We’ve released some improvements to our open-source Issuu downloader, to work more efficiently and automatically crop publications to the correct size.
In this month’s edition of Trouble, the second in a two-part series marking the 50th anniversary of the student-led uprisings of 1968, sub.Media continues to shine a light on contemporary student struggles from around the world. This episode features interviews with current and former student organizers from Mexico, South Africa and the United States, as they share their personal experiences of participating in campus occupations, student strikes, and insurrectionary attacks against the capitalist and colonial education systems that shape their collective present and seek to determine their shared future.
More on subMedia:
subMedia is a video production ensemble, which aims to promote anarchist and anti-capitalist ideas, and aid social struggles through the dissemination of radical films and videos. Founded in 1994, subMedia has produced hundreds of videos on everything from anti-globalization protests to films about shoplifting. Our films have been screened around the world in social centers and movie theaters and have been watched by millions on the internet. This site is a collection of videos from 2003 onwards.
Guerrilla Translation is an activist translation and general communications collective. Our high quality translations are made by thoughtful humans, not software. To help support activist translators and freelancers to use their skills for causes they care about while also making a living, Guerrilla Translation has developed a new kind of livelihood vehicle. It combines two functions: a voluntary translation/media collective working for activist causes, and an income-generating cooperative agency providing translation and communication services. We see this as a form of “economic resistance”: a means of ethically coherent, sustainable livelihood for knowledge workers, and the creation of a multilingual knowledge commons that upholds open-source, global idea sharing.
Added sections to the blog navigation, and made a grid index for the “links” section using the Content Views plugin. I realized that since starting this project I’ve been keeping my eye on interesting archival projects, so I will share them here.
I’m not used to working with WordPress so it’s interesting to see how the plugin ecosystem works, it’s basically confusing and idiosyncratic, but also easy enough to get something close to your desired result if you’re willing to plod around.
Also added something between a welcome note and a disclaimer to the front page, highlighting the archive’s incompleteness, and also re-upping the call for collaboration!
Unlike other archive sites that favor PDFs and clunky plug-ins, the Lubalin-Ginzburg digital archive is a thoughtful, technically savvy example of how to translate printed publications and ephemera to the web.
“Even if the form of the original printed artifact is maintained, it needs to have a different browsing experience online, or else you’re just transplanting a PDF onto a browser,” Seu says. “If you’re holding a physical book, it makes sense to flip through linearly and see one spread at a time. But there’s no need to follow that model when you have a digital interface.”
A “Disorientation Guide” often just called a “Diso” or DisGuide” is a zine put together by college students (or other members of the local activist community), introducing incoming students to social justice issues on campus, and presenting a counter-narrative to what you might find in glossy admissions brochures. These publications are so vital because they’re written and designed by the students on the ground, and often self-published anonymously or under a group affiliation to prevent retaliation or repression.
The guide brought back a flood of memories for me, of the publications I had looked at for inspiration and precedent when I was working on activist zines as a student. That was five or seven years ago, but just looking at any table of contents, it’s clear how the issues and resources recur across the years and across campuses:
I opened some tabs, searching for other Disorientation publications…
A few good sites came up!
- “Guides for the Perplexed” an article in The New Inquiry with a list of about 20 publications from 2014
- a lovely, in its own way, text-only site called disorientation.net which linked to a similar set of about 15 publications
- a site called dis-orientation.info which appears to have been started in 2013 and then gone dormant in 2014, with just a few publications listed
- a site called campusactivism.org, which allows users to upload content, and had accrued about 25 publications from 1996-2010
But what about the last 6 years? Where is everything before the 90s?? Is this handful of publications really it?
The just-released publication from Stanford was hosted on Issuu, a document hosting website founded in 2006 that’s kind of like YouTube for PDFs.
Below the publication were some algorithmically-generated recommendations — here was a hint of more recent publications!
Searching Issuu for “Disorientation” turned up loads of results — mostly unrelated junk — but with about 50 actual Disos in the mix, published between 2004-2020.
The issue with Issuu
Issuu hosts files for free, in exchange for plastering ads everywhere. To demonstrate just how little surface area they give to actual content, I color-coded a screenshot of a publication page on Issuu.
- GRAY = Interface junk
- RED = Ads, ads, ads
- ORANGE = Debatably useful algorithmic suggestions
- GREEN = The publication and its descriptive content
For student activist publishing, ad-supported publication platforms represent a double-bind.
On one hand: these platforms are essential.
