As Elena Rowan researches the ways that activist archivers gather and make sense of data, she often relies on the Internet Archive. She is a graduate student in sociology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, with an interest in the debate around copyright and e-books in public libraries.
“I look at why archives and libraries are important to society and culture as a whole,” said Rowan, who uses materials preserved in the Wayback Machine and the lnternet Archive. “Without the Internet Archive, so much of the knowledge and information on the Internet would be lost, and most of my research would be impossible.”
Rowan is in her second year of her master’s program and works as a research assistant at the Data Justice Hub. It is a collaborative research project that pursues data-related skills development for social activists, critical researchers and the general public, and aims to understand how data activists gather and make sense of data.
The Internet Archive has been valuable, she said, in providing information for the project and its podcast, Data Decoded.
For a recent class on sociology theory, Rowan said she’s found it useful to search for work by early researchers such as W.E.B. Du Bois in the Internet Archive’s collection. Her university library has a wealth of materials, but she says there are times when she can only find an older book through the Archive and, being digital, it’s easier to locate.
With an event sponsored by the Milieux Institute, which offers programs at the intersection of fine arts, digital culture, and information technology, Rowan leveraged the Internet Archive in another way. She created a one-hour Curating Nostalgia workshop where participants could explore resources in the digital collection to create their own personal nostalgia archive.
Logging into the Internet Archive, Rowan taught people how to search for historical documents and pop culture items. For example, she found a beloved video game that came in a cereal box from her childhood, as well as an audio walking tour of her neighborhood from a decade earlier before gentrification changed the landscape. Other workshop participants found books they read as kids, Club Penguin memorabilia and a Nancy Drew game.
“For scholarly work and nostalgia researchers, it’s a treasure trove of goodies,” Rowan says of the Internet Archive.
In her personal life, Rowan said she’s enjoyed perusing old magazines and obscure cookbooks. She’s found recipes for ambitious cakes, sewing patterns and vintage designs that give her ideas for how to pull together her eclectic mix of old furniture.
“The colors, writing and patterns of the past offer infinite inspiration for creative hobbies and help cultivate domestic bliss,” she said. “I am grateful to everyone at the Internet Archive for creating, maintaining and continuing to expand and fight for this truly amazing public resource!”