The Urban Archivist is a collection of writings on various aspects of the social built environment. Some writings are academic responses borrowing heavily from political philosophy and critical discourses. Others are informal (sometimes ridiculous) writings based on first-hand accounts of places and the actions that happen in them. Still others are somewhere in between, in which we may use some informal observations from our everyday lived experience as a springboard for more rigorous investigation. Above all, the Urban Archivist is a working journal punctuated with visceral and sometimes irreverent reactions and reflections to urban encounters– as well as nascent thoughts on scholarship and theory, as well as strategies and tactics in the politics of everyday lived experience.

This blog is one component of the Urban Archives project.

About Amy Dobrowolsky

More recently, the Urban Archivist has become the primary academic blog of Amy Dobrowolsky, one of the project’s founders. Taking to logical extremes Lefebvre’s assertion that the world has been fully urbanized and that everything has become the urban, Amy has given the Urban Archivist license to speak about everything.

Amy is currently working toward her Ph.D. in the Program in the Built Environment at the University of Washington. Her research interests include the politics of (public) space, spatial justice, political philosophy with a spatial flavor, insurgent actions and (re)appropriations of space, and digital media ethics and methods for scholarly research. Recently, some other themes she writes upon include trans/gender/queer business and digital humanities, libraries, and archives among whatever.

Amy received an MLIS from the University of Washington’s Information School. Her Master’s thesis research consisted of an ethnographic study of the information behaviors, physical and virtual places, and cultural identity of Seattle’s Polish community.

Amy has worked at the UW Library’s Special Collections division processing and researching archival photograph collections as well as in the Digital Initiatives unit investigating the possibilities of digital librarianship. These experiences have informed her interest in digital humanities research. Amy brings her professional archival and librarian skills to this project.

Although forever a native and patriotic Chicagoan, Amy has fully accepted her adopted Seattle home. In her spare time, she enjoys taking frivolous road trips — having visited 43 states and 6 provinces. These trips have yielded an absurd collection of photographs, ephemera, and journal writing. She builds Art Cars and found-object, assemblage pieces that some have called “art”.

TransTransTrans… Amy has been non-binary and genderqueer her entire adult life, though previously grudgingly acquiescing to male pronouns, honorifics, and name. After getting personal things in order, she transitioned in 2012 and is perhaps a bit more binary now.

Privilege: white, able-bodied, paycheck-to-paycheck middle-class, advanced educated, neurotypical…

Amy can be reached at amy.dobrowolsky (at) gmail. She also tweets as @AmyBoldItalic

About the Urban Archives

The Urban Archives also preserves documentary evidence of items, actions, and actors in public space. Our approaches resemble contemporary archaeology, phenomenology, and ethnography. We uncover the city through active exploration of public spaces. We engage with the people who use them. And we archive evidence of social interaction and communication. Then we augment our documentary collection through interpretation, analysis, and relation to other threads of thought. In one sense, this blog contains field notes: seeds of thoughts which may be revisited later in more in-depth studies.

As scholars, we hope to provide and provoke informed discussion of various topics. We hold ourselves to academic rigor when writing academically. As citizens, we also realize that, like everybody else, we are biased participants in our environment. Our biases should be apparent. We do not moderate one another. Each entry reflects the points of view of the author alone.

The Urban Archives is a collaboration between graduate students at the University of Washington at Seattle and faculty at St. Martin’s University in Olympia, Washington and Leeds University in Leeds, UK. We receive no funding; all efforts and initiatives are accomplished through volunteer work. Our digital collections are generously housed within the Digital Collections of the University of Washington Libraries. It is a fine example of a collaborative digital humanities project between academic librarians and academics.

The Urban Archives project contributes to the bodies of knowledge on urban communication, the social built environment, and urban history, among others. Since 2004, we have been documenting Seattle’s streets and conducting original research using a variety of approaches and perspectives. We carry out field research by capturing urban texts such as graffiti, public art, advertising, signage, and architectural design. These urban texts are archived, annotated, and shared with the community for further research and analysis. Since our inception, our focus has expanded beyond Seattle.

a concise history

The Urban Archives started out as a conversation between Amy Dobrowolsky and Irina Gendelman, both graduate students at the University of Washington, in early 2004. Amy was working on her Master of Library & Information Science while Irina was pursuing a PhD in Communication. Both shared an interest in studying the ways that people and public spaces communicate with each other.

What started out as a crazy idea of forming a research group gained momentum through the devotion of uncompensated personal time, the support of professor David Silver, UW librarian Jessica Albano, the excitement of undergraduate students, and an eagerness to collaborate on the part of Ann Lally and Anne Graham at UW Libraries Digital Initiatives. Eventually, we were joined by Giorgia Aiello, also working on her PhD in Communication, who brought her expertise in visual studies and photography to the project.

In addition to pursuing our own research interests, we have mentored undergraduate research projects. We are also creating a publicly available digital archives of urban texts spanning a variety of media, and we are developing methods of teaching and field research.