A Brief History of the Creation of ARAS Online

by Tom Singer, M.D., Co-chair of the ARAS Online Committee


I remember a moment of revelation when I was standing in front of the cereal section at the local grocery store and suddenly realized that all the boxes in front of me didn't just spontaneously generate themselves on the shelfthat they actually came from somewhere else where the cereal was created, put in a box, shipped and then placed on the shelf. In that moment, I became aware of my previous belief that Cheerios had always been there in the past and would always be there in the future, instantaneously regenerating themselves—just like the archetypes. For those of you who might share this kind of magical thinking about such things and may now believe that ARAS Online has always existed in the ether of cyberspace where it spontaneously generated itself and would be naturally occurring forever, I would like to tell you that this is not the case. Already, perhaps, some of us may take it for granted that ARAS Online has always been there, but this is far from the truth and I would like to give you some history of how it actually appeared on the shelf of the vast resources now available on the Internet.


National ARAS had been talking about the possibility of creating a computer version of its collection since at least the 1980's. In the early 1990's, San Francisco ARAS (one of the members of National ARAS) obtained a grant from the San Francisco Jung Institute scholarship committee to develop a proposal for computerizing ARAS.
Ann McCormack, the founder of the Learning Company and an enthusiastic supporter of ARAS, drafted this proposal and it was presented to the National ARAS Board. ARAS was not ready at this time and the board decided to wait. In the intervening decade (1993-2002) we saw tremendous developments in the ability to digitize images and text economically as well as to make them accessible in rapidly improving computer software and hardware (the technology of creating ARAS Online will be the topic of the next newsletter).


Although the dream of digitizing ARAS went underground, it did not die. Several of us incubated the idea for a decade, nursing the oracular vision of Time Magazine when it pronounced that the computer was a "solution in search of a problem." Computers offered tremendous advances in the capacity to store, organize and transmit information, but in the early days of computer science it remained very much a question as to what content might best lend itself to this extraordinary technology. I had always thought that ARAS presented a perfect content "problem" for the computer's technology "solution." ARAS research relies on the capacity of a skilled curator and/or a very intelligent machine to bring vast information from different times, places, and cultures into thematic relationship to one another via almost instant association of word and image.
One of the more compelling early arguments for creating a digitized version of ARAS was that the collection could be preserved from damage and/or loss. But the fact that all of this might actually take place, that all of the material in the filing cabinets might be condensed into digitized form that could be instantaneously available around the world for research and education still seems like an unrealizable dream.
Carol Sellers Herbert and I had long shared the vision that the ARAS archives presented the perfect "problem" for a "computer solution" and as part of resuscitating the 1993 proposal, we formulated the following rationale/mission statement in 2002 to encourage National ARAS to revisit the issue of computerizing the collection:

At a time when understanding both the uniqueness and commonality of individuals and cultures from around the world has become essential for the well being of all peoples, the ARAS collection of images, cultural context, and symbolic commentary stands out as a treasure. It provides the unique capacity to plumb the depths of universal human concerns by exploring specific images and themes from diverse and separate cultures, while simultaneously connecting them to other cultures and epochs. This capacity gives real substance to the worthy but seldom achieved goal of furthering cross-cultural understanding between individuals and societies.
This proposal outlines how the ARAS collection and internet site can be used to further cross-cultural research, understanding, and teaching of images world wide. Understanding the archetypal patterns that make all peoples unique, separate, and—at the same time—one with the family of man, nature and spirit are the goal of this project.


