In October 2021, the University Libraries successfully completed the preservation of the No Gun Ri archive in Scholars Archive. Professor Donghee Sinn of the College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security, & Cybersecurity, authored the project, with archival assistance from Greg Wiedeman, Amanda Greenwood, Lindsay Van Berkom, and Emily Kilcer.
As the first web archive project in Scholars Archive, we caught up with Professor Sinn to discuss the venture.
Professor Donghee Sinn
It seems that memory is the theme unifying this collection. From an archival and cultural perspective, how did you approach collecting and preserving these memories?
In the archival field, there have been discussions on the concept of archives for memory. This concept expands the roles of archives to include social and cultural meanings beyond evidential and informational values they inherently have. Also, it acknowledges the biases and subjectivity that we have as human being in selecting and preserving archives. When we remember things, often the remembering act is triggered by a current episode within a certain context. The episode and the context create a special process and meaning to the one who remembers. The current episode, the context, and associated memory shape how we remember and how our memory of history comes alive.
I wanted the No Gun Ri Digital Archive to serve for memory. I didn’t hope it to be an objective and authoritative source of information. In fact, the No Gun Ri massacre is a sensitive incident and there might be different viewpoints depending on where you stand (the Pentagon still hasn’t fully acknowledged the No Gun Ri massacre). The No Gun Ri Digital Archive can be an instance of remembering the massacre. It is the collective memory of the massacre that the research team could gather. It can further offer a trigger or a reminder for people to remember No Gun Ri. In this sense, we approached to collect and preserve the No Gun Ri materials with the focus on the memories of those involved: survivors, the No Gun Ri community, those who work at the No Gun Ri Peace Park and Museum, reporters, researchers, and of course, myself and my research team.
This Archive began as a small personal collection that I had collected during my dissertation study, which included U.S. military documents, the Associated Press’ news reports and digital package (which I acquired the permission to preserve in this archive), published news articles and other works. Then, we expanded the collection by including the materials and oral history from the No Gun Ri community. Further we were able to collect documents from the No Gun Ri Peace Park and Museum. We tried to be inclusive to collect materials, but we were far from collecting comprehensively or authoritatively. This was a process to expand the memories and the materials that provoke meanings, thoughts, and memories. We may not provide specific historical facts and truths, but the collected materials can deliver various accounts of those who remember the event.
Historically speaking, it’s important to look at how stories are told, and by whom. What challenges did you encounter in archiving these voices and ensuring those stories are lived?
I was lucky to have wonderful support from the No Gun Ri community. The process for us to access No Gun Ri stories was smooth and we received great assistance from the community leaders throughout the process. As we were working closely with the community, we observed there were internal dynamics of the No Gun Ri community in its storytelling. However, we tried to archive how the community collectively represented their stories, their collective identity and symbolism they had shaped over the years. We didn’t step in and get involved in their storytelling. This approach might have excluded minor voices within the community. We felt that we shouldn’t use the power of the intervention of archival authorities (as we were the archival professionals to them).
When we first approached them for this project, we found that the archival materials in the No Gun Ri community and the No Gun Ri Peace Park and Museum were not in their best conditions. The Museum and the Victim’s Organization did not have sufficient funding to manage their materials on a professional level. The research team had to spend a lot of time helping them to physically organize the materials. We happily offered our resources to educate them and to process and preserve the materials in archival quality. However, this might have prevented us from engaging with more stories and the digital presence of those stories.
Other challenges I had mostly came from limitations of my own. There are a lot more materials in the system, but due to the copyright issues and other potential complications, we did not make everything available on the web. I was not able to check and clear all these issues. There were also quality issues that many materials digitized in the archives are not of the highest quality.
In this sense, we approached to collect and preserve the No Gun Ri materials with the focus on the memories of those involved: survivors, the No Gun Ri community, those who work at the No Gun Ri Peace Park and Museum, reporters, researchers, and of course, myself and my research team.
How did you become involved in this project?
The No Gun Ri digital archive stemmed from my own doctoral dissertation study 14 or so years ago. I researched about the use of archival materials for the No Gun Ri history. While working on this project, I collected many great materials and made connections with the people involved in the incident and its history. I learned that there was no place where people could find important historical materials about No Gun Ri on the web, even though a large part of the materials I collected were from the public domain. So, I thought if I created a website that housed these materials for researchers to use, I could contribute to the No Gun Ri research. This idea materialized and developed as a research project with support from UAlbany and the National Research Foundation of Korea. I was able to devote my time and efforts to this project during my sabbatical year in Korea.
What are your hopes for how this work will continue to be used?
I just hope that it is used! This institutional repository will provide a long-term home for this archive, and I hope future researchers find it useful for their purposes and create their own memories from it. As I already mentioned, NGR digital archive is an instance of remembering the incident, and I hope it triggers diverse and rich No Gun Ri memories yet to come. I hope it expands the temporal range of communication to deliver and create the No Gun Ri memories.
You’re a noted supporter of the University Libraries, and a past presenter for Campus Conversations in Standish. Why do you find it important as a faculty member to have such a strong relationship with the Libraries?
I’m a faculty member of the MSIS program to educate future information professionals, and I have a strong belief that the University Libraries play a major role to facilitate how the knowledge of the University is collected and communicated. Communicating what we learn from research is what academics are committed to do, and the University Libraries are the perfect venue in doing so. I was happy to be able to share my research with the campus community through the Campus Conversations in Standish.