(Re)Presenting the Archive – Question 1
Sophie Baldock, Matthew Cheeseman, A. S. G. Edwards, James Mussell, Clare Scott, Ian Trowell
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
In the case of the archive I have worked with – that of the poet Wendy Cope housed at the British Library – digital correspondence in the form of emails is, to a large extent, replacing and perhaps rendering obsolete, handwritten letters. Emails are not archival materials that started life as paper manuscripts and were then digitized, but materials that were born-digital and never inscribed on paper.Read this Response
Working broadly in late-twentieth-century popular culture, I frequently engage with social cataloging practices. This is the way in which people digitally archive texts that were once largely physical on forums and blogs, in addition to websites such as YouTube, Discogs, and LibraryThing.Read this Response
I should say, at the outset, that I approach all these questions from the perspective of someone primarily interested in the study of later medieval English literary manuscripts and printed books. From such a perspective, matters do not seem as straightforward as the question suggests. The issue is not a binary antithesis between digital or print but between the differing implications of the digital and the actual. What do you lose/gain as you move from “the real thing” to any form of surrogate representation, including the digital? Obviously, there is much of the material form of the original that neither digital nor print surrogates can adequately represent; size, shape, and color register among the most obvious aspects of the inadequacy of any form of surrogate.Read this Response
For me, the important thing is to recognize the respective material properties of digital and print media. Any new representation necessarily uses its specific material properties to take on and model aspects of whatever it is representing. The success of the final representation – the degree to which the new representation adequately represents the archival material – is the result of this difference, rather than something that must be overcome or suppressed in some way. However, there is another aspect to this that I would like to draw out. The specific material properties of the new representation dictate its relationship with the archival material, but they also shape how the new representation gets used.Read this Response
In the National Fairground Archive the largest category of archival material is photographic. As information professionals working with a new archive that has not produced any edited print editions so far, our main concern is with digital re-presentation of original material. Thus we are not able to answer this question; however, we can compare digital re-presentation with the original documents. There are a series of common-sense arguments to be made around the digitization of resources.Read this Response