Archive for the ‘Censorship’ Category

Preserving Digital Archives

April 28, 2013

Most attendees at the Beinecke Library’s recent conference on digital archiving–Beyond the Text: Literary Archives in the 21st Century“–arrived equipped with the idea that there is no preservation without loss.

What may have given some attendees pause, particularly those who work primarily on the first two centuries following the Reformation, is how much 21st-century digital stuff is being preserved–and how idiosyncratic the process of selection can be.

Faced with the data deluge of a contemporary literary figure’s electronic correspondence, for example, how do archivists determine what gets archived and what gets tossed?  Now that archiving can begin during a writer’s or publisher’s lifetime, without a family member’s interference (think Cassandra Austen), who shapes the archive?  And if digital archivists shape the archive, what principles of retention do they use?  Where do their loyalties lie? With the author?  Or with the data-hungry and feverishly scandal-mongering scholars of posterity?

The two-day conference raised unresolved and provocative questions, many of which focused on the problem of selection.  Fran Baker, the Assistant Archivist for John Rylands Library at the University of Manchester, discussed the complexity of archiving the Carcanet editorial papers, including email.  Hearing about the decision-making process determining what stays and what gets tossed may not seem new to librarians familiar with the problem of sorting and discarding, but in the context of shaping an archive, that decision-making process and its likelihood of error takes on urgency.

There were stories of forensic success, the most notable of which is Matthew Kirschenbaum’s narrative of the extensive and collective effort tracking down William Gibson’s electronic poem, “Agrippa,” which was designed to encrypt itself after a single reading.  That a text programmed to go away can be recovered suggests both the value of collaborating on large digital projects like The Agrippa Files and the perils of assuming that an author has control over her or his electronic archives.  Similarly, Beth Luey’s account of the rich storehouse of data contained in publishers’ records–sales data, copies printed, copies sold, print runs, design decisions, contracts, marketing files, legal disputes, reviews, book jacket design, subsidiary rights, and so forth–both encouraged work on publishers’ records and raised ethical and legal issues.  In the discussion that followed, for example, it became clear that though some publishers did not retain rejected manuscripts, others did, including pertinent correspondence and readers’ reports.

The Keynote talk by David Sutton noted that literary manuscripts are like no other manuscripts in that they offer insights into the act of creation.  He showcased ongoing projects that promote an awareness of digital literary archives:

Hazel Carby’s eloquent, harrowing, and culturally resonant account of tracing her family genealogy back to a slave owner’s carefully archived records, reminded everyone that archives preserve both the beautiful and the monstrous.

Diane Ducharme drew on her experience at the Beinecke to warn that however much we may desire an unmediated past and a pristine archival order free from editing and explicating, all archives arrive shaped and selected.  Her discussion underscored the importance of searching for the traces of a previous archivist’s work.

Micki McGee described her experience with the Yaddo Archive Project, which aims at providing visualizations of the social network of writers who worked at Yaddo.  She described the process of seeking a relational database with social network mapping and a visualization widget.  Though the project, Yaddo Circles, requires authentication and is not yet available for public view, this vimeo provides an overview.  Clicking here reveals the kind of relational visualization this project might produce.

McGee also recommended looking at the following projects:

These projects have potential for helping us recover the intensely sociable and highly competitive literary worlds of the long eighteenth century.   Like the many other provocative and interesting papers and introductions to sessions, they point a way forward even as they raise methodological, logistical, and even ethical questions.

This conference made clear the value of a longer conference, with sessions focusing on specific problems posed by digital archives of material both old and new.  I welcome contributions by others who attended the conference to help complete this cursory overview.

EEBO Interactions and Bibliography: Linking the Past to the Present

February 5, 2012

“Even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography.”

–Stephen Tabor, “ESTC and the Bibliographical Community”

This is a heady time for literary scholars using digital tools.  Visualization and text tagging software offers new ways to analyze old texts’ rhetorical and linguistic features.  Docu-scope, for example, is being used by Michael Witmore, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, to chart maps of Shakespeare’s plays using 1000-word strings.  The resulting maps posted on Witmore’s blog, Wine Dark Sea, reveal that Othello, for example, shares linguistic features, such as frequent first-person forms, with Shakespeare’s comedies.  Asking why this is so may provide a more detailed understanding of Shakespeare’s craft.

Other data mining projects, underway at Matthew Jockers and Franco Moretti’s Stanford Literary Lab, broaden and transform the practice of literary study, in part by advancing what Moretti calls “distant reading.”  These projects forgo traditional “close” reading of individual texts to analyze computer-generated data derived from running thousands of texts through specific programs.

Elsewhere, annotation tools, such as Digital Mappaemundi, allow annotation of digital artifacts such as, in DM’s case, medieval maps and geographic texts.

Aggregating platforms, including 18thConnect and NINES, create virtual environments where digital work can be shared.  Digital texts, images, maps, data, video, and audio can be collected and annotated for projects difficult to imagine just a few years ago.

Finally, the digital world has nourished new participatory models of scholarship, advanced, for example, by Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence.

These new and often visually alluring scholarly ventures chart new avenues of inquiry and reshape literary studies as we know it.  Stanley Fish has blogged about them; Witmore has been interviewed by Forbes, introducing them to the commercial world; and granting agencies like the NEH have responded by dedicating specific funds for such projects.

