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Short Paper Session

July 14, 2022 @ 5:00 pm - 5:45 pm UTC+0

Short Paper Sessions consist of two papers:

  • Alexandra Pucciarelli: Finding and Fearing Disease in the Archive: Evidence; Eugenics; Survivance
  • Devan Ray Donaldson: Perception vs. Reality: Understanding the Birth Certificate of #BarackObama, Trust, and Misinformation


Finding and Fearing Disease in the Archive: Evidence; Eugenics; Survivance

My uncle Richard was just 30 years old when he won his Emmy. This should have been the beginning of an amazing career, but just two months later he was diagnosed with a rare form of multiple sclerosis. MS destroyed his frontal lobe, causing him to lose all impulse control, and he spent the rest of his life in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, and group homes before he died of complications of MS. The fear that I, too, might one day lose control prompted me to begin genealogical research, looking for assurances that Richard’s fate would not be my own. As a Jewish person, I was keenly aware of the intergenerational trauma associated with this practice. While conducting my research, I found myself engaged in a project with an inextricable relationship with eugenics. As a site for the production of evidence, archives have been weaponized against Jewish people. In the Second World War, records were used to track down and identify Jews, part of a program of experimentation and extermination built on eugenicist notions of racial purity and genetic superiority. This paper takes an autoethnographic approach to exploring the tensions implicit in genealogical research into hereditary disease when the same archival methods have been directed against the survival of the disabled and the Jewish people. It is vital for us as archivists to consider all angles for how records can be used and manipulated when creating and maintaining them.

Presenter Bio

Alexandra Pucciarelli, PhD Student, Rutgers

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Perception vs. Reality: Understanding the Birth Certificate of #BarackObama, Trust, and Misinformation

Records are persistent representations of activities created by partakers, observers, or their authorized proxies. People are generally willing to trust vital records such as birth, death, and marriage certificates. However, conspiracy theories and other misinformation may negatively impact perceptions of such documents, particularly when they are associated with a significant person or event.

This paper explores the relationship between archival records and trustworthiness by reporting results of a survey that asked genealogists about their perceptions of 44th U.S. President Barack Obama’s birth certificate, which was then at the center of the “birtherism” conspiracy. We found that although most participants perceived the birth certificate as trustworthy, others engaged in a biased review, considering it not trustworthy because of the news and politics surrounding it.

These findings suggest that a conspiracy theory can act as a moderating variable that undermines the efficacy of normal or recommended practices and procedures for evaluating online information such as birth certificates. We provide recommendations and propose strategies for archivists to disseminate correct information to counteract the spread of misinformation about the authenticity of vital records, and we discuss future directions for research.

Presenter Bio

Devan Ray Donaldson, Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, Indiana University Bloomington

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This session will be recorded and made available on AERI YouTube.


July 14, 2022
5:00 pm - 5:45 pm UTC+0
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