Preserving Counter-Narratives and The Racial Imaginary Institute

By EmmaKarin

The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center

The Racial Imaginary Institute speaking at the Schomburg Center

The lights dim in the Langston Hughes Auditorium within the Schomburg Center located on Malcolm X Boulevard. A short video entitled, “What is the Schomburg Center?” begins to roll and the voice of Shola Lynch, curator of the center’s Moving Image and Recorded Sound Division, booms, “it is the place where we come to see who we are. Not just some body’s reflection of who we are.” This is the true theme of center as well as of the evening. We are here to celebrate the launch of The Racial Imaginary Institute (TRII) website, a new type of art archive founded by poet and MacArthur fellow Claudia Rankine. Rankine and Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks are moderating a discussion between two artists featured in the archive, Alexandra Bell and Hank Willis Thomas. The website is one of the first steps for the institute, which will collaborate with organizations, collectives and spaces to confront the concept of race through, the activation of interdisciplinary work and a democratized exploration” (The Racial Imaginary Institute).

The first web issue focuses on “constructions, deconstructions, and visualizations of/around whiteness, white identity, white rage/fragility/violence, and white dominant structures” (The Racial Imaginary Institute). Whiteness as the first theme was ­­­­­deliberate, investigating white dominance and “America’s commitment to whiteness” says Rankine, is the first step in dismantling racism and the concept of race. The website will collect submissions throughout the year and is capable of hosting all types of media. This will allow for a variety of voices to be heard across artistic disciplines to show different manifestations of lived experience within the dominant structures of whiteness.

'Tulsa Man' by Alexandra Bell

‘Tulsa Man’ by Alexandra Bell

“I don’t think I will ever live in a post-racial society,” says Alexandra Bell. A graduate of Columbia’s Journalism school Bell professes that it mostly, “made [her] a very snobby reader.” She critiques the latent racism within journalism through creating counter-narratives by editing articles from The New York Times, enlarging them tenfold and wheat pasting them in public spaces throughout New York City, predominantly Brooklyn. Her most well-known work is “A Teenager with Promise” a commentary of the inept coverage by the paper over Michael Brown’s murder. Her pieces are diptychs with one panel featuring a redacted and edited copy of the original article noting the language choices that sustain the dominant white narrative; the second panel is her visual representation of the more accurate counter-narrative.

'Absolut Power' by Hank Willis Thomas

‘Absolut Power’ by Hank Willis Thomas

“Race is the most successful advertising campaign of all time,” Hank Willis Thomas tells the audience. Thomas is a conceptual artist whose body of work intersects on ideas of identity, commodity, and pop culture. He believes that “black identity” is fabricated, co-opted and capitalized upon by whiteness. Most known for his series B®anded consisting of manipulated photographs to explore themes of the black body as a commodity from the time of slavery to the present day. One of his most striking pieces is Absolut Power, a play on the Absolut vodka ad campaigns, filling the iconic bottle’s silhouette with the diagram of the Brooke’s slave ship.

“Through archives, the past is controlled[,]” Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook remind us, “[c]ertain stories are privileged and others marginalized” (1). The institution of the archive “represents enormous power over memory and identity, over the fundamental ways in which society seeks evidence of what its core values are and have been, where it has come from, and where it is going” (Schwartz and Cook 1). These are the exact issues the institute sets out to tackle. Racism is a social construct, it is built upon privilege and power that is either overt or subconcious. When a police officer shoots a black man his defense most often that he was afraid. But afraid of what? White dominance has controlled the narrative surrounding black bodies since we kidnapped them from their homes and enslaved them here on our soil. We have allowed this narrative to continue unchecked actively and passively in all corners of society. In archives specifically, it can be seen in the collection process. It is not uncommon to search records under the “Black History” heading only to find files filled with solely caricature advertising, gruesome accounts of lynching, or similar narratives that place people of color as the victimized other. These narrow collections focus on “Black History” from a controlled white perspective.

As a writer and scholar of African history and diaspora, Arturo Schomburg, for whom the center is dedicated, came up against many who were quick to say that people of color had no history. He went on to amass the largest collection of artifacts and records of black history to preserve the history and culture which society deemed illegitimate. He strove to preserve the range of black experiences, from excellence to exploitation, rather than focusing on the suffering and stereotypes. That to him was not African history it was the history of white dominance and oppression. Because of his legacy ­­­­we have the records that are the literal actual narrative of black experience and not just what white archivist and society have deemed the acceptable history.

The Racial Imaginary Institute seeks to expound upon the ideas of Shomburg by collecting and creating a “deep memory archive” (Brooks) of artistic manifestations of lived experience. It will serve to capture not just our history past, but also our history current. This is a pointed effort to start the conversation now rather than wait for our future historians to interpret the evidence. This is a new way of collecting and disseminating information through active community participation that will circumvent the power still held in the institution of the archive.

The Racial Imaginary Institute

The Racial Imaginary Institute

Works Referenced:“About the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.”, New York Public Library ,

Charlton, Lauretta. “Claudia Rankine’s Home for the Racial Imaginary.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 19 June 2017,

Félix, Doreen St. “The.” The New Yorker, The New Yorker, 31 July 2017,

“HANK WILLIS THOMAS, BRANDED.” Jack Shainman Gallery, Jack Shainman Gallery, Artist page.

Rankine, Claudia, Dr. LeRonn P. Brooks, Alexandra Bell, and Hank Willis Thomas. “Artist and the Archive: Deconstructing Racial Imagination at the Schomburg” New York Public Library Schomburg Center. 515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York. 26 Sept. 2017. Artist Panel Discussion.

Schwartz, Joan M, and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science : International Journal on Recorded Information. (2002). Print.

“The Racial Imaginary Institute.” The Racial Imaginary Institute, The Racial Imaginary Institute,


A New Kind of History Museum: The People’s Archive of Black History Through Personal Artifacts

By MiaBathke

As knowledge acquirers, we often put faith in libraries and museums to provide us with a full detail of history as it happened. We often expect that these institutions are giving us honest and unbiased accounts of history through objects and artifacts. The architecture of the buildings themselves often assist us in these conclusions as well, with grandiose columns and entryways, built above street level in gleaming white marble, an almost religious agora of information archived on pristine white pedestals. Justifiably, we expect our institutions of knowledge to provide us with knowledge.  But what happens when the history kept in these castles is biased, or incomplete? What if the full history is too troubling to admit to and never gets represented?

