Posts Tagged ‘digital archives’

Book History and Digital Humanities: SHARP at #MLA 14 #s738

January 27, 2014

The recent MLA 2014 conference featured numerous sessions dealing with digital humanities in its various incarnations. More than a few of those sessions dealt with the interrelationships between new and old technologies, including Session 738, a stimulating roundtable sponsored by the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) and organized by Lise Jalliant (University of Newcastle). Unfortunately, Lise was not able to attend MLA as planned, so Eleanor Shevlin served as chair in her stead.

Designed to “shed light on the digital future of book history and the bibliographical roots of digital humanities” (MLA special session proposal), the “Book History and Digital Humanities” roundtable featured six projects that attest to the close interrelationships between the two fields. The presentations were delivered in the chronological order of the projects. Not only did these projects illustrate the ways in which the digital and book historical are tightly intertwined, but they also demonstrated various technological advances as they highlighted what a new generation of digital capabilities and thinking are affording scholarship.

Greg Hickman, head of the University of Iowa’s Special Collections and Archives, opened the session by discussing the Atlas of Early Printing, an interactive map that provides a visualization of printing’s spread during the incunabula period. The 2013 version Greg demonstrated offers a technological advance over the map’s flash-based design launched in 2008 and has been primed to operate effectively on mobile devices as well as desktops.

Atlas of Early Printing

Atlas of Early Printing


Unlike the two-dimensional print maps from which it draws its inspiration, the Atlas contains information related to the spread of print such as the locations of paper mills, universities, trade routes. Users can select all or any of this additional information to create specific contextualizations about the ways the press and printing took hold throughout Europe in the decades leading up to the sixteenth century.

Interested in using technology for purposes beyond gathering, organizing, and explaining information, Michael Gavin, a professor of English at the University of South Carolina, discussed using computer simulation to create a more generative way of working with information. Specifically, Gavin, drawing from Joshua Epstein’s work in agent-based computational simulation to model early modern print culture and to “grow information” about seventeenth- and eighteenth-century book trade issues including censorship and the effects readers exercised on printers and booksellers. The use of such computer modeling focuses on simulating social behavior to generate and test information; if the model is right, then it should not crash.

The director of NINES and professor of English at University of Virginia, Andrew Stauffer, made a cogent plea for the imperiled status of nineteenth-century printed books. Individual copies of nineteenth-century books, often still in the stacks or in the process of being de-accessioned (if not already removed), possess rich, layered histories and the evidence of their multiple temporalities. In an effort to preserve the histories of these works “hidden in plain sight,” In addition to advocating for the primacy of the printed work as a site embodying distinct, irreplaceable data, Stauffer is developing a crowd-sourcing project that will ask academic institutions, other holding bodies and individuals to use Instagram and other forms of technology to capture digitally this heritage and make it accessible.

Matthew Laven, the Associate Program Coordinator of the Mellon-funded “Cross Boundaries: Re-envisioning the Humanities for the 21st Century” at St. Lawrence University, addressed the question “What is a digital bibliography of a book?” through his work on a dynamic, visually-enriched publishing history of Willa Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop (1927) for the Willa Cather Archive. Acting as a case study for the digital representations of both various material artifacts (e.g., manuscripts, printed translations, unusual editions) and textual variances, the project also seeks to convey the bibliographical ties among the various artifacts and is informed by a Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR)-based ontology.

Hannah McGregor, a SSHRC postdoctoral fellow at the University of Alberta, spoke about constructing an innovative methodological approach to studying periodicals that she and Paul Hjartarson, professor of English and film studies at the University of Alberta, have been developing in collaboration with the Editing Modernism in Canada research group. A key working hypothesis of this project is that periodicals are ideally situated for digital remediation as relational databases because they themselves resemble databases (that the word “magazine” also meant a storehouse bespeaks this similarity). While middlebrow magazines serve as the project’s focal point, McGregor drew her examples from the Western Home Monthly and Pictorial Review. The issue of labeling—what to call different items, the problem of categories and categorization—has been a vexed point and one no doubt complicated by the multiplicities of genres and the nature of periodical materials (think of the Burney 17th and 18th Century Newspaper Collection). This issue of labeling underscored the ways in which coding is important intellectual labor.

