Week 6: Digital Collections and Digital Preservation

This week’s readings focused on efforts to preserve and collect the past online, and assessments of those efforts. As the readings make clear, digitization of primary sources–and creation of new ones in the digital medium–has been one of the main ways that digital technology has affected history research. As Alison Babeu’s Rome Wasn’t Digitized in a Day noted (and I alluded to in my Week 3 post), thus far it seems many have simply incorporated the ability to search and find documents into their already-established techniques for dealing with “analog” documents. But these articles also allude to other ways that scholars can more specifically use the power of computing in exciting ways, to mine these primary sources. Babeu, in particular, gives an excellent analysis of the challenges and accomplishments of digital technology for the classics.

Another major focus of the readings–and what I found most interesting–was what it takes to build such online archives. While I knew that building online archives was complicated, I didn’t realize just how much so until these readings–and indeed, I gained a new appreciation for the complexity. This applies both to digitization of extant texts, and online collecting efforts. T. Mills Kelly and Sheila Brennan discuss difficulties–such as soliciting contributions–in creating the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, and suggest that creating an online archive for even major events like the 2005 hurricanes is more difficult than they anticipated. It makes me feel better that some of my work’s online solicitations of material–about things nowhere near as significant as the hurricanes–have not worked so well! This article and Dan Cohen’s comparison of collecting efforts after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the attacks of September 11, 2001 also showed the importance of leaping into action to collect right after major events, and indeed of having an infrastructure in place.

One question I wonder, though: in this age of social media, might it be easier to get people to share for a project like the HDMB? Might it be easier now than even 6 years ago? Or might there be a barrier for many people in sharing for an archive versus on a largely public forum like Facebook or a completely public (and now even archived!) forum like Twitter?

All in all, this week’s readings gave me a greater appreciation of efforts to collect and preserve the past online. With the increased research power that digital technology provides comes increased effort to get extant material online, to collect new material online, and to preserve what is already online. Kudos to those making these efforts!

One Thought to “Week 6: Digital Collections and Digital Preservation”

  1. David,

    I think you raise an interesting question on the impact of social media in facilitating public involvement in projects like HDMB.

    On one hand, you have people using Twitter and Facebook to provide their opinions on various events, or to comment on life in general. I find that to be a conscious act, a willing act on the part of the individual to express themselves in a semi-public or public forum. In that light, there should be a great number of people out there who would be willing to share for projects like HDMB or the 9/11 Digital Archives.

    However, in the same light, a lot of people are sharing their thoughts with a select community. Facebook and Twitter have options that allow people to place limits on who can see their pictures, their status updates, or even their opinions. Some people who do that may be unwilling to share for HDMB and 9/11, as they do not want their recollections or opinions shared with a broader audience.

    In the final analysis, I believe that social media can not only facilitate a much broader sharing of experiences, but also a willingness to do so. I think there would be a few people unwilling to share, just like in any oral history project. However, through social media, people are actively sharing their thoughts, and a majority would probably see little problem in contributing to digital history preservation projects.


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