This problem has been addressed countless times by those in the information profession. Sharon MacDonald for example writes of difficult heritage in her article,” Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?: Why Public Acknowledgment of Past Perpetration May No Longer Be So Unsettling to Collective Identities.” She writes the article in reference specifically to WWII and The Holocaust but the themes of of hidden or shameful history still apply to America and how we look at slavery.

Slavery is that difficult heritage for America. History books, museums, our culture, all talk about slavery as if it happened in a dark distant past of our timeline instead of being interspersed with the invention of the telegraph, and the post office as well as public schools. Like WWII in MacDonald’s article, American slavery is, “[past] ‘recognised as meaningful in the present but that [is] also contested and awkward for public reconciliation with a positive, self-affirming contemporary identity’” (MacDonald 1). As such, it is awkward and uncomfortable to take responsibility for a horrible and tragic part of a country’s own history while still retaining some iota of patriotism and still identifying with a troubling origin. A new museum in Washington D.C. aims to nullify the divide between African American History and White American History by by putting on display objects from our country’s troubling past.

In 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) opened its doors to the public as the 19th installment of the Smithsonian museums. NMAAHC boasts a collection of over 36,000 artifacts from over as many patrons. The collection is comprised of national treasures like James Baldwin’s passport and Nat Turner’s Bible to items from the closet of the Everyman like old photographs, protest posters, and military medals. What’s best about the collection, apart from its eclectic nature, is that the entirety of said collection is catalogued online on the museum’s website that is easily searchable and requires neither a ticket nor a trip to D.C.

Preparations are finalized for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. (Associated Press: Susan Walsh)

Preparations are finalized for the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 14, 2016. (Associated Press: Susan Walsh)

The museum itself structurally functions differently than the traditional history museum. The floor on which a patron starts their excursion through the exhibits is rooted in the soil of the Mall. The exhibitions flow chronologically from past to present, bottom to top, and begin with slavery poignantly buried in the soil of America’s capital, literally and metaphorically laying the foundation for the rest of history to come (Cotter 1). The artifacts range from a child-sized set of iron cuffs to a full sized slave cabin, traumatic and real, the museum also employs rest areas and counselors to speak with, should the presentation of this history become too much. Later in the New York Times article about the museum, Holland Cotter explains, “Its second level, “The Segregation Era,” gives valuable attention to the topic of black entrepreneurship, about which many Americans probably know little. But what stops you in your tracks is the sight of a white satin Ku Klux Klan hood, shimmery and soiled, sitting in a case with photographs of lynchings on display nearby.” The exhibits through formatting and acquisition are carefully curated to not tip the scales of pitied tragedy one way or ignorant optimism the other. The museum director and curators lay out the exhibitions in such a way that they present fully the hardships and successes of black people in America again without falling too far one way or another. Part of what makes this balance possible is the means by which they acquire their artifacts. Prior to the opening of the museum, objects were collected through an antiques roadshow-esque trek around the country. Michele Norris describes the excursion, “They began their work a decade ago believing that many of the artifacts, documents, and treasures that would reveal the story of African Americans were secreted in basements, attics, garages, and storage trunks. Items with high monetary value might be in the hands of collectors, but the curators had a hunch that many with great significance were still undiscovered, because many museums have overlooked black history.” (Norris).

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography

Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of African American History and Culture Architectural Photrography

Joan M. Schwartz and Terry Cook address the problem Norris points out of black history being overlooked by museums in their, “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory” article. “Archives are social constructs. Their origins lie in the information needs and social values of the rulers, governments, businesses, associations, and individuals who establish and maintain them” (3) Like archives, a museum’s content is structured by the establishment that maintains it. Materials are acquired via wealthy donors or notable patrons. The NMAAHC decided to create an updated collective memory of American history by forgoing traditional acquisition and asking regular people to submit objects that they felt held historical significance. Again, Michele Norris says it best,  “At their best, museums help us understand and interpret our complex world by illuminating history and influencing attitudes. That becomes a challenge when we must examine our darkest episodes. Any society scarred by war, genocide, famine, displacement, or slavery must decide what to remember and how to remember. Individual memory is one thing, but collective memory stretches across generations and helps define a nation’s character” (Norris).

The NMAAHC contributes to a wider cultural collective memory of America’s history by calling upon African American people to submit their own bits of history, items that may have otherwise been overlooked as historically significant. The museum puts the control of representation back into the hands of the common people while at the same time giving African American history a platform usually reserved for White America. In doing so, they address America’s most difficult heritage in a way that is informative, has a wide scope, is real, and is not as influenced by what archives or wealthy donors already have. The museum created a new archive of our history that is completely accessible and completely legible even without the trip to Washington. And in enlisting the help of the public to submit artifacts, the museum truly did acquire treasures in the archives of family homes both in the physical form and in the form of a well- rounded knowledge of a difficult past.


Macdonald, Sharon. “Is ‘Difficult Heritage’ Still ‘Difficult’?” Museum International, vol. 67, no. 1-4, 2015, pp. 6–22., doi:10.1111/muse.12078.
 All Artifacts from the Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, et al. “Black America’s Story, Told Like Never Before.” National Geographic, 15 Sept. 2016, Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.
 Cotter, Holland. “Review: The Smithsonian African American Museum Is Here at Last. And It Uplifts and Upsets.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2016, Accessed 25 Sept. 2017.
 Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. “Archives, records, and power: The making of modern memory.” Archival Science, vol. 2, no. 1-2, 2002, pp. 1–19., doi:10.1007/bf02435628.
Times, The New York. “The National Museum of African American History and Culture.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Sept. 2016, Accessed 26 Sept. 2017.

