The Ethics of Aesthetics: Archives and Access in the Digital Landscape

Date: May 21, 2015, 4 – 5:30 PM

The archive is in flux. The proliferation of born-digital objects and digitized materials opens up new modes of curation, circulation, and scholarly communication. This presents opportunities and challenges for scholars, artists, and publics for assembling, making accessible, decolonizing, and appropriating.

Digital platforms for curating and publishing cultural heritage and expressive culture—art, music, video, performance, sound—promise new collaborative forms, creating new relationships between producers and publics. Furthermore, archives and databases raise questions of ownership and control over knowledge–including decolonizing ethnographic collections and developing traditional knowledge licensing.

Our workshop will examine the digital archive and database in terms of the aesthetics and politics of curation. We will bring together perspectives from the humanities, arts, and social sciences to address the challenges and possibilities for an emerging art of the archive.

Hosted by


The “Innovation in Scholarly Communication” (ICIS)

University of California, Davis


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Abstract: Although physical archives were never intended to be input only places,  archives are often  defined as places where one “deposits” materials, scholars do so at the end of their careers or their families do upon the end of the academics life. Archives are endings. Over the last ten years with digital tools and platforms that rely on and privilege user-generated content growing in popularity, the process and practices of curation as imagined within the digital landscape have been linked to outward facing, export process and practices. Indeed the read/write and input/export model is undone in the new workflow models for digital curation and digital archiving practices where viewing, displaying and remixing archival materials becomes more central. However, both online and offline, the act of looking and the necessity of seeing are privileged.
The aesthetic experience is defined by the ability and expectation of seeing the archival materials–art, culture, history, etc. Viewing provides pleasure and the aesthetic experience is valued in and of itself as conferring knowledge on those who engage with its form. What if this experience were interrupted by practices and protocols of not seeing? In Australia, Aboriginal practices of masking, deleting, defaming and hiding images, objects, and artifacts based on cultural protocols disrupt the act of looking and the privileging of display as a precursor to knowledge acquisition. Digital archive platforms and new online exhibits define a different mode of knowledge making and circulation. This presentation explores Mukurtu CMS ( as one avenue for understanding the ethics of aesthetics in digital spaces and a new model of curation that follows.

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