TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record


“Whitey Reese Korean Casualty” page in Internet Archive. An early web republishing of the TAGOKOR dataset. Original can be seen in the the Wayback Machine.

I figured I would put up a post noting the publication last month of my piece in Issue 4 of Archive Journal, “TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record.” The piece attempts something of a material culture studies approach to look at the “biography” of an electronic record series held by NARA.

I happened on this record group when browsing NARA’s Access to Archival Databases and, with its punch-card origins, its mimeographed technical documentation and codebooks, its multiple reformattings, and its complicated provenance, it tells a fascinating story that naturally evokes a lot of issues we discuss in digital preservation as far as custodianship and many of the non-technical challenges and contexts that exert their influence on preservation practices. It also offered a good opportunity to write a more narrative and stylistically flat piece that mostly avoids theory, jargon, or lofty rhetoric (except a bit at the end). Or that was the stylistic intent, at least — not sure if it succeeded. I also put some associated docs and data online as I work to provide a fully decoded dataset of TAGOKOR and maybe build some visualizations or other reuses of the data.

I was lucky enough to have some NARA friends make arrangements for me to talk to some of the folks at the Center for Electronic Records at A2 (NARA, College Park), which was a great conversation. Thanks to them for taking the time. Thanks also, of course, to friends that gave feedback and to my ever-patient editor, Fred Moody, for being diplomatic about my problems with article deadlines. Fred also wrote a blog post that included some comments on the TAGOKOR piece, “Discommoded by the Archive.” His piece is fantastic and I’m psyched that the story of TAGOKOR proved as thought-provoking to others as it was for me. If you’ve read this far, and read the article, I’d love any comments or feedback here or via email.

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