Protected: A Night in the UN Global Pulse Data Playground

By rdaniell

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“With great data comes great responsibility” – Data for Good Exchange 2017

By chinos

Bloomberg the popular Data organization in New York,  hosted its yearly Data For Good Exchange conference on  Sunday, Sept 24th, 2017. The theme for the event was “With great data comes great responsibility” focusing on how data can be used to solve public interest problems. The event was gathered by professionals from different walks of life currently using, interested or curious about data. Also, diverse speakers from different sectors of the society shared how data is being applied currently in their various fields. The day opened with passionate keynote speakers sharing current  applications of data to assist in hopeful research for cures for various health issues to recent uses of data in forwarding social causes like gun control regulations. John Kahan, General Manager, Customer Data & Analytics Microsoft, gave an emotional opening presentation on his quest to combat SID (Sudden Infant Death) based on the death of his baby son, Aaron 14 years ago. John has partnered with SIDs Research Fellow fund at Seattle Children’s Hospital to support their cause, he explained the important role data is playing and can play in providing information to help combat SIDs. The other Keynote speaker was Sarah Tofte, Director or Research and Implementation at Everytown, for Gun Safety. Sarah shared on the role data played in helping create policy’s for implementation of good gun laws across the country. The rest of the day was packed with different break out sessions and topics geared towards current initiatives and breakthroughs with data. 


Chinos Bloomberg pic 2



Other topics that were discussed ranged from Building Open data Dashboards for hyper local government, to topics on Ethics and Fairness when it comes to using data in society to influence policy, still  other topics touched upon were in the health sector. While there was so much said by diverse speakers overall recurring themes throughout the conference was the importance and challenge of ground truth data, data that wasn’t biased and trustworthy data. Each speaker reflected on situations that had required the above stated themes in different scenarios the importance of them and their effects in the outcomes of research due to the enabling power or lack thereof of in each circumstance. Like in the case of NYC 311 and regulating the data that was coming in through various media outlet to make informed decisions in creating timely solutions.  Also  during the presentation for Fairness – Aware Predictive Analytics in Child Protective Services: Development, Validation and Implementation, the speakers mentioned challenges where the data received was biased in regards to certain races in some circumstances  and also mentioned how in other cases data had enabled them to increase number of children that had been helped from predictive data that they had employed into their preventive process.

In another session Data driven resilience, one of the speakers Allen Estivalet of WSP an architectural construction company in NYC,  spoke on resourcefulness of data to predict potential erosion areas in construction paths but also the challenges and constraints of not being able to use best data for quality control due to time to validate and vet data with traditional superpowers and stakeholders  in the industry. Which led to his point that data and it’s visualization is a crucial tool in the early stages of projects to help stakeholders see the importance of decisions that need to be made and what to prioritize. Also being cognizant of restrictions due to standards from government and how data can help bring government up to speed with  modern techniques of doing things.

Overall the event topics seemed to correlate with the topics and conversations that take place in the LIS 654 Information and profession course and the Data Analytics and Visualization program at Pratt Institute. The Bloomberg event was created to educate and demonstrate how data is being used for social good across many sectors here in our city, state and the world at large. The  idea of information, its recording and use in society and how it has and continues to impact us  is important to promote the how and why of what is being done. This manifestation and clarity of importance helps make the case during policy making and other situations where there is need for justification of the application and relevance of data. It was impressive to experience the discussions as well as see first hand  at this event from a wide array of industry professionals currently in the information field, how Information topics like archiving, records and methodologies used in research and other topics discussed in class were being used.  The conversations that have occurred in the LIS 654 course class have been focused on information, how it has been generated over the years and archived and most especially its role in society. The understanding of how information has impacted culture has also been touched upon and with the rise of the digital age and also the impact digital media has in restructuring traditional ways of recording and archiving information. Through the years information has had the  power to shape societies at large. Moving forward, it will be imperative to take a look at how data and information is being handled and explore if these techniques are still up to date and can meet the need. And also how best  to capture and deploy all this information being harnessed at an unbelievable rate viable ways. Also other things to think of is the way data is being archived, will these be viable methods in the next 15 to 20 years?

With the increase of Big data being generated from multiple media outlets the challenge remains how all this data can be collected, processed and manipulated in a fair way to create lasting positive impact and change across our societies. To achieve this there will need to be increase in avenues where data can presented and collected to and from all stakeholders in an understandable way so they can understand the importance of data and make proper use of the information generated from it. To this effort, while there are many unanswered questions to data, its generation and possible applications, it is encouraging to see like minded professionals gather to reason and push towards a world with more answers for questions being asked with the aid of data.


Information Consumption: The Do’s and Dont’s

By armgar

In Digital Disconnect, Robert McChesney presents the regard of the press by the founders of the United States of America as the system that is meant to inform the public and expose officials of any crimes against humanity (2003). He gives rise to the notion of the public moving away from gathering such knowledge from traditional sources, like the press system, to the Internet (McChesney 2013). How are we, the actual public sphere, to fare in this time of Critical Juncture? Don’t log off just yet; keep that browser window open and library card. Follow closely on your path to do-it-yourself-consumption of knowledge.

Do Think Before You Consume
Marija Dalbello warns that collecting and publicly exposing information, especially cultural heritage, will result in appropriation and in the transformation of those traditions (Dalbello 2009). Not everything or everyone is willing to be discovered. Or is it?

Do Cite Your Sources
According to CIS experts, it’s impossible to work around copyright and distribution systems (Vaidhyanthan 2006). So don’t double-think it. Just cite it.

Do Share
Retaining rights for your research should result in equal and opposite reactions. Copyright laws protect your work. Sharing the license means that you can change the way commercial industry controls creativity. You can help to shape culture and the essence of copyright (Vaidhyanathan 2006). While we may not know the exact measure of impact, Benkler will argue that sharing and keeping content open is also an opportunity for freedom from borders (Benkler 2006).

Don’t Over/Under Estimate Value
Well you have to, but leave that up to the experts. This group of experts “increasingly discover focus upon context” (Schwartz and Cook 2002). Context is where the true value lies.