But in the shadow of these projects, runs a slower, methodical, far less glamorous digital task on which all other projects rely: ensuring that digital texts retain bibliographical integrity.  As Stephen Tabor put it in a 2007 comment used in the epigraph above, “even as more and more texts become widely available through digital surrogates, studies of the book remain grounded in physical bibliography” (The Library 8:4, 369).

EEBO Interactions offers a unique venue for scholarly dialogue about bibliographical matters.   Though it describes itself as a “social network for Early English Books Online,” it might be more accurate to think of it as a site for asynchronous conferencing about bibliographical matters.  A broad range of readers–Proquest editors, graduate students, theologians, literary scholars, historians, philosophers, independent scholars, curators, librarians and library administrators, digital editors,  undergraduates, bibliographers, and textual critics–have already posted queries or comments, often correcting bibliographical entries or expanding our understanding of a given text.  The comments appear under the following rubrics:

Comments about this copy: Comments include requests that missing title pages be restored, or that two variants counted as the same copy by both ESTC and EEBO be distinguished.  They range from providing resolutions of complex pagination problems, to asking general book history questions.

About this work:  This section allows readers to suggest the broader context of a given text.  Nick Poyntz of Mercurius Politicus fame identifies one pamphlet as an advertorial for a cup lined with antimony and notes that two customers died after using the cup.  Other readers correct publication dates, post questions about attribution, note additional authors not mentioned in the EEBO or ESTC entries, or track the evolution of a text from one edition to the next.

Notes:  Aliases can be discussed here, something helpful in reading recusant literature.  This is also the space to discuss a text’s plurality–its relation to other texts it cites or responds to, and its reception.

Suggest a link: This space allows for links to ODNB entries or to pertinent articles, particularly useful for acquiring a fuller understanding of little known works. 

Perhaps most innovatively, EEBO Interactions invites scholars and librarians to talk with one another and with representatives from the commercial world that produced EEBOEEBO Interactions is the only purpose-built space designed to bring together members of the bibliographical community–normally working in isolation and apart from one another–to collaborate for a moment or two on the joint endeavor of linking the past to the present.  This is the kind of experiment that benefits everyone. 

It would be great to hear readers’ responses to EEBO Interactions.

Stephen Karian’s Jonathan Swift in Print and Manuscript: Intro and Ch. 1

July 26, 2010

When I first heard about Karian’s book, I was  intrigued, because ever since Hugh Kenner’s Stoic Comedians (1963) Swift has been the beneficiary of numerous studies that invoked an Enlightenment-era, democratizing “print culture” as one of the chief motivators behind his satire.  For both Swift and these 20th century critics, “Grub Street” stood for all the democratized (and therefore degraded) knowledge-production, communications, and political behavior that Swift seemed to both loathe and formally imitate in his own writings.

Consequently, Swift, like Sterne, has always seemed to be an author particularly conscious of the ways in which the forms and conventions of print help to shape its meanings for readers, fostering what Kenner, under the influence of Walter Ong, termed his awareness of “book as book.”  Swift’s consciousness of print, as evidenced by his parodies of print conventions like Dedications, Prefaces, and footnotes in works like a Tale of a Tub, helped make him an emblematic figure more generally for the literary implications of print culture from the ’60s and ’70s onward.

During that time, however, our knowledge of both print culture and its larger social, economic, and cultural contexts has expanded enormously.  Since 1963, for example, historians like Eisenstein, Johns and many others have amassed, synthesized, and debated the significance of a vast amount of information concerning the historical emergence and distinctive features of print culture, while scholars like McKenzie, Ezell, Love, and now McKitterick have contributed their own appreciation for the interrelatedness of manuscript and print production during the early modern period, including the long eighteenth century.

In his very lucid introduction to Swift in Print and Manuscript, Karian helpfully outlines his  methodological debts to this “second wave” of historical scholarship that stresses the “interactivity and fluidity” of print and manuscript, while noting that this scholarship is influenced by “our contemporary existence as members of an emerging digital culture that is still very much immersed in print” (2). (more…)

Randy Robertson’s “British Index, 1641-1700″

January 16, 2010

Randy Robertson has generously made available his annotated Index of Books and Pamphlets Censored in the British Isles and British North American between 1641 and 1700.  Items are listed chronologically by the date of suppression or questioning.  The link above will take you to his account on academia.edu.  That page has a link for the Index.

Plans are in the works for Penn State Press to publish the Index but first the massive Word document will have to be transformed into an Excel document to make all of its fields searchable, a summer project.  For now, however, he is generously sharing the Index with readers and inviting suggestions directed to him for how it might be made more useful.   He hopes to add EEBO links for each item and also a list of relevant secondary sources.

This is the kind of project that suggests how web publishing might be particularly useful to students of book history.  In an excellent article published in Studies in Bibliography 56 (2003-4), 140-170, Michael Suarez wonders whether the web might provide a richer medium than a printed volume for a national history of the book because, in part, it is expandable in a way that the printed text is not.  More generally, Robert Darnton has long held that web publishing provides opportunities of particular interest to scholars.

It would be interesting to hear from readers how Robertson’s British Index might be used in conjunction with the electronic resources we have been discussing, both in scholarship and in the classroom.


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