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Abstract

[Editor's note: This paper is the 2017 winner of the Student Paper Award in Document(ation) Studies, http://documentacademy.org/?award. Susannah Munson wrote the paper as a Kent State University, School of Information, Museum Studies student.]

The physical objects that surround us document vast amounts of information about themselves, their histories, and their roles in broader social and cultural contexts. To reveal this sometimes hidden information, we examine these objects through analytical frameworks that go beyond descriptive accounts to explore how an object existed and was culturally understood throughout its history. Document phenomenology (Gorichanaz and Latham, 2016), conceived in two Acts, provides such an analytical framework in which we can examine the Spider as a document with physical and contextual information given meaning by a human actor [Act One] as well as explore its component parts and the overlapping and co-occurring sociocultural systems in which it has historically been situated [Act Two]. This paper uses the framework of document phenomenology to investigate a single object, a clockwork spider, as not only an object with physical properties and a life history, but also as an object temporally and spatially situated within the changing social and cultural contexts of its more than 400 years of existence. From wondrous curiosity to precursor of artificial intelligence, the Spider is much more than it first appears.

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