Cataloging Items

This week’s readings focused on categorizing objects, works of art, and artifacts. “Data standards not only promote the recording of information consistently but are also fundamental to retrieving it efficiently. They promote data sharing, improve content management, and reduce redundant efforts.” Data standards are important for the efficient use of artistic objects. However, as we discussed in DH 101, categorizing cultural objects is inherently racist as it imposes Western ideals on work that wasn’t created for, or by, Westerners. Therefore, although data standards are limitlessly important, we must take care when creating categories that pay respect to the true meaning of the art work.

For example, the simple category “place of creation” or “country of origin” could become a category of dissonance and contention because of all the rampant tension and historical indiscrepancies relating to the borders of cities or countries. If something was created in modern day Russia in the 50’s, was it created in Russia or in the USSR? And how can we remedy these issues to ensure no unintended offense occurs when attempting to categorize objects.

The issues with substandard metadata are apparent in the social media/ blog site Tumblr. On Tumblr, you can tag items with anything you want. There are rarely suggested terms that would remain constant for every object. Though Tumblr content tends to be trashy memes rather than important high art, the issues with inconsistent data are the same: objects become nearly, if not totally, impossible to find. Therefore we cannot discount the importance of controlled vocabulary and metadata for all objects.

5 thoughts on “Cataloging Items”

  1. I agree that data standards can become misleading if we continue to categorize with inherently Western gazes; something which may take a lot of time and effort to mitigate. I feel that because data standards are so important, those who use them to add context to pieces may be focusing on the wrong things– categories like you mentioned, like place of origin, could be misrepresented, especially given the changing geography of the world. This is definitely something to consider in our jobs as digital humanists, so I appreciate your post!

  2. Tumblr is a good example of a digital attempt at trying to label or credit a huge amount of imagery within one directory. It is also an example of a huge mess and what not to do, because there is not one set of rules that everyone is following. However rules like you mentioned with exact categories don’t always work either, especially with countries with borders created through colonization. There is a very hard balance of finding a way of defining objects through a set terminology without being to specific or inaccurate.

  3. Spotify is also another example of a site with bad metadata- I can’t think of a specific example right now, but sometimes you won’t be able to find songs with similar names to other songs because the metadata hasn’t been sorted out well. I also think the use of hashtags has changed a little- people no longer use it merely as a method of categorizing information, but for comic effect.

  4. “However, as we discussed in DH 101, categorizing cultural objects is inherently racist as it imposes Western ideals on work that wasn’t created for, or by, Westerners. Therefore, although data standards are limitlessly important, we must take care when creating categories that pay respect to the true meaning of the art work.” I deeply agree with these statements! Looking back at my childhood fieldtrips to the Natural History museum, I can definitely see the exoticization of other cultures by Western society. As I remember in our class, there’s no other country in the World that does this for American ‘artifiacts,’ which brings the question of why we should do this when others do not?

  5. I agree that Tumblr is a place where so much metadata is being condensed into one space. I feel like with Tumblr because there are keywords sometimes it also limits the creativity of people creating these posts because they would want them to seen by certain groups as well. I feel like these labels are not only sometimes inaccurate but also can be stunting for creators.

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