Archives and Manuscripts, Binary Trees Paper. Published... But at what cost...?

Archives and Manuscripts, Binary Trees Paper. Published… But at what cost…?

Heads up. This is probably not a comfortable piece for most to read. It’s not OTT. It’s not particularly sensitive. It just touches on some more personal aspects of my work that you may not be to your taste. If that is the case, simply click through to here:  http://exponentialdecay.co.uk/blog/aom_spencer-binary-trees-preprint-2017-08-10/ for the final article. 

This week marks my second solo published peer-reviewed paper. Binary trees? Automatically identifying the links between born-digital records. I invite everyone to have a read and let me know what you think.

I am afraid to say that my enthusiasm for it is somewhat diminished. But that’s because of the context of the time over which it was written…

  • The 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake. The first of its magnitude I’ve experienced. Metaphorically its ripples were felt long after it ended.
  • Uncertainty over the Archives New Zealand building while it was inspected and then reinforced before Christmas.
  • The most poorly conducted interview I think I have ever been part of.
  • The process of the creation of a new suite of tools to advance the work of the paper even further.
  • An attempt to move cities from Wellington to Christchurch.

Through all of this it’s a miracle the paper was finished and ended up in the journal and I was hoping that this week would feel like a victory but it doesn’t. And that will just have to be okay.

I presented extracts from the paper at the ASA Forging Links Conference last year (2016) – you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ked9GRmKlRw 

Following that it took a while to take a very rough draft and turn it into something more substantial. It turns out I’m more of a blogger than an academic writer. That being said, with the help of colleagues at work and the superb A&M editors, plus the review comments we managed to get something out there.

But why isn’t it a victory?

Well, in that time I’ve had greater exposure to work inside digital humanities. The field has moved on leaps and bounds since I studied it, and a lot of what I talk about in the paper is covered in their various streams of work – humanists work with content in a way I’m still dreaming about in government. I’ll (probably) explore this more in future. For now, let me just recognize that one of the first, most-likely criticisms of this article will likely be that that it could have covered their work better – I agree!

And the second reason it’s not a victory? Well… inside the piece I quote some of Verne Harris’ work. He’s also the one that mentioned this following quote when he visited our institution two years ago:

“We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.” – Henry James

It represents the need to have more than one life to do all of the work we need to do. In this case, I suspect two, and then maybe even three lives, to maybe live a life at the same time?

I did a lot of work. I committed myself to many different streams. Maybe more than I could handle. Everything achieved, and the effort put into achieving it was disproportionate to what was lost along the way. I just don’t think it was worth it.

As this article is published, I find myself reaching a regular lull in my work and in this lull there is the loud echo of increasingly distant memories across the biggest of empty chambers.  An echo for some writing for another time, maybe…

It has been the hardest year and I’ve hated nearly every minute of it and in life there’s no ctrl-z. And that will just have to be okay.

My pithy epilogue? I haven’t got one folks. Just look after each other.