaged in. The following panel, “Engaging through Research and Dissemination,” discussed how they connect their work to other cultural heritage institutions and to the larger public. Instead of briefly touching on each person who spoke, I am going to focus on the panelists whose research most aligned with my interests and what we are studying in Foundations of Information.


Challenges to Preservation

Dr. Annie Sartre-Fauriat explained the destruction of historic sites such as the Temple of Bel and Palmyra and the loss of artifacts because of the civil war in Syria is irrecoverable. The proposition Sartre-Fauriat made was to reconstruct the damaged heritage sites from a variety of different periods. She warned against what she called “a Disney style approach” but contested that since Syria has had such a diverse history that the reconstruction shouldn’t look like any one particular era. She explained they do have enough archival resources to create a deep reading of these sites’ histories, but she admits that they while they have unlimited ideas and potential, everything else they need is non-existent. Currently Russian mercenaries are in control of the area and people are quiet freely looting the world heritage sites. She said that at the moment there is virtually no control and no ability to organize any sort of enforcement.

Father Samer Yohanna, a priest from Salahaddin University-Erbil in Iraq, explained the lack of trust that exists at all levels of society in Iraq. He said that between fellow countrymen, neighboring countries, and Westerners there are few areas where large swaths of society can work together. They have had to move their collections 5 times and at the moment they are not disclosing their location to anyone outside of the organization. He stressed the need in Iraq for places of community that give people incentive to see their history as shared, and work to preserve it.  

Father Yohanna also stressed the danger of working with artifacts in the modern Iraqi political climate. This is something that I partly dealt with in my undergraduate thesis, so I was eager to hear his perspective. There is intense pressure for different societal groups to prove their place in Iraq’s history, and against influences that have come in from the West. Yohanna explains ownership of artifacts and control of the narratives that surround them is a volatile issue that makes doing archival work very dangerous in Iraq.

The perspectives represented at this event were a reminder that free unfettered access to information in the context of a civil society might provide healthy debate, but could serve as fodder for violence in an area with few formal avenues to scholarly interpretation. This reflects what we read in the Dabello article, albeit in a different context, about traditional expertise not being able to play the role as gatekeeper as it once did in the face of an active public (Dabello, 2009). Our ability to create a publicly shaped identity I think directly relates to the amount of trust society has in each other and our institutions. When asked about opening up the their online platforms to community input Yohanna and Stewart (mentioned below) said they both have a moderated comment section that often provides insight, but with an undereducated public and a turbulent political climate, maintained that primary interpretation should remain in control of those with library and archive expertise. Respect for expertise and the potential power of crowdsourced information is a tension that continues to come up in this course.


Digitizing Responsibly  

The next panelist, Columbus Stewart, was a Benedictine monk from a monastery I am very familiar with back in Minnesota. He works with Hill Museum Manuscript and Library (HMML). Their mission starting out was to protect Benedictine manuscripts in Eastern Europe directly after WWII. Since then they have expanded to preserving Muslim and Christian manuscripts across the Middle East. HMML began preserving manuscripts in Syria before the civil war broke out. One of his primary points was that we must do preservation work preemptively, especially for things as fragile as manuscripts, because it is often impossible to predict where conflict will break out. He cites their work in Mosul just before the civil war as evidence. Thus far they have digitized 40,000 manuscripts. From their website ( people can then export their own data sets. The only barrier to access they put up is the creation of a free account to access the images and the export function; people can access the index information without an account.

The key to their success has been working with local communities. He explained the general consensus that Americans find a way to monetize everything they touch. Distrust is something they always face, but their position as monks he said actually helps convince people they are not there to turn a profit. By working with locals they are able to gain a richer understanding of the texts. As a result the metadata that locals generate is far more accurate than what they would produce on their own. Drabinski illustrated this same point with the anecdote about the term “Kafir” in Zambian context (Drabinski, 2013). When digitizing any material we would be repeating past colonial mistakes if we continue to attest that description can be done neutrally. Father Stewart’s team takes this role very seriously. They train and pay locals to take photographs of manuscripts, teach them how to work with the data sets. This results in the spreading of expertise as well as the creation of rich digital databases.  


Archives and Peace

In the next panel, Vincent Lemire introduced us to Open Jerusalem which is trying to index as many archives as possible in Jerusalem and across the Middle East. Some of his points reflected what we have been discussing in class. For example he explained that with archives, unlike books, the producer is not the author and the contents of the archive is always composed of diverse material. They must find a way to describe the archive deeply while also applying a standardization that can be searchable in a database. Also because of the location and history of Israel, they are working with materials written in many different languages and described in different languages still during their various stages of provenance. For this reason they only focus on making the indexes digital, not the actual material.

