Possible Futures in Archives and Blockchain Technology

Film scan of a bird in flight, frame by frame.

Possible Futures in Archives and Blockchain Technology

Friday, April 12 from 3:00 – 5:00 pm
721 Broadway, 6th Floor, Room 652
Reception to follow

When archivists assess objects and records for preservation, they are responsible for asking four main questions: Who created this work, and how did it arrive here? Who owns it now? How will people access it, if at all? Where will it be stored? Each of these questions – provenance, copyright, access, and storage – represents a potential minefield for archivists. Though we strive for standardization and disaster-preparedness, life gets in the way. Technologies change, laws change, and resources are dwindling. We need new policies to keep up with our shifting circumstances, and the policies we create could be driven by the technology we decide to embrace.

Blockchain technology, born out of the 2008 financial collapse, is one potential avenue that could align with the values of archival digital preservation. At their core, blockchain-based platforms offer a time-stamped, public-facing, secure record of transactions (a “ledger”) that is stored across a collective of users’ computers. This ledger enables transparency and incorruptibility in those key archival concerns – provenance, copyright, access, and storage – and has the added bonus of eliminating the need for “trusted” third parties like Amazon or PayPal.

Too good to be true? Maybe. But further consideration – and speculation – is needed. This roundtable discussion will bring together Maria Bustillos (Editor, Popula.com), Amy Whitaker (Assistant Professor, Art and Art Professions, NYU), and Finn Brunton (Assistant Professor, Department of Media, Culture and Communication, NYU) to discuss their blockchain-based work and research. Their perspectives will enable a further discussion on the subject of blockchain’s application to digital preservation workflows, moderated by Anna McCarthy (Professor and Chair, Department of Cinema Studies, NYU) and Claire Fox (grad student, NYU MIAP).