What constitutes a ‘document’ and how does it function?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the etymological origin is the Latin ‘documentum’, meaning ‘lesson, proof, instance, specimen’. As a verb, it is ‘to prove or support (something) by documentary evidence’, and ‘to provide with documents’. The online version of the OED includes a draft addition, whereby a document (as a noun) is ‘a collection of data in digital form that is considered a single item and typically has a unique filename by which it can be stored, retrieved, or transmitted (as a file, a spreadsheet, or a graphic)’. The current use of the noun ‘document’ is defined as ‘something written, inscribed, etc., which furnishes evidence or information upon any subject, as a manuscript, title-deed, tomb-stone, coin, picture, etc.’ (emphasis added).
Both ‘something’ and that first ‘etc.’ leave ample room for discussion. A document doubts whether it functions as something unique, or as something reproducible. A passport is a document, but a flyer printed in offset equally so. Moreover, there is a circular reasoning: to document is ‘to provide with documents’. Defining (the functioning of) a document most likely involves ideas of communication, information, evidence, inscriptions, and implies notions of objectivity and neutrality – but the document is neither reducible to one of them, nor is it equal to their sum. It is hard to pinpoint it, as it disperses into and is affected by other fields: it is intrinsically tied to the history of media and to important currents in literature, photography and art; it is linked to epistemic and power structures. However ubiquitous it is, as an often tangible thing in our environment, and as a concept, a document deranges.
The-documents.org gathers documents and provides them with a short textual description, explanation, or digression, written by multiple authors. Regularly, new files will be added, and old files will be altered. In Paper Knowledge, Lisa Gitelman paraphrases ‘documentalist’ Suzanne Briet, stating that ‘an antelope running wild would not be a document, but an antelope taken into a zoo would be one, presumably because it would then be framed – or reframed – as an example, specimen, or instance’. The files gathered on this website are all documents – if they weren’t before publication, they now are. That is what this website, irreversibly, does. It is a zoo turning an antelope into an ‘antelope’.
Navigating the website can be done in different ways. There are links in the textual descriptions leading to other documents; there is a collection of all files published; at the right, the sidebar allows users to filter and arrange files based on themes, authors, types, etc. You can hit ‘random’. As the visitor makes his/her/their way through the collection, the-documents.org tracks the entries that have been viewed. It documents the path through the website. Your path can be saved digitally, printed at home, or ordered as a book. As such, the time spent on the-documents.org turns into a new document.
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De Cleene De Cleene is Michiel De Cleene and Arnout De Cleene. Together they form a research group that focusses on novel ways of approaching the everyday, by artistic means and from a cultural and critical perspective.
contact: info [@] decleenedecleene.be
This project was made possible with the support of the Flemish Government and KASK, the School of Arts of HOGENT and Howest.
Briet, S. Qu’est-ce que la documentation? Paris: Edit, 1951.
Gitelman, L. Paper Knowledge. Toward a Media History of Documents. Durham/London: Duke University Press, 2014.
Oxford English Dictionary Online. Accessed on 13.05.2021.
(transcript CNN Saturday morning news, Aired September 21, 2002 – 07:32 ET)
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O’BRIEN, CNN AnchorNow this Astronomy Picture of the Day goes back as far as the popularization of the Internet. The discovery of what is now Netscape, if you will. Let’s take a look at the guys behind it. It’s an art gallery of astronomy, featuring explosive supernovas, deep black holes, flaring comets, and breathtaking earth views.
O’BRIEN(voice-over) Every day since the web was in its infancy, two enthusiastic astronomers have posted a new image to Astronomy Picture of the Day.
ROBERT J. NEMIROFF, NASA Astrophysicist
I think that a lot of these would look great in a gallery. They’re very different, there’s a lot of different colors involved, there’s a lot of different contrasts, a lot of different textures. And, it has the added bonus of being scientifically interesting. It’s scientifically true.
O’BRIENRobert Nimiroff and Jerry Donnell (ph) choose the images based on their educational value, newsworthiness, or just plain beauty.
I mean, there’s a ‘wow’ factor here. I usually know within a second or two of seeing a picture whether it’s a sure thing for The Astronomy Picture of the Day, because I just say ‘Wow, what is going on there?’
O’BRIENEvery image is archived on the site. Underneath each picture is a brief explanation so that the site is not just eye candy but educational, as well. Including images that give us a new perspective.
Recently, people put together a bunch of pictures from the moon in this great panorama. You can look all the way around in the circle and see what the astronauts saw. The face on Mars, which the best explanation is, it’s just a rock formation, but there’s a lot of conspiracy people out there who think it’s more, and the picture of the earth at night. And, I think it’s one of our most popular images.
O’BRIENSome images come from telescopes around the world. Others from the Hubble Telescope, peering deep into space. Others, from amateur photographers, an artist’s renditions of black holes too distant for detail.
And you can just look at it and feel that you’re there.
O’BRIENMany people take the images from the site and post them as wallpaper on their computers, or, create a slideshow screensaver.
Our biggest demographic is the intelligent professional who works at some company and has a computer on the desk, has a web browser, and they check us out. We’ve got e-mail that we’re many people’s morning cup of coffee.
O’BRIENWhether you’re a space junkie or just enjoy looking up at the sky, Astronomy Picture of the Day is worth the visit.
https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap950616.html (original post: June 16, 1995)