Blog Post #5

In Ed Folsom’s “Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives,” I was struck by, and questioning, the alternatives to a genre-based system, which emphasizes organization but can possibly force works into incongruent places. On the one hand, I see the point of view of Walt Whitman who was struggling to create something that transcending traditional views of genre, and yet his work was still categorized. However, if we decide to reject genre-based systems, then those systems become less useful to the users. While I was mulling these things over in my head, it really helped me to understand how databases can work as a genre.

I was thinking specifically about how literature seems to always draw upon several different genres and bring them together but it is still referred to simply as “literature”. For example, every Fitzgerald work is actually a tragedy, but they also draw on elements of romance and mystery. So it’s much easier for English teacher to call it literature than explain the complexities of tragic romance mystery with vast historical implications. In the same way, databases are incredibly complex structures that should be given due attention (just like literature should be given due attention but I’m a biased English major). And I think that it’s important for people to be able to sort through databases and understand how they work. How else will you know what you’re looking at or researching? Did you actually search and find what you were looking for or were you steered to your destination?

Another thing that I think works with the comparison of databases to literature is that of blogs. In and of themselves, blogs are databases. But they’re good examples of the interconnectedness that Folsom seems to be referencing. Usually, blogs have a single topic (genre) that they cover consistently. However, there might be dozens of links throughout a post that could take you from one blog about music to one about politics. In my mind, I don’t think I see a problem with having databases constructed in this way. So long as there is a strong link between one set of information and another, I would consider it beneficial to make them accessible through one another.

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1 Response to Blog Post #5

  1. Nicole Martin says:

    Hi, Thomas!

    I really enjoyed reading your post. Like you, I have trouble reconciling the ease of use which comes with labeling works with a certain genre, packaging them into neat categories, and the indisputable fact that nothing fits cleanly within these established boundaries. Additionally, one has to consider who it is that holds the power to set those lines.

    That being said, I think that we understood Fulsom’s article a little differently. Whereas you, with your emphasis on literary labels and blog themes, seemed to interpret his discussion as about the genre of information organized in databases, I found it to be more about how database is a genre in and of itself–a genre which differs dramatically from those of narratives because of its openness to overlapping the restrictions of set types. For example, while Whitman’s works may be split in a library between the poetry and novels, on a database they can coexist because the database is the overarching genre.

    I do agree, however, with your concluding comments on how this coexistence is beneficial. This remark made me think of Fulsom’s discussion of how prior to the database which he has worked to create, Whitman’s writings were geographically spread out, but now that they are online, they can finally be viewed together as a whole rather than scattered parts. Creating this unity is, building upon our recent studies of the nature of history, I think, very important for historical artifacts as it allows all sides of an event to be seen instead of privileging the dominant ideology.

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