Do Question Everything
As Queer Theory proposes, we have to remove evidence of bias from institutions. This is the only way you are going to gain power on how to consume in a just manner. Use evidence as backing (Drabinski 2013).

Don’t Think You Can Apologize Later
No one is listening to you at this point. 


Benkler, Yochai. “The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.” Yale University Press. 2006. Accessed September 3, 2017.

Dalbello, Marija. (2009). “Digital Cultural Heritage: Concepts, Projects, and Emerging Constructions of Heritage.” Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA) conference, 25-30 May, 2009. Accessed September 18, 2017.

Drabinski, Emily. “Queering the Catalog: Queer Theory and the Politics of Correction.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, Vol. 83, No. 2 (April 2013), pp. 94-111. Accessed September 6, 2017.

McChesney, Robert W. “Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy.” 2013. Accessed September 3, 2017.

Schwartz, Joan M. and Cook, Terry. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2 (2002), pp 1–19. Accessed September 6, 2017.

Vaidhyanathan, Siva. “Afterword: Critical Information Studies.” Cultural Studies Vol. 20, Nos 2 /3 March/May 2006, pp. 292 /315. Accessed September 3, 2017.

New Technology for the Preservation of Memories

By dgallomc

Where did you find the strength to survive Auschwitz? What’s your most vivid memory of the war? What happened to the rest of your family?

Imagine being able to ask a Holocaust survivor these and many other questions. Now imagine your great grandchildren being able to do the same, decades after the last survivor has passed away from old age. A new virtual storytelling installation that allows people to interact with Holocaust survivors attempts to combat the effects of time in the chronicles of personal narratives and memories.

New Dimensions in Testimony, a collaboration between the USC Shoah Foundation and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies, in partnership with Conscience Display, allows future generations the opportunity to interview and interact with Holocaust survivors through virtual platforms. Through thousands of pre-recorded answers, the installation, currently being displayed at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, yields insights into the experiences of Holocaust survivors by means of shared dialogue between learners and two survivors who sit on red chairs behind flat screen monitors. Currently, museum visitors can interact with Anne Frank’s stepsister Eva Schloss and Pinchas Gutter, a survivor of six German Nazi concentration camps. Visitors can ask questions in real-time that trigger relevant, spoken responses (“New Dimensions in Testimony℠ — Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust”). These interactive dialogues create a new kind of record that takes the possibilities of preserving cultural heritage to a new level.

New Dimensions in Testimony - Museum of Jewish Heritage

New Dimensions in Testimony – Museum of Jewish Heritage

Although the definition of a record is widely debated, throughout this article I use Shannon Faulkhead’s pluralistic definition from Caswell’s “The Archive” is Not An Archives as any account, regardless of form, that preserves memory or knowledge of facts and events. A record can be a document, an individual’s memory… an actual person, a community or the land itself (p. 5).

The New Dimensions in Testimony installation is altering the art of storytelling for the purpose of archiving and preserving cultural heritage through its use of first person narrative, lifelike visuals, and interactive real-time responses. Although records of Holocaust survivors’ experiences have been widely collected, maintained, and archived in the past, this installation removes any distance and ambiguity between the storyteller and his audience. The installation itself is an archive and the memories shared its records—it is up to the visitor to discover the myriad of answers and memories they hold by asking questions. Through intimate visual, auditory and spatial storytelling, the installation allows survivors to revisit and communicate their own remembrances. Doing so enlightens the collective memory and creates perspectives of personal tragedies, resilience during the war, and even their present lives.

Creating New Dimensions in Testimony

Creating New Dimensions in Testimony

The installation’s value, that which represents some important aspect of the past for present and future users (Caswell, p. 8) lays in the ability of the memories to transcend time; it lays in the engagement fostered through virtual dialogue and facilitated by the technology. It is not the technology itself that makes the installation valuable, but the experiences being transported within it that allow the public to acquire these memories from the subjects themselves, possibly maintaining survivors’ memories alive, well past their material lives.

Although these survivors’ memories can now be kept alive through intimate and virtual dialogues, one must not forget the moral responsibility of creating these installations. According to Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, chief curator of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews in Warsaw, she hopes that future technological advances don’t overshadow the survivors themselves, stating that “What’s beautiful about this installation is that the survivors are front and center, they are charismatic and what they have to say is utterly compelling. (Matthews, 2017). Thus, computer scientists, archivists, and curators involved in creating these installations must continue to keep the value of their work front of mind, focusing foremost on representing the survivors and the memories, for of educative and experiential purposes.

For example, when Schloss and Gutter were filmed and recorded, several cameras were used to one day be able to represent these figures three-dimensionally. It is imperative that as technologies evolve, their stories and those of others in the future, whether two or three-dimensionally, continue to be told to advance historical understanding and remembrance. The focus of future installations must not be technology-centric in order to avoid deteriorating the subject’s memories and stories. It is crucial that the technologies not overshadow the context of the installation, but instead support the subjects’ memories to continue to provide historical understanding of a culture’s heritage.

Dialogue in New Dimensions in Testimony

Dialogue in New Dimensions in Testimony

As this sort of interactive storytelling technology becomes a more prominent way of preserving and disseminating digital cultural heritage, institutions, curators, and their teams might encounter obstacles pertaining to ownership and distribution of information. Although these institutions own the technology, can the memories and stories told by survivors be classified as proprietary? Specifically, will institutions claim them as their property, licensing and centrally controlling individuals’ memories and journeys? Additionally, as the technology evolves, will institutions disseminate the information to make it more widely available to schools, libraries and universities or will it be kept under lock and key only to be seen at curated installations? Although this technology advances the art of storytelling, lack of access for certain communities could limit its impact on preservation of cultural heritage.

Overall, New Dimensions in Testimony transforms the art of verbal storytelling from an ephemeral experience to a verbal, visual and spatial archive of stories and memories direct from the source. Such archives and records have the ability to change the concept of time and space by allowing the permanence of the interactions to exist into the future, way past the material lives of the subjects. According to Schwartz and Cook (2002), these spaces are the loci of power of the present to control what the future will know of the past (p. 13). Lack of access, though, can hinder its potential in preserving digital cultural heritage. It is the institutions that create such technologies that decide how much access they’ll give the public and in turn determine the real effects of using technology for fostering personal narrative and preserving a culture’s history.