The final participant, Elizabeth Wilson-Gordon, professor of English at King’s University College in Alberta, presented the Modernist Archives Publishing Project (MAPP). A collaborative effort involving Canadian, U.K. and U.S., institutions, the project seeks to advance research in the history of modernist presses and publishing. Wilson-Gordon used Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press to illustrate the capabilities of MAPP. The Hogarth Press offered an especially rich example because of the insights its history affords about Woolf and her work but also because of its importance to interwar publishing and its longevity throughout the twentieth century. Like many of the other projects discussed, MAPP illustrated the importance of collaboration and communities of scholars working in tandem. The launch of the Hogarth Press open-access portion of MAPP is slated for 2017.

The Book History and Digital Humanities session was one of three excellent panels sponsored by SHARP. SHARP’s liaison to MLA, Greg Barnhisel has written a full account of the other two, equally invigorating sessions for the spring issue of SHARP News: the official SHARP panel, Session # 501 Books and the Law, and Session #398 Virginia Woolf and Book History, co-sponsored with the Virginia Woolf Society.

Digital Humanities Data Curation Workshops

July 24, 2013
Readers may be interested in the following announcement:

Digital Humanities Data Curation, a series of three-day workshops, will provide a strong introductory grounding in data curation concepts and practices, focusing on the special issues and challenges of data curation in the humanities. Workshops are aimed at humanities researchers — whether traditional faculty or alternative (alt-ac) professionals — as well as librarians, archivists, cultural heritage specialists, other information professionals, and advanced graduate students.

Applications are now being accepted for the second Digital Humanities Data Curation Institute workshop, to be held at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, University of Maryland, October 16-18, 2013. Visit the Institute website (http://dhcuration.org/institute) to complete an application by August 7.

As the materials and analytical practices of humanities research become increasingly digital, the theoretical knowledge and practical skills of information science, librarianship, and archival science — which come together in the research, and practice of data curation — will become more vital to humanists.

Carrying out computational research with digital materials requires that both scholars and information professionals understand how to manage and curate data over its entire lifetime of interest. At the least, individual scholars must be able to document their data curation strategies and evaluate those of collaborators and other purveyors of humanities data. More fully integrating data curation into digital research involves fluency with topics such as disciplinary research cultures, publication, information sharing, and reward practices, descriptive standards, metadata formats, and the technical characteristics of digital data.

Organized by the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH), the Women Writers Project (WWP) at Brown University, and the Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship (CIRSS) at GSLIS, this workshop series is generously funded by an Institute for Advanced Topics in the Digital Humanities grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Megan Senseney
Center for Informatics Research in Science and Scholarship
Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Phone: 217-244-5574
Email: mfsense2@illinois.edu

Visit the website at http://dhcuration.org/institute.

We would welcome hearing about these workshops from participants.

CFP: EEBO, ECCO, and Burney as Tools for Bibliography and Book History

August 26, 2012

American Society of Eighteenth-Century Studies (ASECS) 2013 conference, Cleveland, Ohio, April 4 -7.

EEBO, ECCO, and Burney as Tools for Bibliography and Book History (Roundtable)
(Society for the History of Authorship, Reading & Publishing (SHARP) and the Bibliography Society of America (BSA) Organizers: Eleanor F. Shevlin and Anna Battigelli

ProQuest‘s Early English Books Online (EEBO) and Gale‘s Eighteenth-Century Collections Online (ECCO) and its Burney 17th- and 18th-Century Newspaper Collection are transforming the landscape of eighteenth-century scholarship and teaching. While these commercial databases are well known for affording unprecedented access to early modern works, their full potential has yet to be realized. Aimed at advancing these tools’ usefulness, this roundtable seeks four to five ten-minute presentations that demonstrate ways in which these textabases can further work in book history and bibliography. Possible topics include using EEBO, ECCO, and/or Burney textbases to uncover, amend, or enhance information about the creation, production, circulation, or consumption of texts in the long eighteenth century; employing these tools to illustrate the importance of bibliographical knowledge and practices; applying their search capabilities to trace details about authors, printers, booksellers, paratextual elements, distribution networks, illustrations, translators (and translations), readers, pricing, and more; exploring the ways these digital tools are affecting or even reconfiguring the methodologies and research practices of book historians and bibliographers. Presentations that focus on EEBO Interactions (EI), a scholarly networking forum available to both EEBO subscribers and nonsubscribers, are especially welcomed. So too are examples of classroom exercises, course assignments, or advanced undergraduate or graduate seminars designed around one or more of these databases.

