Virtual Reunification: Bits and Pieces Put Together to Form a Semblance of a Whole
Virtual reunification offers new possibilities to create and assemble digital versions of archives, artifacts, rare books, manuscripts, and other literary or artistic works of common origin that have been geographically dispersed for historical, political, or cultural reasons. The ways that institutions with varying digitization programs, priorities, and strategies navigate this complex endeavor remain largely unexamined. What needs to be considered for multi-institutional, cooperative digital initiatives like virtual reunification to proceed? My presentation addresses this question by focusing on the challenges of reunifying Dean C. Worcester's ethnographic photographs of the U.S. colonial Philippines. Worcester served as a U.S. administrator in the Philippines from 1899 to 1913. The images, which were taken during "ethnological surveys" of the islands, are currently dispersed among ten libraries, museums and archives in North America and Europe. I use this photographic collection to explore issues that arise when groups of institutions consider virtual reunification as a strategy to integrate dispersed archival image collections. This talk will be of interest to those in information studies exploring how digitization and online access are inspiring new ways of representing heritage collections and the articulation of contemporary institutional responsibilities.