Lemire explained that it is very difficult to have any mutual basis when inferences from the records lead opposing sides to drastically different conclusions. How they have overcome this, to an extent, is to start at the most basic irrefutable positions such as “this material is a book, it is written in Arabic, it is on such and such type of paper,” and build from there. He sees this as a practical, project-based form of peacemaking. While uninspired by the effects that formal peace talks have had on the region, Lemire argues that having to get through an insurmountable amount of archives forces people to develop a working relationship even if they still deeply disagree. McChesney stressed in “Digital Disconnect,” the importance of having public spaces in order for democratic civil society to flourish (McChesney, 2013). Panelists Yohanna and Lemire both echoed McChesney’s sentiment with the calls for spaces, such as a reading rooms, for people to be able to benefit from materials and develop a local concept of community.


Works Cited

Caswell, M. L. (2016). ‘The Archive’ is Not An Archives. Reconstruction 16(1).

Dalbello, M. (2009). Digital Cultural Heritage: Concepts, Projects, and Emerging Constructions of Heritage. Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA) conference, 25-30.

Drabinski, E, (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 83(2). pp 94-111.

McChesney, R. (2013) Digital Disconnect. New York, NY: The New Press.


Event information and feature image credit can be found at:

Bending the Future of Preservation Review

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act, the New York Public Library hosted a discussion between 5 notable scholars working in the field of preservation. The event was called Bending the Future of Preservation and was held on October 19 at 5:30 PM at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. Panelists included Michael Sorkin, Robert Hammond, Thompson Mayes, Liz Sevcenko, and Richard Rabinowitz. The event was moderated by Max Page and Marla Miller.

Discussion lead with a look into the next 50 years of preservation, particularly in architecture. Questions posed to the group were intended to make the panelists/audience consider equity and representation in preservation. The first hour featured the voices of Hammon, Mayes, and Sorkin. Each panelist presented recent projects around NYC, their involvement, and the positives and negatives of city development. Hammond, as part of the High Line project, highlighted two main issues with the development of the park.The High Line is a linear park built on a disused New York railroad. The first issue addressed by Hammond is a distinct lack of city funding, 98% of the parks budget is supported by Friends of the High Line through private donations [1].

The second issue relates to access and use of the park. Hammond discussed two low-income housing units located beside the High Line. Residents in both buildings were surveyed before and after construction, and the discovery was made that most had never been to the High Line. Survey responders indicated that the space did not feel like it was built for them and felt uncomfortable walking the park. A visit reveals to the keen observer that the majority of park traversers primarily include tourists and residents from other, more affluent, living complexes. Hammond believes that creating public spaces and the preservation of NYC structures should benefit all residents of the city. New residents, parks, and business can greatly influence the residents of a neighborhood. As an area is redeveloped, the cost of rent often rises and forces people who cannot afford new costs from their homes. Mayes criticized decisions to preserve based on only historical and architectural values. He believes that the residents memory and identity adds to the value of a place. This is supported by all the panelist as they discuss the history of place in preservation.

The second hour echoed the thoughts of the first as Richard Rabinowitz and Liz Sevcenko addressed the preservation of historical sites. Rabinowitz, in particular, addressed the importance of telling all histories rather than those of the important or wealthy influencers. He called for marking historical sites that affected larger populations, such as bread lines from the Great Depression or putting the rules to old street games on plaques in neighborhoods. He referred to this action as social archaeology, an idea that the history of all parts of a population should be equally represented.

The discussion effectively shed light on many problems and solutions seen in preservation in city planning. New development often leads to the gentrification of an area. Residents are forced from their homes, either by rising costs or legally removed by landlords, and many local business owners are pushed out for new, more expensive stores and restaurants. The act of preservation should support social and public history, whether it’s a building or images from history. The information professional can support these actions in the retention, preservation, and archiving of historical items. Archiving and librarianship can begin including more representation in their catalogs, materials, and hiring processes [2, 3]. Academic discussions, such as Bending the Future of Preservation, can lead the conversation about diversity and equity in preservation. However, very little action has been seen in the world of informational professionals to commit to these ideas [4]. We must abandon the sense of neutrality in the public sphere that only perpetuates existing problems [5]. I believe each of the panelists echoed these concepts in their discussion and presented viable solutions to known problems in the preservation of history.


  1. The High Line | Friends of the High Line. (2016). Retrieved October 25, 2016, from

  1. Drabinski, E. (2013). Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.

The Library Quarterly, 83(2), 94-111. Retrieved October 25, 2016, from

  1. J. V. (2016, January 13). The Quest for Diversity in Library Staffing: From … Retrieved

October 25, 2016, from

  1. Rosenzweig, R. (1991). “Politics and anti-politics in librarianship” in ibid., 5–8. Retrieved

October 25, 2016, from

  1. Jensen, R. (2006). “The myth of the neutral professional” in Questioning Library Neutrality,
  1. A. Lewis. Library Juice, 89–96. Retrieved October 24, 2016, from