Abstracts of 250-words should be emailed to Eleanor Shevlin (eshevlin “AT” wcupa.edu) and Anna Battigelli (a.battigelli “AT” att.net). Proposers need not be members of SHARP or BSA to submit, but panelists must be members of both ASECS and either BSA or SHARP in order to present. For questions about SHARP membership, please direct inquiries to Eleanor Shevlin at eshevlin “AT” wcupa.edu. For questions about BSA membership,please direct inquiries to Catherine Parisian at catherine.parisian “AT” uncp.edu.

Aggregating Resources and Building Digital Humanities Networks

June 11, 2012

The ever-growing interest in digital resources for humanities research and teaching has coincided with an increased desire for central sites that enable scholars to learn about appropriate digital tools, applications, and software. Bamboo DiRT (Digital Research Tools), inspired by Lisa Spiro’s DiRT wiki and part of Project Bamboo, is one site that fulfills this desire. Among the strengths of this directory of digital tools is the multiple ways to find resources. Clicking on the “View all” link, for instance, will take users to the site’s complete, annotated list of tools, from Adobe-based resources to Zotpress. The categories and tags page, accessible by clicking “Browse,” enables users to click on terms such as “data analysis” or “bibliographic management” and be taken to a descriptive list of relevant resources. On the I-want-to-do-X page, users can search for tools that will allow them to tackle particular tasks. These tasks range from analyzing data, to making screencasts or maps and transcribing handwritten or spoken texts. And users can also perform standard or advanced searches via keywords or phrases. More than just a directory, Bamboo DiRT allows registered users to comment on resources as well as share and recommend their own.

Perhaps because Bamboo DiRT is relatively new (publically debuting in 2012), comments and tips from users of various tools have, thus far, been sparse. Such contributions would complement the very brief yet still quite serviceable descriptions. Offering another variation of a digital clearinghouse, Josh Honn, a Digital Scholarship Library Fellow at Northwestern University’s Center for Scholarly Communication & Digital Curation and admiring user of Bamboo DiRT, has built his own resource hub, a Delicious “stack”. Currently consisting of 131 links to digital research software, applications, and tools, Honn’s Digital Scholarly Research Tools offers more commentary on various resources than Bamboo DiRT presently does, and it also often provides videos on specific tools. Although the stack benefits from its dynamic format, it lacks Bamboo DiRT’s multiple paths for finding tools.

Another development is the networked site. One such network is the UK’s Connected Histories. A collaborative project undertaken by the University of Hertfordshire, the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and the University of Sheffield, this site currently contains fifteen separate resources including London Lives and John Strype’s Survey of London Online. A recipient of JISC funding, Connected Historiesenables cross-searching across the various databases. Some of its resources (for example, the 17th and 18th Century Burney collection), however, require subscriptions, so although US and other non-UK users can access much of Connected Histories, searching some databases are limited to subscription holders. This video offers an introduction to this network.

A similar development is the extended network that takes NINES, the nineteenth-century resource hub, as its inspiration. 18thConnect, discussed most recently in the previous post, was the first period resource to expand NINES coverage beyond the nineteenth century. Now, inspired by NINES and often funded by Mellon, other digital resource hubs devoted to particular historical periods are being created: Medieval Electronic Scholarly Alliance (MESA), REKn (Renaissance English Knowledgebase) and ModNets (Modernists). These sites are still in the planning and development stages, so there does not seem to be that much information available at the moment. Yet, one can read about REKn in this piece “Prototyping the Renaissance English Knowledgebase (REKn) and Professional Reading Environment (PReE), Past, Present, and Future Concerns: A Digital Humanities Project Narrative” and in this University of Victoria blog announcement REKn Joins World-leading NINES Initiative, ARC. Similarly, information about MESA, directed by directed by Dot Porter from Indiana University and Timothy Stinson at North Carolina State University, is available in a North Carolina State University’s blog announcement,“Modernizing the Medieval”, and in this announcement of a MESA – ARC (Advanced Research Consortium) meeting this past fall.