New Dimensions in Testimony℠ — Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Caswell, M. (Caswell, “The Archive” is Not An Archives: Acknowledging the Intellectual Contributions of Archival Studies. Reconstruction Vol. 16, No 1

Matthews, K. (2017, September 18). Exhibit allows virtual ‘interviews’ with Holocaust survivors. Retrieved from‘interviews’-with-Holocaust-survivors

Schwartz, J.M., & Cook, T. (2002). Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory. Archival Science


How Online Notices Obscure Privacy and Ownership on the Web

By Matt Bishop

In an information age dominated by digital content, contemporary leisure is conducted on the very same machines once intended solely for work. Personal computers connected to the internet have made many individuals into seemingly nonstop information-producing machines without pay. While we may very well consider the average internet surfer as a consumer of digital information, we actually produce almost as much information as we consume through the creation of Facebook posts, tweets, YouTube comments, emails, and from browsing data that is automatically produced every time a page is opened. This content is often produced within websites that come with no monetary cost for their users to access (i.e. after purchasing a computer and a connection to the internet) and their users’ creations almost always come with no monetary rewards. While some sites do reward their content producers with ad revenue (e.g. YouTube has such rewards for users that post popular videos to its site), incredible amounts of digital content produced without monetary rewards create an unsettling problem. Online notices are often used to rescind a users’ rights to their digital content, eliminating privacy and transferring digital ownership often without the user’s knowledge (McChesney 150-152).


Establishing Ownership: Agreements and Notices

There exists a simple concept to signify online ownership of information: the agreement. An agreement on a website usually includes a notice in the form of a popup window or as a page during a profile setup that establishes, usually in legal language, the terms and conditions of a user’s access to a web domain. These terms and conditions describe how the company that runs the web domain can use the information that a user creates – even information that the user is not aware of creating. On the same page as a notice, there is typically an “agree or disagree” option: pressing “agree” grants the user access to the site while pressing “disagree” blocks access. As described, this particular type of online agreement is called an opt-in/opt-out agreement; more specifically, a click-wrap agreement. These agreements include an exorbitant amount of text wrapped down a page that must be scrolled to view in its entirety and are typically responded to by the user without actually having been read. The offline predecessor to this agreement is the shrink-wrap agreement, of which the terms and conditions take effect after the shrink wrap on a box is broken by the recipient. However, some sites today still use an online form of the shrink-wrap agreement called the browse-wrap agreement (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”). If a site ever includes a banner that contains text that equates your use of the site with your consent to its privacy policy, an example of which can be seen in Figure 1.0 below, you have consented to a browse-wrap agreement. In most cases, these click-wrap, shrink-wrap, and browse-wrap agreements are considered sufficient enough by to inform users of how a company will use their information.

Figure 1.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement ("The Origin of Click-Wrap").

Figure 1.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”).

When scrolling through a timeline on Facebook or through your friends’ tweets on Twitter, you have already agreed to allow sites to track your interactions and use your digital creations. In short, you do not typically own the content that you produce on these sites because you either knowingly or unknowingly gave the companies that own the web domains ownership over your creations and shared data.


Why Do We Give Away Our Information?

It seems reasonable to assume that individuals would generally like to keep their digital privacy and ownership over their creations (McChesney 152). Giving away our digital labor for free, even if done through leisure, does not make much sense. It would appear counter-intuitive for so many people to give up these things every day, but this is exactly what happens. There are a few possible reasons that I find for this: (a) existing online agreements include notices that provide either poor discoverability or poor understandability, (b) users cannot properly assess their own value for privacy and ownership at the time of the agreement, and (c) users want instant access to sites regardless of what they are sacrificing.

Poor Discoverability & Understandability

Poorly placed notices are easy to find online. The position of the browse-click agreement notice from Figure 1.0 can be seen in Figure 2.0 below. This notice is placed at the bottom of the web page with a gray background that closely matches the gray colors of the banners near the top of the page. It neither blocks the user from reading or interacting with the content on the page nor does it attract the user’s attention. This notice is not easily discoverable by a user, and so, consent to its contents may be established without the user’s knowledge.

Figure 2.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement on a web page ("The Origin of Click-Wrap").

Figure 2.0: Example of a shrink-wrap agreement positioned on a web page (“The Origin of Click-Wrap”).

Oftentimes, notices are simply not understandable to the average user. Notices used for click-wrap agreements are typically long and include legal language. A frustrated user in a hurry might not have the patience to look up legal jargon and spend the time reading multiple pages of text about terms and conditions of use. Even when we know that we are consenting to an agreement online, we may not have the knowledge, or time, to fully understand it.

The Wrong Context

Similar to how lengthy notices are hard to understand because of how long it takes for a user to read them, notices that appear for agreements early in a user’s interaction with a site (typically during registration) do not allow a user to properly assess their importance. For example, it is hard to understand why you might be concerned about how Facebook will use your post of a video to its site before you even learn how to create a Facebook post. Two possible solutions for this problem are just-in-time and visceral notices. A just-in-time notice, as seen in Figure 3.0 below, is a notice that asks for an agreement at the time when a user’s privacy would be intruded or when ownership of content may be transferred (Young, “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report”).

Figure 3.0: An example of a just-in-time notice ().

Figure 3.0: Example of a just-in-time notice (Young, “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report”).

A visceral notice, which may be easier to include when too many just-in-time notices would be required, is a notice that allows a user to experience its contents (Hagan, “Visceral Notice Types”). The reason behind using a visceral notice is that information may be better understood when it is experienced. In the example used earlier of a Facebook post of a video, this may involve a walkthrough of the creation of a Facebook post with the inclusion of clear descriptions, with diagrams, about how that information will be shared with other parties. Just-in-time and visceral notices help provide context about privacy intrusions and ownership transfers of digital content where typical notices provide none.

