Baldock – Question 5
5How do digital representations of archival materials change our perceptions of those materials, and in particular, aspects of those materials not considered previously editable or archivable?
British Library Scholarship Student and PhD Student in English – University of Sheffield
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Digital technology has created new possibilities for the representation and use of archives. The forensic software that the British Library used to capture and store Wendy Cope’s emails, for example, allows for full-text searching. For me, this was a huge change compared to working with a paper archive of correspondence. In the email archive I was able to search email subject headings, messages, and attachments for the names of particular people or individual poems, and therefore quickly found the information I wanted.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 The use of visualization software to analyze archives illuminates literary and social networks; it also has the potential to demonstrate a single archive’s position in a network of other archives. This changes our perception of these materials, whether they are paper or born-digital, and encourages us to see them, in Jefferson Bailey’s words, “as mutually contextual and interrelated instead of cloistered and static.”1
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 However, digital representations of archives may change our perception of materials in a negative way. Visualizations are arguably no substitute for browsing through a collection and the serendipitous discovery that this allows. Moreover, with digitized and born-digital materials, there is a danger that providing researchers with access to single images or files divorces them from their original position within the context of a larger archive, and inhibits researchers’ ability to make unexpected links or discoveries. To take account of the importance of context in a born-digital archive, archivists are developing techniques such as emulation, which allows a researcher to explore a virtual copy of a writer’s desktop as it would have appeared to its creator without altering the contents of the original hard drive. This gives a sense of the context in which a writer wrote, as well as access to their digital workspace including their desktop, folder structure, and Internet browsing history.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 For the next generation of scholars who will be, and in many cases already are, digital natives, access to the appearance and functionality of older computing systems and the kinds of networks and contexts in which writers worked is important. This will, I think, continue to inform scholarship that seeks to understand the material environments in which literature is produced and circulated.
- ¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
- Jefferson Bailey, “Disrespect des Fonds : Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives,” Archive Journal 3 (2013), http://www.archivejournal.net/issue/3/archives-remixed/disrespect-des-fonds-rethinking-arrangement-and-description-in-born-digital-archives/. [↩]