What do EMOB readers think about these developments? Would readers like interoperability among the various segments of the extended NINES network similar to that found in Connected Histories? Should professional scholarly organizations do more to publicize these clearinghouses for new resources, tools, and software and to promote these networked sites of databases and archives? Especially given the increasing eye towards transatlantic studies and more comparative global approaches, should our national professional societies do more for the scholars it represents by playing a leading role in encouraging the networking of international projects and resources?

“The Past Has Arrived”: NYU’s Conference on Digital Media, Teaching, and Scholarship

May 5, 2012

Martha Rust (NYU) recently organized an inspiring conference on digital tools called “The Past Has Arrived: The Digital Middle Ages and the Renaissance.”  The tools discussed usefully supplement books in both teaching and scholarship.

Annotation tools like Digital MappaeMundi–now re-branded as DM–allow users to annotate and link images and texts.  In the image below, downloaded from the DM web site, purple annotation selects material on the twelfth-century world map from Sawley Abbey in Yorkshire (left screen) and links it to text on the right screen.  The text can similarly be formatted or annotated to include links to relevant sites, images, or glosses, such as entries in the Dictionary of Old English.  Martin Foys and Shannon Bradshaw (Drew) and Asa Mittman (Cal. State, Chico) presented an introduction, a technological context, and an application of this tool.

Image from Digital MappaeMundi

Visualization tools, such as Mapping Gothic France, allow users to view representations of medieval buildings in staggering detail.  MGF presents twelfth- or thirteenth-century cathedrals in France “in terms of sameness and difference found in the forms of multiple buildings within a defined period of time and space that corresponds to the emergence of France as a nation state,” according to its web site.  The photographs–and there are tens of thousands of them–are strikingly clear and the site is interactive, so that one can navigate the interior of cathedrals as if one were flying through them.  Those raised on Harry Potter will be particularly happy with this feature.  The views would once have been considered nearly unobtainable.  Click on the following screen shot for a larger image.

Screen shot of Mapping Gothic France home page

What’s striking about this project is that it supplements book technology.  “Architecture doesn’t fit tidily into the pages of a book,” co-administrator Andrew Tallon (Vassar) explains in an interview with Chronogram.  Indeed, this five-year project designed by Tallon and Michael Murray (Columbia) demonstrates how digital media can provide features that a book can’t or rarely offers.  Using MGF, students can manipulate maps to see the sequence in which Cathedrals were built, zoom in on architectural details, view floor plans, read narratives associated with a building, and even use a simulation tool to experiment with the physics of stone arches.

Michael Witmore’s keynote talk “What Is Access?” provided an overview of the history of Docu-Scope, which was designed to help teach freshman English but functions in surprisingly innovative ways to annotate texts.  It categorizes words into types, and generates charts of word strings that force a re-consideration of texts, such as Shakespeare’s plays, in new ways.  Witmore distinguished between archives–that maze of material books shelved within a given collection–and the archive available by a digitized database or tool.  Docu-scope might be said to re-shelve Shakespeare’s oeuvre by suggesting surprising points of contact between plays divided generically.  As noted in an earlier emob entry, Witmore finds points of contact between Othello and the comedies.  It also exposes what is odd about a given play.  The following screen shot downloaded, not from Witmore’s NYU talk, but from his blog, Wine Dark Sea, shows how Docu-scope found a high frequency of words denoting motion and spatial relations in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  Those words appear underlined in yellow below (click on image to enlarge and clarify):

 

The preponderance of such motion words, once we see them, makes immediate sense in a play featuring fairies and other supernatural creatures that move in ways that humans cannot.  One of Docu-scope’s gifts is to help us see formal aspects of a text that we might not otherwise see.  In this sense, digital tools can provide access to linguistic features of a text less likely to be found by human reading.