Just as the computer offered a "solution in search of a problem," the task of creating ARAS Online presented several problems in search of a solution.
1. Creating a Plan for Building ARAS Online
A solid plan had to be formulated that could integrate the huge promise of computer technology with the practical realities of the ARAS collection. The National ARAS Board had to be convinced that digitizing ARAS was a worthy project and that we were capable of actually doing it. Based on San Francisco's original proposal, Jeff Levinsky joined forces with Anne McCormack, Carol Herbert and Tom Singer in 2002 to craft a new version of the 1993 plan which resulted in a three-phased proposal that detailed the steps and budget for creating ARAS Online:
Phase 1: Digitizing the ARAS collection: Some 17,000 images and 20,000 pages of commentary needed to be scanned into electronic form in a process called "digitization". This was a massive task that required careful planning, meticulous organization and exacting execution to guarantee the quality and accuracy of scanning the entire collection.
Phase 2: Making Digital ARAS Usable: This phase involved scanning 46,000 catalogue cards, typing in all of the commentaries and creating a software interface that would allow a user to navigate from card catalogue to archetypal image and commentaries. The software interface is what enables one to move easily and quickly around the archive in search of specific themes that span different cultures and time frames.
Phase 3: Creating a Web Version of ARAS: The final phase of developing ARAS Online consisted of taking the digitized version of the collection and making it accessible on the internet.
Careful budgets for each of the three phases were estimated and the plan was designed so that the first task of preserving the archive led sequentially in time through the three phases to the final goal of making the archive accessible online. In other words, creating a plan for building ARAS Online was a bit like making a blueprint for building a house. First, the basic building blocks of the "house"—the images and commentaries—needed to be put in a form that could be used for construction. Then these basic building blocks needed to be arranged in a form that brought them into usable relationship to one another. Finally, roads had to be built that allowed people to get to the new house.
2. Finding Money for Building ARAS
A good blueprint for a house is not worth very much if you don't have the money to build the house. Raising the money to do the job was a key element in convincing National ARAS that we could see this project to fruition. In this regard, Carol Sellers Herbert and I began to "beat the drums" and were very, very lucky to find a handful of major donors who were able to appreciate the value of making the collection available to the world. It was a huge surprise to everyone—including Carol and myself—that the timing of the project seemed to be in the "Tao" and the funds flowed in relatively easily and quickly. What many had viewed as an insurmountable task became almost effortless. Without the enormous generosity of a very small group of donors this project would not have gotten off the ground.
3. Copyright Law and ARAS Online
With a good blueprint for the design of ARAS Online in hand and the money to make it happen, one would think that there would be little that could stop the momentum of such a project. In fact, the legal issues facing the creation of ARAS Online were as daunting as anything else. Copyright law in the era of electronic transmission of images and text is both enormously complicated and very new. With the help of the Mellon Foundation (the original backer of the Bollingen Foundation and a major supporter of the Eranos lectures where ARAS was born), we were referred to the attorneys most knowledgeable about copyright law and electronic archives. Several legal principles guiding copyright and the internet were explored including "fair use" and "public domain"—both of which provide for the educational use of images under certain circumstances. Part of making sure that it would be legal to create ARAS Online required painstaking analysis of the actual images in the entire collection in order to determine the copyright laws that applied to them. Close to a year of legal examination was required before the project could move forward. The most unexpected thing that I learned about in this legal journey was the so-called "Mickey Mouse" law. The practice of copyrighting images in the United States originated with Walt Disney's creation of Mickey Mouse in the early 1920's and we owe a vast maze of copyright law to Mr. Mouse. This is probably as much as anyone needs or wants to know about the legal tangle that surrounds copyright law and ARAS Online. Needless to say, we did our homework and perhaps we should create a new ARAS file on the law that features Mickey Mouse as archetype. Carol Herbert Sellers coordinated the legal research and for this—as well as much more—we owe her an enormous debt of gratitude.


Having solved the problems of good design, major funding and the complexities of copyright law in the age of the internet, construction of ARAS Online proceeded. After three years of development, ARAS Online made its Internet debut in mid-2005. The planning, design and construction cost approximately $750,000. For those involved in the building process, it was tremendously exciting. Decades of dreaming about employing the computer to enhance the ease and accessibility of using ARAS seemed to blossom overnight and, to stay with the images provided by Mr. Disney, it was like watching one of his time warped flowers miraculously unfold right in front of our eyes.
Building ARAS Online took an extraordinarily gifted and dedicated staff at the center of which were Jeff Levinsky and Allison Langerak. Jeff was our computer "guru" who seemed to anticipate and understand every twist and turn that such a project could take. He also was a master of the art of working with people and of solving problems with a fine critical intelligence. Allison served as the executive assistant of the project. She kept every aspect of the project flowing with a terrific eye for administrative detail and careful follow-through. She provided an invaluably gracious interface with the already fully-occupied ARAS staff in New York with whom she worked closely in handling the images and commentaries during the intense process of digitizing that material. The ARAS curators in New York and San Francisco, Ami Ronnberg and Patricia Sohl, helped move the process along in a myriad of ways, providing all kinds of information about the architecture and workings of the archive. Finally, Carol Herbert oversaw the entire process on a daily basis for the first years, drawing on her enormous experience with ARAS, management, and contracts.
Shortly after ARAS Online debuted, we received an e-mail from an irate, potential subscriber who fumed at the notion that we were charging a fee to gain access to the site. In her mind, archetypes were as natural and freely occurring as the air we breathe and, as such, it was almost a crime against nature that we should be charging for their use—as if we were patenting and profiting from the use of the DNA of the psyche. Her sense of entitlement was not that different from my own, mistaken, grocery store notion that access to such things are a naturally occurring gift of the gods—although I did understand that I had to pay for a box of cereal. The fact of the matter is that it costs money to create ARAS Online and it costs money to sustain and grow it. Our primary goal for the future is to guarantee a long, self-generating, and self-renewing "shelf-life" for ARAS online so that it becomes a global resource.