NCCA-PUP launches COVID-19 documentary heritage project through a webinar on digital repositories

Emy Ruth Gianan, News, Communication Management Office

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), through its National Committee on Archives (NCCA), inked a collaborative project with the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) on establishing a digital archive of the creative works, accounts, and manifestations of experiences of the arts and culture sector during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

To officially launch this important partnership, the webinar “Archival Response from the Ground: Digital Repository Practices” was organized by the Philippine Documentary Heritage Project (PHDH) team on December 8, 9:00 AM to 11:00 AM via Zoom. The program was simulcast via the PH Documentary Heritage, PUP CreaTV, and NCCA Official Facebook Pages.

NCCA Commissioner for Cultural Heritage Architect Michael Manalo emphasized that “it is through the archives that we are able to capture everything from the macro, all the way to the micro-level.” PUP President Dr. Manuel Muhi supported the same idea in his opening remarks, highlighting the project's importance for historical enrichment. He also stressed that PUP is committed to contributing significantly to pursuing knowledge and expertise on digital repositories and archiving in the country.

Resource speakers for this pioneering webinar include University Archivist for the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, Katie Howell; and Lead Curator of the Web Archives at the British Library, Nicola Bingham. The webinar was moderated by Project Leader, Prof. Rosemarie Roque; Project Head Researcher, Adrian Mendizabal; and Ninoy Aquino Library and Learning Resource Center (NALLRC) Graduate Studies Librarian, Jean Razzell Gagalac.

University archiving and the COVID-19 experience

Katie Howell talked about the archiving project that helped prepare their team for their COVID-19 immediate response efforts. The project was initiated in 2019 as a response of the UNC-Charlotte community to the tragic shooting incident on campus. The blueprint of that project was then adapted to document the coronavirus experiences of the members of the university community. They utilized Google Forms to collect contributions and accounts such as photos, videos, audio recordings, text and written narratives, and other formats of documentation for the archive.

For Howell, self-documentation can be cathartic and retraumatizing; hence, the need to integrate mental health support programs into the project. This also meant checking up on the members of the archival team who may suffer from second-hand trauma.

As she ended her presentation, Howell underscored the importance of attempting at an accurate documentary record with the inclusion of all of the voices affected by the pandemic or any traumatic event and not merely those who are well-off, connected, and powerful.

In the documentation process, she brought up the dangers of commodifying trauma, especially when people might require some distance and perspective about current events before agreeing to participate in the project. She also intends to look into the silenced voices within their community to capture a more balanced archive.

Moving forward, she shared that they intend to be more purposive in the coming stages of the project, checking in with those who adapted the form they created and opened the possibility of collaborating with other archivists and local museums and institutions to learn from their experiences.

Macro initiatives on digital repositories

A pre-recorded lecture of Nicola Bingham was shown during the second half of the webinar. Whereas Howell’s presentation was rooted in oral histories and a micro perspective on digital repositories, Bingham focused on a more technical approach to archiving. The British Library started its web archive in 2005, while the UK Web Archive was established in 2013.

Integral to their process is an annual whole-domain crawl of the UK web, supplemented by frequent and targeted archiving of newspapers, government publications, and other formally documented content online. Bingham shares that they follow a thematic curation of materials helping users locate what they need more efficiently. Tools to document and archive include Annotation, Curation Tool (ACT), Excel spreadsheets, and/or Google Forms. In the case of the pandemic, it is documented under "coronavirus" or "COVID-19 pandemic". Websites are preferred and prioritized given that social media platforms pose difficulties and issues in their scope and provenance.

“We can't claim we have represented every community in the UK. But we have worked with a number of groups to expand our archiving and curation. This is to ensure that our collection is more representative. It is important that their voices are heard in the archive,” Bingham emphasized during her presentation.

Bingham also shared The British Library’s participation in the International Internet Preservation Consortium - Coronavirus Collection. The global initiative has since archived over 10,700 seeds, while websites cover 127 countries in 45 languages. She noted its importance in expanding the world’s historical and archival perspective on the pandemic.

Sharing some of her takeaways from the project thus far, she stressed the value of co-curation and the use of user-friendly and intuitive forms and platforms for archiving. Finally, she noted the need for discernment as to documenting the full spectrum of the event while keeping in mind public safety and ethical issues particularly the dangers of disinformation.

Towards a Philippine documentary heritage collection

Prof. Roque, the head of the PHDH project, closed the program with optimism. Currently in its first phase, the project's vision is to document the experience of the Filipino people particularly those in the arts and culture sector. Doing so is a crucial step in collectively moving forward amid the pandemic.

For further details and regular updates regarding the Philippine Documentary Heritage Project, you may visit their Facebook Page:  https://www.facebook.com/PHDHDigitalArchives and like their Twitter Page:  https://twitter.com/PHdigitarchives. Send them an email at phcovid19archivalproject@gmail.com.

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