Cataloguing tools was the topic of my discussion of EEBO InteractionsEEBO Interactions facilitates “relational cataloguing,” allowing entries to link to ODNB entries, or to related texts within EEBO, or to articles, or to spaces where bibliographical  and critical issues can be discussed.  In the past, an EEBO user might have found the following entry to be something of a dead end:

Clicking on the text bubble by the author’s name calls up the corresponding EEBO Interactions page, which identifies J.V.C. as a Catholic priest and provides brief biographical information.

Scrolling down the EEBO Interactions page, one would also find relevant links.  Because users can add pertinent information for either the author or the text title, those working on little known work can, if they wish, share their expertise and enhance catalogue entries. This kind of relational cataloguing capitalizes on current technology and points the way to the future.

Pedagogical tools were the focus of several talks. These included the Medieval Narrative Project, designed by Evelyn Birge Vitz and Marilyn Lawrence (both at NYU), which collects video clips of performances of medieval texts.  Other teaching aids included Second Life, which Martha Driver (Pace) had her students use to construct avatars engaged in medieval contexts.  The afterlives of these projects, which continued to be used beyond the end of a given course, suggest that students enjoyed imagining medieval life through this technology.

Theoretical and practical issues were also probed.  On the practical side, Consuelo Dutschke, Curator of Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts at Columbia University, argued eloquently for the value of projects like the Digital Scriptorium, which, in addition to collecting images segregated by disparate archives into one database, also allows a “diverse community of medievalists, classicists, musicologists, paleographers, diplomats and art historians” to help strengthen cataloguing.  Similarly, Stephen Nichols (Johns Hopkins) and Nadial Altschul (Johns Hopkins), editors of Digital Philology: A Journal of Medieval Cultures, discussed some of the technical and pragmatic issues that emerged regarding digital publication, including the difference between a link to a work of art and its printed reproduction, or how royalties affect what can be included in digital publications.   More theoretical speculations included concerns expressed by Alan Galey (University of Toronto) regarding textual variation: how can interface design help organize text, textual notes, and commentary?  The Visualizing Variation project demonstrates how digital media provides innovative features, such as animated variants, for textual editing.  Nicola Masciandaro mediated on how digital tools produced “textual shapes” other than the article or the monograph.  Bill Blake discussed keywords, a topic he broached at the ASECS meeting in April and developed further here.  How can searching be conceptualized so as to explore, rather than reproduce an archive?

A final keynote delivered by Stephen Nichols on “The Anxiety of Irrelevance: Digital Humanities and Medieval Literary Scholarship” probed the ambivalence prompted by digital humanities projects.  He argued that there need not be a disconnect between the goals of Digital Humanities projects and those of traditional humanists, but that more attentive listening and understanding of questions at hand is necessary.  The day-long conference and the discussions that it fostered well into the evening, including at a lively dinner, helped advance that needed conversation.

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Digital Humanities and Archives II: ‘Archival Effects’ of Digitization

April 29, 2012

In an earlier EMOB post, “Digital Humanities and the Archives I: Economics and Sustainability”, we discussed the varied connotations that the term “sustainability” evokes. Yet the concept of “archives” also engenders a multiplicity of meanings as does the word “database.” In some circles “archive” and “database” are used interchangeably, while for others the terms signal distinctions between the past and the present. As Marlene Manoff has observed,

When scholars outside library and archival science use the word “archive” or when those outside information technology fields use the word “database,” they almost always mean something broader and more ambiguous than experts in these fields using those same words. The disciplinary boundaries within which these terms have been contained are eroding. Scholars use the terms metaphorically, appropriating them from the professional experts. (Manoff, “Archive and Database as Metaphor: Theorizing the Historical Record.” portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10.4 [2010], 385)

