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Distributed Records in the Rohingya Refugee Diaspora: Arweave and the R-Archive


This article discusses the motivation for, and development of the pilot phase of the blockweave-based Rohingya Archive (hereafter the R-Archive). The R-Archive is a post-custodial digital archive, which means that it does not have a physical counterpart and only digital copies of physical records are maintained within it (Caswell, 2020, p.26; Shein and Lapworth, 2016). The article first provides some background regarding the Rohingya people and the historical and current abuses and bureaucratic violence that they have experienced in Arakan (now called Rakhine State) in Burma (called Myanmar by its current government), in southeast Asia. After detailing the impetus behind the R-Archive’s creation and the associated research design and procedural considerations, the article outlines the blockweave technologies on which it is built, and how they work to reduce the environmental impact of intensive computation that is characteristic of blockchain applications. It then discusses the archival and trust challenges that surfaced during the implementation of the pilot. More broadly, it considers the socio-technical and juridical issues that arise at this archival intervention at the intersection of rights, records, technologies, jurisdictions, economics and politics. The article concludes with a reflection on the entire endeavour, its next steps, and its potential to serve as a model for similar grassroots archival activism by oppressed, marginalized and diasporic communities.

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