Instant Access

When a user opens a web page, they intend to use that page immediately. A notice provides a block to that use, a constraint to experiencing the page. The internet, as opposed to a library or museum, seems to promise users quick access to information. When a notice warning of privacy intrusion and ownership transfers appears on a web page, a user will likely have no patience for it. In addition to a user’s drive for instant access on the internet, social and professional pressures to access sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn further encourage users to click through agreement notices in order to access sites quickly. While this may seem like the fault of an individual, their prevalence in society points more to a social trend, something that can be easily profited off of by an aware domain owner. Pairing this knowledge with poor contexts and poor discoverability and understanding for a notice allows for most users to quickly disregard their right to privacy and ownership of personal information.


Looking Forward

Enhancing digital privacy and users’ rights to ownership of their digital creations in the U.S. will require legal pressures that protect user data to be strengthened, especially with regards to Section 5(a) of the FTC Act which states that “unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce…are…declared unlawful” (“A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade”). Profit-driven domain owners have no reason to better design their notices in the ways that I have described above when they are profiting off of a user’s inability to find or understand them. Another concern, however, is that access to certain sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, could be lost if privacy and ownership agreements were better understood by their users. Our free access to sites is often dependent on a domain owner’s ability to sell our content and interactions to ad companies. Nevertheless, from a consumer standpoint, users should be able to decide on their own whether or not sacrificing their privacy and ownership of digital content is worth the access to a specific site – with full knowledge of the consequences of their actions.


Works Cited

“A Brief Overview of the Federal Trade Commission’s Investigative and Law Enforcement Authority.” Federal Trade Commission, Jul. 2008, Accessed 24 Sep. 2017.

Hagan, Margaret. “Visceral Notice Types.” The Program for Legal Tech & Design, Accessed 25 September 2017.

McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York, The New Press, 2014.

“The Origin of Click-Wrap: Software Shrink-Wrap Agreements.” WilmerHale, 22 Mar. 2000, Accessed 24 September 2017.

Young, Michael. “The FTC Mobile Privacy Staff Report.” Data Privacy Monitor. BakerHostetler LLP, 11 Feb. 2013, Accessed 25 Sep. 2017.


“Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalogue” – ASIS&T Webinar

By Elise Fu

On Sep 20, Prof. Charles-Antoine from McGill’s School of Information Studies was invited by ASIS&T (Association for Information Science and Technology) to present at the webinars “Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalog”. Prof. Julien talked about the benefits of Information Visualization (IV), The Visualization Process, Current Library Catalogues, IV for Library Management, the barriers in libraries and the expectations for future generation catalogue.

It is a good learning about the development and potential of information visualization in academic space, as well as a good reflection and reminder about how to make information more accessible to the public.

The Benefits of Information Visualization

Prof. Julien pointed out the benefits of IV are to help users easily find, analyze and connect the information matters to them, also “makes the data accessible to all users, not just those who possess advanced analytic skills” (Chen, 2017), which is in line with the viewpoint of how the networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals (Benkler, 2006).

ASIS&T Webinars - “Information Visualization for the Future Generation Catalogue”


Today people tend to actively search, analyze, learn and communicate information as individuals, no matter what kind of technical and academic background they have. This is one of the biggest impetus for today’s social progress because everyone is trying to make a difference. Therefore, the improvement of information visualization of the library catalogue, making the information more discoverable, accessible and usable will be very meaningful for the society from every aspect.

The Barriers and Gap

In the presentation, Prof. Julien shared some screenshots of several library catalogues. Surprisingly, many of them haven’t changed a lot for the last ten years. If we think about how the internet evolves in the last ten years, it is actually hard to believe the stagnation. Prof. Julien explained it majorly from a technical perspective. From data parsing/filtering, mining to front-end design and development, it requires complicated skills and massive collaborations to conduct all the works.

NCSU Libraries (the standard) 2007 vs 2017U of Washington - 2007 vs 2017

Obviously, there is a gap between the world of business and academic. Separate the two and keep them independent may benefit the academic integrity, but is that hindering the process of making information more accessible to everyone? As Prof. Julien mentioned, in the current library catalogues, “the relationships between topics are ignored”, and “a small number of the most popular search queries accounts for a disproportionate amount of the overall queries”, thus it there anything the academic organizations can learn from the business world, such as using meta tag and user-generated tags? Or is there any way we can leverage the power of peer production like the practice of Wikipedia?

Google Books Library Project is an ambitious attempt although it seems doesn’t go well now and facing some controversial accusation, but maybe it is worthy if they can improve the query functions with their expertise. In the current era, libraries may need to go out and try to involve the public into their practices of creating or communicating information. For example, the Library of Congress turned to Flickr to present its photographic heritage material which receives surprisingly massive views. “This practice leads to image collections searchable and viewable through an identical interface for each institution and favored by the public.” (Dalbello, 2009) For library catalogues, the “social cataloging” website Goodreads might be a good place to learn and cooperate.

The Future

“We believe that the OPAC (online public access catalog) is dead. (Kortekaas, Kramer, 2014)” is an outstanding headline of one of the presentation slides, Prof. Julien further mentioned and cited “We will move away from an institutional catalogue and set of subscribed databases to ‘managing our imprint on shared global discovery systems’.” (Booth, S McDonald, B Tiffen, 2010)

Integration and globalization are two terms and trends happening in almost every industry, then how will they look like in libraries? We can see some libraries are exploring the ways of information visualization for their catalogues or library management system, although it is not perfect yet. As in anywhere else, the rule of “a little progress each day adds up to big results” should also be applied to here.

Laatest Generation CataloguesHarvard Library Explorer

It may be worthwhile for libraries to reconsider and redefine its relationship with its information or collections, and the relationship with the public. If the goal is to make the information more accessible to everyone, then the public should be able to participate the practices of creating information visualization – because that’s the spirit of the internet.



[1] Chen, HM. (2017) Information Visualization Meets Libraries. – Library Technology Reports.

[2] Benkler, Y. (2006). “Introduction: a moment of opportunity and challenge” in The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets andFreedom University Press, 1–18.