The submissions for the “Digital Humanities and the Archives” roundtable at ASECS 2012 attest to the varied meanings scholars ascribe to “archive” as a digital entity. While some proposals viewed commercial textbases such as ECCO or EEBO as archives, others considered non-commercial digital projects (some of which were designed to perform additional roles beyond being a repository), as falling under the “archival” designation. Still others proposed topics that were not tied to specific digital collections or projects. Reflecting this diversity, the selected presentations featured two papers on the nature of searching within digital environments (Randall Cream, West Chester Univ., and Bill Blake, New York Univ.), another on the coding issues encountered in building a performance history database (Mike Gavin, Rice University; University of South Carolina, Fall 2012), a fourth on the potential evidence that can be derived from negative results (Sayre Greenfield, Univ. of Pittsburgh, Greensburg), and the last on a digital archive aimed at facilitating exchange between scholars facilitating exchange between scholars and those outside the academy (Jessica Richard, Wake Forest Univ.). In his post on the many Digital Humanities sessions at ASECS, Stephen Gregg offers a fine overview of this roundtable, so the following comments supplement his summary. In addition, they serve as a springboard for discussing digitization’s broader “archival effects,” a term coined by Marlene Manoff to “suggest the ways in which digital media bring the past into the present” (386).

Contrasting the old and the new, Randall Cream noted that unlike traditional archives whose contents are not always fully known, digital archives and databases afford more certainty because their creation involves detailed and defining–an encyclopedic naming of their various parts. For Cream, this difference has also meant that searching the digital archives lacks the serendipitous discovery that scholars often experience when working in brick-and-mortar archives. He suggested concept-linked searching as a possible means of fostering chance discoveries within digital environments, a suggestion that provided a fitting segue to Bill Blake’s talk on crafting more effective digital searches. Blake argued for thinking beyond topical keyword searches aimed solely at retrieval. Instead, he called for adopting more quality, conceptually-based searches that will yield better results; such searches will counter the drift and spread that occur when the aim of retrieval replaces the goal of discovery. (Given earlier EMOB discussions of semantic- or meaning-based searches, it should be noted that Blake was referring to the ways users select and fashion search terms and not to the new search platforms that enable semantic or meaning-based searching such as Mimas used in JISC’s Historic Books collection.)

Cream’s and Blake’s remarks point to what could be termed a remediation of research practices as print and digital interact, and both their talks highlighted searching as perhaps one of the most significant reconfigured practices. And indeed the concept of searching has undergone major reformulations in the digital environment. While accessibility and quickness of obtaining results are often seen as digital archives’ main advantage over print, a key benefit of digital collections resides in their enabling users to traverse immense areas of texts multi-directionally. Put another way, what seems radically different about searching in the digital world is not merely unprecedented access and speed, but rather the ways one can alter search strategies instantaneously, shifting not only the search terms employed at a moment’s notice but also the temporal and spatial coordinates in which those terms are placed. This capability expands the ways we are approaching the search as a strategy, opening up new conceptualizations even as we retain the habits and training we acquired working with print. As Wired magazine’s Kevin Kelly has observed: “What search uncovers is not just keywords but also the inherent value of connection…Search opens up creations. …As a song, movie, novel or poem is searched, the potential connections it radiates seep into society in a much deeper way than the simple publication of a duplicated copy ever could” (Kevin Kelly, “Scan this Book!” New York Times, 14 May 2006).

The searching enabled within digital archives reorients our thinking about what constitutes relevant information and exposes the kinds of connectivity that we would likely miss or overlook working with print and manuscript in traditional environments. This reorientation, moreover, possesses its own opportunities for serendipity. While serendipitous discoveries made when working in a traditional archive or even browsing in the stacks typically occur within a bounded space and a pre-selected range of call numbers, digital archives and databases enable virtual movement throughout their holdings to uncover relevant but unforeseen connections not bounded by categories of expectations. In short, capable of serving as far more than text delivery systems and repositories, these digital archives and databases function as “discovery aids.” Fostering a culture of connectivity, these intellectual laboratories of sorts can provide access not only to individual titles but also to a larger, dynamic field of textual and sociocultural activity.

