Mussell – Question 1
1Is digital representation of archival materials making print representation obsolete? Are there specific ways you see the two working in tandem?
Associate Professor of Victorian Literature – University of Leeds
¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 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.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 When it comes to representing the materiality of paper-based archival objects, paper-based editions (or whatever the resulting representations are called) can better represent the archival objects simply because of the correspondence in media. As many scholars have argued, it is this symmetry that seems to allow the mediating object to fall away, making textual scholarship simply a matter of textuality, not materiality. However, as all editing projects – and that is what “representing” is in this context – are about reproduction, this correspondence deserves further attention. After all, it is not the same paper that is used in the new edition, nor is it the same ink. But perhaps more importantly, some things about a paper-based object are better represented in digital form. If it is the content that is being represented, for instance, a processable digital environment allows different forms to be worked on at once; the low cost of displaying color images means that high-quality page facsimiles can be easily produced; and digital environments can better handle collections, accommodating a wide range of content and enabling it to be organized, edited, and reorganized as required.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 But representing is only one aspect of what a representation is for. The very creation of representations indicates, paradoxically, that the archival objects are somehow deficient, that it is not possible to do everything we want with them in their current form. This might be because they are rare or fragile, but it could also be that, in their current form, they don’t behave as we would like them to. For instance, a set of records might contain valuable information, but in their paper form only one person at a time could consult them; equally, the information contained might be usefully repurposed if housed in an appropriate data structure. There is always, then, an aspect of transformation involved, where new properties are grafted onto the representation to enable it to do new things. And, because materiality always shades into potentiality, these new representations might find uses not yet conceived. So, existing print editions are not finished, static, and unchanging, and neither are digital representations.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The material properties of new representations have two functions: they incorporate aspects of the archival object; and they enable the representation to be used in particular ways, perhaps to further actuate the archival object. The question presupposes that one form of media will displace the other, but it is actually quite difficult to separate the two. When it comes to display, for instance, a digital object can be easily resized and formatted, but needs to be on screen or projected onto a surface. In practice, many digital representations are, at some point, printed – onto paper, perhaps, but also onto all kinds of other surfaces too. With the advent of 3D printing, we need to rethink what, exactly, “print” might be. Asking if digital representations will make print representations obsolete conceives these as separate processes, when in reality each informs the other.