“They’re not pirates, they’re archivists” – LARM Conference 2013

By Oliver Carter on November 25th, 2013

Centre members Oliver Carter and Jez Collins recently attended the LARM Conference, based at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark to present research they have been conducting into fan archivists, or, as they describe them, activist archivists.

The conference, featuring keynote speakers such as Lev Manovich, David Hendy and Michelle Hilmes, focused on digital media archives.  Oli and Jez’s paper was titled “They’re not pirates, they’re archivists”: The role of fans as curators and archivists of popular culture heritage.  Here’s the abstract:

This paper explores the concept of fans and online fan-sites as sites of archival practice and curation of popular culture heritage. Online fan communities are forming around sites that collectively seek out, capture, preserve and make accessible popular materials that include, but not limited to, digitised sound files, moving image files and popular music memorabilia in what Bennett (2009) has termed “DIY preservationism”.

Building on recent work by De Kosnik (2012), Garner (2012) and Carter (2013) we examine how fans of popular culture assume the role of archivist as they digitise, make accessible and share the material objects of popular culture.  We demonstrate how these practices are a response to the limitations of formal archives maintained by media institutions and traditional gatekeepers of cultural heritage, where specific content is often ignored or excluded due to a variety of cultural and economic reasons.

Drawing on virtual ethnographic studies of a number of fan constructed online archives and engagement with their curators, we use three case studies to highlight how such practices not only help to preserve the products of popular culture, but how they also are valuable resources for scholars and practitioners.  These examples also show the tensions that exist between fan archivists and rights owners. We consider how fans claim the products of popular culture as their heritage by their actions in and around online archives.

We argue that such fan sites play a crucial role in the preservation of popular culture’s ‘expressive cultural artefacts’ and in so doing create rich and valuable archives that document the histories of popular music.”