Sayre Greenfield’s paper demonstrated the kind of discoveries that this rethinking of relevant information can yield. Noting that assessing negative findings requires caution, Greenfield explored the ways in which a lack of search results—negative evidence—can translate into meaningful information and concluded that “absences are most useful when measured against positive results found elsewhere, in different genres or different periods.” In offering examples of the different hits obtained from performing the same search in ECCO and Burney, he drew attention to the importance of knowing the scope of a given database and the value of working across databases.

Mike Gavin’s paper also underscored the importance of understanding the operation of digital archives and the rethinking that such understanding can prompt. As Gavin recounted, creating a digital archive of dramatic works that incorporates their performance history has necessitated adapting TEI coding to facilitate searching. While his comments reflect the perspective of those constructing the archive, they also hold significance for users of digital archives. The tagging examples he provided illustrate the significant intellectual labor that goes into the creation of digital databases and archives; encoding a document, after all, is an interpretive practice requiring careful thought and subject expertise. His illustrations are a cogent reminder that the archives–whether traditional or digital–are never neutral but always are rooted in the views and principles of their creators. In the case of digital archives or databases, users benefit from being cognizant of their “constructedness.” Having an awareness of a digital archive’s creators, the circumstances surrounding its creation, the quality of its metadata, and the idiosyncrasies of its search engine will almost certainly enhance a user’s search process and, in some cases, even his or her analysis of results. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to uncover such details about digital archives and databases. Plus, even when there is transparency and one can familiarize oneself with a digital archive’s encoding principles and information architecture, the tagging can still limit the what results searches return. On a different note, it seems worth mentioning that the tasks of coding and organizing the contents of a traditional archive will, in turn, often enrich knowledge of its physical material. And this physical material remains important, for the digital and the material are not one and the same.

Unlike the first four papers that focused on either existing archives or ones nearing completion, Jessica Richard’s paper dealt with the early planning stages of a digital project. The incarnation for the project was a desire to foster exchange between eighteenth-century science studies scholars and a non-academic readership; creating a web-based site seems an ideal medium for the public-humanities thrust of this project. Notwithstanding its differences from the other talks, Richard’s topic very much reflects how the digital is transforming our traditional conceptions of archives. The project’s rethinking of audience, attention to wide access, and desire to translate scholarship for an interested general public all exemplify aspects of this transformation.

As these five talks illustrated, digital media are transforming our theoretical conceptions of “archives”; creating new paradigms and inspiring shifts in existing models as the digital and traditional archival cultures interact; and shaping the kinds of archival projects being undertaken, the methodologies used, and the types of research questions posed. Early in her essay Manoff suggests that “our current moment reflects the convergence of two phenomena–new technical capacities and an age-old impulse to gather and preserve. The ease of capturing digital data is an incitement to archive” (386). In light of the linguistic history of “archive,” connections between new technical capacities and the desire to collect and preserve have perhaps an even longer history. The word “archive” does not appear until after the invention of hand-press printing. While its use as a noun to denote either a historical document that is preserved or the place in which such documents are kept dates from the late 1630s/early 1640s, its verbal form–to archive–does not enter the lexicon until the twentieth century. Whether coincidence or not, this verb does not gain wide currency until the 1980s, a timing that corresponds with the growth in the use of computers and related technologies. In the past two decades the extensive adoption of digital technologies has dramatically spurred efforts to assemble large-scale collections of visual, verbal, and even oral materials and make them virtually available, either freely or commercially.

For Manoff, metaphorical appropriations of “archive” are not only useful for theorizing the ever-increasing growth of these collections but also for theorizing the digital in terms of its archival effects on our conceptions of history and the cultural record (385-6). As Manoff observes at the close of her essay, “archive” especially lends itself to such theorizing because the concept “carries within it both the ideal of preserving collective memory and the reality of its impossibility” (396). The musings about traditional and digital archives presented here touch upon only a few of the archival effects that digital transformations are exercising on our research practices and broader relationships with the history and knowledge. I hope others will add their thoughts about these changes and the explanatory power of “archive” to address our cultural moment.


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