Student activists are in struggle. Not just against the university and for a better world, but oftentimes to meet their own basic needs. The student activist groups I’ve known definitely don’t have money lying around to throw at web hosting, nor the time and energy it takes to figure out web publishing or archiving. There are much, MUCH bigger fish to fry. Ad-supported platforms make it easy to push a publication out onto the internet, and have it stay there for a long time to come.
I suspect that many student activist publications which were once posted online to homegrown websites or shared to now shuttered platforms are now gone. The internet is brittle! Website hosting and domains expire annually if somebody forgets to renew, stops being able to pay, or just moves on from the cause. Only the ad-supported seem to survive.
In these respects, we have platforms to thank.
On the other hand: ad-supported platforms are exploitative capitalist garbage! The paradox is almost laughable. I don’t need to rail on it any further here.
Issuu is also a “walled garden” — even though the Disos are uploaded by publishers as PDFs, Issuu doesn’t allow readers to download those PDFs (unless users check an obscure box opting-in to this, which almost none do). This means that publications can only circulate alongside Issuu’s wall of ads, and they can’t be saved locally or printed. And: the whole point of zines is to be able to print and freely circulate them???????
Value-suck aside, the biggest issue I have with Issuu is that sharing activist materials on ad-supported platforms leaves so much connective possibility on the table!
The possibilities of a narrow archive
In bringing together all these publications (and only these publications) across platforms, I’m imagining a narrow archive.
What does a narrow archive do?
A narrow archive opens up new ways of organizing: by Institution, by Year, plotted on a map by Location. In the longer term, with some taxonomical elbow grease, a narrow archive could support the emergence of a contextually-specific kind of organization, linking together student struggles across institutions. It’s not just that the issues these publications illuminate are structural and interconnected, but that higher education administration is a small, small world: and every few years college presidents, upper-admins, and trustees jump from ruining one institution to the next.
A narrow archive makes search meaningful. On Issuu, searching for “Disorientation” turned up publications on prayer, many architecture theses, the dangers of dry ice, a manual for flying airplanes, and a book on rave culture. It also didn’t include the full patchwork of publications from the five sites I came across. Being able to index and search just Diso publications all together will allow browsing more deeply (searching granularly within the full text of publications) and more broadly (searching and linking across institutions and decades).
A narrow archive opens the possibility for new kinds of care. In establishing a new center of gravity for this type of publication, I’d like to draw the original publishers, the surrounding communities, and those who care about these issues into orbit. For example, a new role of “maintainer” could emerge, for somebody within an institution or just a region that cares for a set of publications, and keeps an eye out for new ones. In terms of building an archive, there are so many jobs to be done: of course web design and development, but also the research, data entry, transcription, and outreach. And there are also curatorial roles: threading connections between institutions and putting issues in context.
A narrow archive goes beyond consumption towards generation. Materials added to the collection are enriched, little by little, with additional information, connections, and context. Histories which have become disaggregated are brought back into adjacency. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, resources are re-surfaced and re-used across time and across institutions, in the spirit of cross-institutional solidarity.
Those are just some of my dreams for this website.
You might’ve noticed I’m calling this an informal archive.
This is my code-word for doing this as a side project: outside of work, without allotted resources, without any formal training or guidance in library science, without the archivist’s overhead of carefully managing rights*, and with the remit to experiment drastically.
Informal, for me, also invokes that anybody can do this!
I will document what I learn here, hoping to make a small contribution to the existing resources on “getting started with open source archiving”.
I have a few drafts taking shape for this blog. Mostly semi-technical posts making sense of obstacles I’ve found myself up against as I bring this site into existence:
- What kind of software should I use to host an archive?
- How do I scrape 100 PDFs off of 5 sites (some of which try pretty hard to prevent downloads)?
- How do I clean up all the data?
- How do I make it look nice?
- How do I make it searchable?
- How do I implement mapping?
If this project sounds interesting to you, I am actively seeking collaboration! If you have knowledge, skills, or time you’d like to contribute, please get in touch! Email is firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets work too: @diso_archive.
* I am working off the assumption that zines are copyleft and intended to circulate as widely as possible. If a group wants their publication taken down, or pointed somewhere else — contact info is clearly posted, and that can absolutely be their call.
Added geotags for all publications on the site so far!
Check out the Map page to see it in action.
A lot of the data needs QAing…(for example, Louisiana State University currently appears in the middle of Russia??) but, as they say, “perfect is the enemy of the good”.
Moved the Changelog out of Omeka, to a WordPress install at blog.disorientations.org (you are here).
Makes it easier to subscribe, and a bit easier to write.
(I don’t think Omeka pages are really intended for blogging. I was getting occasional errors, and there is no page hierarchy, so it likely would’ve become a mess over time.)