Venkat Srinivasan | Thirteen Ways of Looking at Institutional History: Building Varying Digital Narratives from Interconnected Science Archives

Lecture | March 8 | 12-1:30 p.m. | Stephens Hall, 10 (ISAS Conf. Room)

 Venkat Srinivasan, Visiting Researcher, National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India

 Adnan Malik, Curator for South Asian Collections, UC Berkeley Library

 Institute for South Asia Studies, South/Southeast Asia Library | UC Berkeley Library, Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies

Over the past decade, there have been many efforts to streamline the accessibility of archival material on the web. This includes display of oral history interviews and archival records, and making their content more amenable to searches. The challenge, however, is not just putting out the data, but of building spaces where historians, journalists, the scientific community and the general public can see stories emerging from the linking of seemingly disparate records.

We offer the conceptual framework for an online public history exhibit that builds multiple narratives from raw archival data. Such digital exhibits would allow the public to pull material from a variety of primary and secondary sources into coherent stories, and connect personal stories to established records of a scientific process.

The National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) digital exhibit is a pilot project built around thirteen ways to reflect upon and assemble the history of the Bangalore-based institution (the exhibit title pays homage to Wallace Stevens' poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird).

The pilot project tries to bring to light multiple interpretations of NCBS, weaved by the voices of over 70 story tellers. The material for the exhibit is curated from records collected to build the Centre's archive. The oral history excerpts, along with over 600 photographs, official records, letters, and the occasional lab note, give a glimpse into the Centre's history and show connections with the present.

The exhibit is the first phase of a digital experiment in archiving, journalism and story telling. In the next phase (November 2017), we hope to release a standard architecture and template that can work for a variety of institutions/places and allow multiple interpretations of archival material. This will be an open source, publicly available package. The template will allow visitors to write their own narratives around archival material – that is, shape their own exhibits. Following that, in the third phase (~spring 2018), we hope to tie together the histories and start forming networks of stories linked to each other across institutions, places, events, people and time.

About the Speaker:
Venkat Srinivasan is a visiting researcher at the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore, India. He joined NCBS in May 2016 to work on features of its archive. The team is developing templates to pull archival material into coherent stories, and connect personal stories to established records of a scientific process. Venkat is an independent science writer, with work in The Atlantic and Scientific American online, Nautilus, Aeon, Wired, and the Caravan. This intersection of science journalism, scientific research and oral history interviews led to probing ways to tell varying science narratives from archival material.

Event made possible with the support of the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies

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