[3] 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 May, 2009.)

[4] Kortekaas, S., & Kramer, B. (2014). Thinking the unthinkable – doing away with the library catalogue. Insights.

[5] Booth, M., S McDonald, B Tiffen. (2010). A new vision for university libraries: towards 2015. – VALA2010 15th Biennial

Computers, A.I., and the Human Brain

By asrp

Donald Norman, writer and computer science researcher, has emphasized throughout his writings that the key to good design is understandability. But what does understandability mean when talking about the complex technology people are increasingly relying on? In his 1998 publication The Invisible Computer, Norman criticizes the complexity of technology and states that “the dilemma facing us is the horrible mismatch between requirements of these human-built machines and human capabilities. Machines are mechanical, we are biological.” Humans are creative and flexible, we interpret the world around us (often with very little information). We deal with approximations, not the accuracy of computers, and we are prone to error. Norman at first seems to be pitting technology and humans against each other, technology (digital) is precise and rigid, whereas humans (analog) are flexible and adaptive, and raises the question of who/what should dominate, the human or the machine? His conclusion is that computers and humans work well together, that we complement each other, but that we need to move away from the current machine-centered view, and more towards a human-centered approach, making technology more flexible to human requirements. Now almost twenty years later, we are witnessing an evolution in computers, the rise of Artificial Intelligence. To make way for A.I., large internet companies are starting to look towards human biology in the new makeup of computers. In his writing Norman calls on strategies to make the relationship between humans and computers a more cooperative one. Does the current technological evolution mean that those calls have been answered?

Norman compares the computer and the human brain: computers are constructed to perform reliably, accurately, and consistently, all within one main machine, whereas the human brain is much more complex in its computations through the workings of vast amounts of neurons. Outlined in a recent article, “Chips Off the Old Block: Computers Are Taking Design Cues From Human Brains” by Cade Metz, tech companies are starting to realize that due to the decline of Moore’s law, progress is no longer about upgrading the current traditional “single, do-it-all chip – the central processing unit”, it’s about needing more computing power, needing more computers. Traditional chips cannot handle the massive amounts of data to accommodate new technological research like that of A.I. As a new method, specialized chips are being created to work alongside the C.P.U., offloading some of the computing power to various smaller chips. Spreading the work across many tiny chips, makes the machine similar to the brain in energy-efficiency.

In 2011, a top Google engineer, Jeff Dean, started exploring the concept of neural networks, “computer algorithms that could learn tasks on their own” (Metz, C.), which elevated A.I. research in voice, image, and face recognition. These neural networks are similar to our own human abilities to make sense of the world and our surroundings in order to decide what information to attend to and what to ignore. The December 2016 article by Gideon Lewis-Kraus, “The Great A.I. Awakening” details in great depth the trial and error phase in training a neural network. The neural network learns to differentiate between things such as cats, dogs, and various inanimate objects, but all while being supervised by the programmer/researcher who will often correct the machine until it starts producing the proper responses. Once a neural network is trained it can potentially recognize spoken words or faces with more accuracy than the average human. Google Brain, the department that first started working on A.I. within the company, developed the neural network training under the notion that the machine might “develop something like human flexibility” (Lewis-Kraus, G.).

In his argument of humans versus computers, Norman talks about the evolution of human language, and that “communication relies heavily upon a shared knowledge base, intentions, and goals,” resulting in a “marvelously complex structure for social interaction and communication.” But what if a machine could grasp language? A good example of machine evolution in language can be seen with Google Translate. Up until it’s major update in November 2016, Google Translate was only useful in translating basic dictionary definitions between languages. Whole sentences or passages from books would lose their meaning as the words were translated separately and not in the context of the entire passage. But once Google applied its neural network research to Google Translate, the service radically improved overnight. At a conference in London introducing the newer improved machine-translation service, Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, provided this example:

In London, the slide on the monitors behind him flicked to a Borges quote: “Uno no es lo que es por lo que escribe, sino por lo que ha leído.”

Grinning, Pichai read aloud an awkward English version of the sentence that had been rendered by the old Translate system: “One is not what is for what he writes, but for what he has read.”

To the right of that was a new A.I.-rendered version: “You are not what you write, but what you have read.” (Lewis-Kraus, G.)


With the A.I. system, Translate’s overnight improvements were “roughly equal” to the total improvements made throughout its entire previous existence.

I would argue that the development of A.I. is taking a more human-centered approach to computers than has ever been seen. The method of using neural networks comes straight from one of our greatest human abilities, which is to learn. A machine that can learn on its own is flexible, adapting to its environment. Norman brings up two different themes in human-computer relationships: one is that of which he believes society to be in (at the time of publication in 1998), the theme of making people more like technology. The other theme is “the original dream behind classical Artificial Intelligence: to simulate human intelligence,” making technology more like people. I believe we are at the gates of that dream of Artificial Intelligence, but instead of trying to make one more like the other, humans and computers are taking an approach that builds off each other’s strengths, through computer logic and human flexibility.



Norman, D. A. (1998). The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex, and Information Appliances are the Solution. MIT Press. Chapter 7: Being Analog

Metz, C. (2017). “Chips Off the Old Block: Computers Are Taking Design Cues From Human Brains.” The New York Times, September 25, 2017.

Lewis-Kraus, G. (2016). “The Great A.I. Awakening.” The New York Times, September 25, 2017.

New Dimensions of Preservation

By swarga

When does an object become information? 3D scanning has created new dimensions in the field of preservation but presents new cultural challenges. In the following I will examine the practice of 3D scanning and printing by cultural institutions, address the possibilities this process offers for preservation at large, and consider some questions that have arisen from its use.

3D scanning is now more affordable and accessible than ever before and offers the opportunity for audiences to interact with historical objects in new ways. In addition to contemplating the exciting new forms in which this technology can give the public a more active role in preservation, I believe it is important to meditate on a few issues that this process may pose. How does 3D scanning change the idea of ownership and authenticity of an object? What cultural disruptions have developed as a result of the emergence of this technology, and what has it offered solutions to?

