Academic theories central to this project are network theory (Gane & Beer, 2006), complexity theory (Byrne, 1998) and theories of participatory media (Bolter, 2001; Jenkins, 2006; Landow, 2006). Within complex networks, there are natural pushes and pulls or "attractions and repulsions" (G. Ulmer, personal communication, January 26, 2015). Museums and the non-profits that manage them increasingly seek to create attraction or interest in artifacts through the online environment social media, code, and the Web offer. Increased engagement and sharing equals amplified attraction. There is also the aspect that these artifacts, once digitized, can exist on the network virtually. In actuality, they are physical objects. However, by digitizing them, they can exist simultaneously in two spaces: the physical and virtual. Creative use of participatory digital technologies in this project provides enhanced opportunities for access, education, and engagement with historical artifacts that previously only existed in physical archives.
It is interesting to consider the archive in terms of hypertext and what it offers users. "Once a text has been stored in any layer of the computer's tiered memory, the machine can fetch, process, and present text in milliseconds. The computer can also copy text with unparalleled ease and speed - an important facility, considering that throughout the history of literacy the difficulty in making copies has been the chief impediment to the spread of the written word" (Bolter, 2001, p. 42). In digitizing the artifacts of the Lester Morris Collection, they now exist beyond the physical. Further, they have more reach and can be searched, manipulated, shared, and copied in ways that are not possible physically. Also, by being presented digitally in a hypertext format, readers are now able to choose their own path. Artifacts can be viewed or not viewed in any order the reader chooses. In this sense, users receive more control over the story and aspects of the Holocaust they are interested in. "The multiplicity of hypertext, which appears in multiple links to individual blocks of text, calls for an active reader" (Landow, 2006, p.6). This gives readers choices in what they view, the order in which they view it, and what they place importance on in constructing their own view of the Holocaust. Readers, in theory, would become freed from the rhetoric of the author, able to access a more authentic account of the Holocaust.
Building from the advantages of hypertext for the reader, it is interesting to consider what is included as a choice for the reader to view. Hypertext offers more freedom to readers. However, readers will never be entirely freed from the rhetoric of authors. Locke Carter (2003) considers argument in hypertext and suggests guiding readers along multiple paths that reach the same conclusion, or "constructing multiple arguments within one document so readers can pick the argument that best suits them" (4.4). Consider this Holocaust archive. It only features articles printed in America during the Holocaust. Readers will only have a choice between articles with an American perspective. Other countries' views would vary greatly. Readers do have the choice to search beyond this archive, yet access will be constrained to what is available digitally online and what is printed in English. In sum, hypertext increases choices, but those choices may still lead to the same conclusion. And, that is ok because the center is rhetorical in its mission. In the end, the archive is another tool through which the center can achieve its rhetorical mission and communicate its values.
Beyond helping to accomplish the rhetorical mission of the center, this site creatively employs PHP, MySQL, and social media in an effort to push beyond typical digital archiving to provide a truly participatory experience for users. In Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide, Henry Jenkins (2006) distinguishes between interaction and participation. Interaction is when users interact with a medium in a limited and predetermined way. Alternatively, participation is when users are provided with more possibilities for interaction and can participate in new ways they devise on their own related to their own context and culture. In other words, "participation is more open-ended, less under the control of media producers and more under the control of media users" (Jenkins, 2009, p. 137).
PHP, MySQL, and social media are tools, which when implemented creatively, can create meaningful possibilities for users to participate in personalized ways. In the context of the Holocaust digital archive, PHP, MySQL, and social media have been employed in an effort to allow users unique and customizable ways to participate in a conversation about the lessons of the Holocaust, while personalizing the content of the site to their unique needs and interests, whether they are scholarly, personal, or somewhere in between. Users determine how they participate with the content and make their own meaningful choices. PHP, MySQL, and social media have specifically allowed users to participate in creating and sharing content of the site including, tags/keywords, word clouds for artifacts, ratings, and sharing public opinion through poll responses and various commenting engines.
Bolter, J. D. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Byrne, D. S. (1998). Complexity theory and the social sciences: An introduction. New York: Routledge.
Carter, L. (2003). Argument in hypertext: Writing strategies and the problem of order in a nonsequential world. Computers And Composition, 20(1) 3-22. doi:10.1016/S8755-4615(02)00176-7
Gane, N., & Beer, D. (2008). New media: The key concepts. New York, NY: Berg.
Jenkins, H. (2006). Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide. New York: New York University Press.
Landow, G. P. (2006). Hypertext 3.0: Critical theory and new media in an era of globalization. Baltimore, M.D.: Johns Hopkins University Press.