The Archived Self

BT hits on something in the comments to a previous post that I want to bring up to top-level:

My point is that my own experience of knowing you through the blog (which vastly expands my grad-student-friend experience) is reflective of the persistence and (growing influence) of “the archived self” which seems to live and breathe on the Net in a way that continues to astonish me.

The bears a particular resonance for me because I’ve just this week started a new project, about which I won’t go into too much detail for fear of killing it, that I’m thinking of under the tentative title “The Archive.” And it’s precisely about this experience of encountering in the archive the traces of a person that one thought one knew, only to discover how much more to that person there is, how much can be learned from the archive, and how many small gaps and bits of unknowableness the archive reveals.

Again, I don’t want to give up too many details yet — the project has miles to go before it’ll see the light of day. But here’s a question that you (collectively) might be able to help me answer. If you were creating a fictional archive, of a fictional family, and needed fictional family photos to include in it, how would you go about producing them? There are sites around such as this one that archive old photos submitted to them. There’s also the flea-market route. I don’t need many photos — the paucity of available information is part of the point — but they do need to be pretty consistent, and they need to not get me sued.

Asking such a question is not the best way, I realize, of thinking through the ideas that BT raises — but I hope that the project will do so, and that’s of course where my brain is right now.

6 responses to “The Archived Self”

  1. For photos, look for either creative commons / public domain placed items, or use free/cheap stock photo sites (examples:, where photos are $1 each for royalty free images;, the stock exchange, where downloads are free) (there are sites that archive links to these types or resources, like

    There are also a lot of items that have fallen into public domain via copyright protection expiration or rights being acquired by the government. I used to date someone at the Library of Congress who organized a lot of the online collections of those. (Some state agencies have them too — esp relating to ‘how family life looked in ____) holds the Prelinger archives, which showcase a lot of ephemeral films from the 50s and 60s under a royalty free distribution — you might be able to do screencaps of them.

    About 4 years ago I tried to create a fictional person, by signing up for a opt-in contact list under an assumed name/identity. Within 4 months I/that person had their profile sold all over, and my residence was bombarded with catalogs and credit card offers — so just be wary of creating fictional things, they have real life effects.

  2. Thanks for the source ideas, Jonathan — that’s an enormous help.

    And thanks for the warning about the effects of some kinds of persona-creating. This isn’t that kind of “fictional person,” however: think FICTION…

  3. Hi Kathleen —

    I couldn’t help but think of Byatt’s Possession when I read this entry. Roland and Maude meet Ash and Christabel again for the first time, so to speak, when they encounter “bits of unknowableness” in the correspondence. It sounds like a wonderful project. Sorry that we couldn’t catch up more at the reunion —

    Best of luck!

  4. Hi, Shauna! Yes, exactly: I had a great bit of conversation during an oral exam in April about the failures of the archive to truly contain or communicate the past to the present (or perhaps it’s the failures of the present in encountering the archive), seen both in Byatt and in Stoppard’s Arcadia, that in part sent me down this path.

    I’m also sorry we didn’t get the chance to catch up more — between my busyness and my foul mood — but it’s good knowing you’re out there. We’ll find another chance…

  5. Oddly, I just got spam from Katelyn Fitzpatrick ( ) about an online casino…

    I know exactly what you were planning on doing — and its a great idea. I just wanted to warn you that fiction can have real life consequences, thanks to marketers. Beware.

  6. Well, after having gotten such a nice response to my comment (reading your mind, am I? Well in tune with the plan for the “Archive,” eh? I thought so. The device is working just as plann — what! Oh, nothing, nothing. Please continue reading outside of the parentheses), I had hoped to have something useful to contribute about photos. But of course, all I have are useless and fuzzy abstractions to offer.

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