3D technology can activate public engagement by rendering otherwise off-limits objects into digitally malleable material. Dedicated social platforms1 and cultural workshops beg the public to participate in the “consumption of heritage, and re-inscription of meanings that are transferred to heritage objects.”2 Digital surrogates of objects can give curators the chance to initiate public interaction with a collection in a more hands-on way, offering the chance to participate in the preservation of an object and safely play with historical forms. One institution that has organized this technology into a workshop is the Kunsten Museum of Modern Art Aalborg. In 2015, the museum conducted a workshop in which participants were given supervised access to original artifacts and introduced to 3D basics such as scanning, computer-editing, and 3D printing.3 Once the participants finished scanning the artifacts they took the digital models and were taught how to edit them in practical and creative ways. This workshop invoked a sense of play with history and asked those present to become digital craftsmen. As Michele Valerie Cloonan writes: “when these cultural remnants are placed into a contemporary context, something new is created.”4 A participant that was present at the workshop with his daughter re-mixed two sculptures together by taking the “hard-edged expression of Wilhelm Freddy’s Sphinx” and meshed them together with the “soft, organic features of Wiig Hansen’s Seated Woman.”5 This case is an example of how new forms of cultural production can be created from archives and collections, and foster the transmission of heritage between generations.

 Different remixes of Svend Wiig Hansen’s bronze sculpture, seen in the background.

Different remixes of Svend Wiig Hansen’s bronze sculpture, seen in the background.

In war-ridden parts of the world, however, 3D scans have become part of the discourse regarding the preservation of endangered cultural property. The war in Syria is a gruesome example of how warfare has given rise to the use of “digital technology as a tool of preservation—both real and virtual.”6 Before being destroyed by the terrorist group ISIS, the Roman arch of Palmyra was thoroughly scanned and digitized into a 3D file by a team from UCLA.7 This reaction to the deliberate erasure of history was a direct “response to the threat of destruction and loss.”8 The information from those scans were used in 2016 to 3D print a replica of the arch based two thirds of its original dimensions and was installed in New York’s City Hall Park for one week. However, the recreation was devoid of on-site contextual material and prompted mixed reactions, with some saying that it was a form “digital colonialism.”9. In an article for Forbes journalist Sarah Bond raised a critical point about the ethics of the duplicate arch:

“There … needs to be more concerted efforts to create knowledge about the object on its new site. Should the NYC public not also be toald, for instance, about how ISIS killed a celebrated Syrian antiquities expert, Khaled al-Asaad,and then hung his body from the ancient Roman columns at Palmyra? Or more about the history of the arch itself?10

3D recreations pose challenges regarding provenance, history, and how to show respect for the original.

Palmyra Arch in NYC


In international politics, 3D scans have become a central element of proposed solutions to spats between countries regarding repatriation. An ongoing dispute between the governments of the UK and Greece about the ownership of the Parthenon Marbles is to note. About thirty percent of the surviving Parthenon Marbles are held by the British Museum and have been in their permanent collection since early 19th century after being chiseled from the Acropolis and shipped to England by Lord Elgin – who had express permission from Greece’s colonial occupiers, the Ottoman Empire. 11Greece’s government and cultural institutions have been pushing the international community to recognize their repeated calls for the Elgin Marble’s repatriation to Athens. Currently, the Acropolis Museum has on display “plaster casts of the sculptures housed in London… interspersed with original pieces Elgin left behind.”12 One possible way to ease the tension might be to provide the British Museum with 3D surrogates, as Paul Mason proposes in his article “Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum.”13 An interesting idea, but possibly too idealistic in the face of such a complex problem regarding cultural property. While the calls for the statues repatriation may go unanswered for the foreseeable future, they have nevertheless created “a new kind of cultural property—a kind of meta-cultural property that represents a shared global culture that we are creating today.”14

As objects are brought over into the digital realm the possibility for a more shared and democratic global culture increases. Artifacts that would otherwise be hidden away can show their face on an illuminated screen and be remixed in multiple dimensions by the public. Endangered historical sites and objects can be captured digitally and provide a blueprint of the past if the originals are destroyed. There are many ways in which 3D scanning can aid preservation, although the issues it presents to society are even more numerous. I hope that in the future this technology will generate new types of interaction with history and give the world a more collective sense of culture.



1 Sketchfab. Accessed September 20, 2017.

2 Dalbello, Marija. “Digital Cultural Heritage: Concepts, Projects, and Emerging Constructions of Heritage.” Proceedings of the Libraries in the Digital Age (LIDA) conference, May 25 – 30, 2009, 2.

3 Jakobsen, Lise Skytte. “Flip-flopping museum objects from physical to digital – and back again.” Nordisk Museologi 1, no. S (2016): 121-37. March 7, 2016. Accessed September 20, 2017. doi:

4 Cloonan, Michele, Valerie. “W(h)ither Preservation?” The Library Quarterly 71.2 (2001): 231.”

5 Jakobsen, L. S. (2016), 17.

6 Silberman, Neil. From Cultural Property to Cultural Data: The Multiple Dimensions of “Ownership” in a Global Digital Age, 21 INT’L J. CULTURAL PROP. 365, 368 (2014), 4.

7 Bond, Sarah. “The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage.” Forbes, September 22, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2017.

8 Cloonan, Michele, Valerie. “W(h)ither Preservation?” The Library Quarterly 71.2 (2001): 236.”

9 Bond, “The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage.” 2016.

10 Bond, “The Ethics Of 3D-Printing Syria’s Cultural Heritage.” 2016.

11 “Elgin Marbles: Commons motion urges return to Greece.” BBC News, March 9, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017.

12 Poggioli, Sylvia. “Greece Unveils Museum Meant For ‘Stolen’ Sculptures.” NPR, October 19, 2009. Accessed September 22, 2017.

13 ” Let’s end the row over the Parthenon marbles – with a new kind of museum.” The Guardian, February 15, 2015. Accessed September 23, 2017.

14 Silberman, From Cultural Property to Cultural Data: The Multiple Dimensions of “Ownership” in a Global Digital Age, 4

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