Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Future of Digital History

A fascinating exchange, “The Promise of Digital History,” appears in the September 2008 issue of the Journal of American History. For those with a subscription, it is available from: http://www.historycooperative.org/journals/jah/95.2/interchange.html.

At the beginning, this “working definition” of digital history is provided by William G. Thomas III:

Digital history is an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the Internet network, and software systems. On one level, digital history is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collections. On another, it is a methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of these technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past. To do digital history, then, is to create a framework, an ontology, through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a historical problem.

At one point, the question is asked: “What institutional resources are needed to sustain digital history?” Surprisingly, digital preservation is not mentioned, although one participant, while answering another question, states:

The apparatus I developed to collect information took on a life of its own. It has required a great deal of care and feeding to keep it going, and its ultimate fate remains to be determined. Keeping it alive (technically viable) will require renewed investment in software and skills that I'm not sure is the best use of my time and resources. But if I let my database sit unused for five or ten years, odds are it (unlike a box of note cards) will be unusable.

Concerning the future of the historical record, Daniel Cohen contends: “It is now quite clear that historians will have to grapple with abundance, not scarcity.” While abundance does seem to characterize our present digital information age, there are many unanswered questions about the long-term sustainability of digital materials.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The NIH Public Access Policy and Preservation

From Cornell University Library’s letter to its Congressional representative, in support of the NIH Public Access Policy:

From the perspective of the Library, the Policy addresses one of our major concerns: the long-term preservation of research results published in electronic form. A decade’s worth of research by Cornell Library staff has demonstrated the fragility of most electronic publishing schemes and the difficulty faced by libraries in meeting their traditional role as preservation repositories for published literature. Deposit in PubMed Central ensures that the research results will be preserved in a state-of-the-art digital repository.

The letter is available from: http://www.library.cornell.edu/scholarlycomm/Hinchey%20Letter.pdf.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Technology and Teleology

Question: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?

An answer: “Technology Doesn’t Dumb Us Down. It Frees Our Minds

Preserving the Category of Time

To see what can happen when time is lost online, see this recent post at ACRLog, which analyzes an incident in which an archived newspaper article became new news.


A few days ago I attended a research presentation about attempts to virtually unroll and read the ancient scrolls found at Herculaneum using proton-induced X-ray emission and a few other techniques I do not fully understand.

I soon found myself thinking about cryogenics or, more precisely, cryopreservation—i.e., the process of freezing humans, animals, or biological materials until they can be revived, fixed, or used. Initial attempts to open the Herculaneum scrolls were disastrous: they were torn, sliced, scraped, and dissolved until an 18th-century Vatican conservator was called in. If the technologies currently available to us do not enable us to read the carbonized scrolls that have not been destroyed already, then perhaps we should put the scrolls on ice and wait for another 250 years.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Thoughts on Teaching

The September 21, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, the College Issue, focuses on teaching. Especially good is the lead piece by Mark Edmundson, “Geek Lessons.” Here are a few quotes:

Why are good teachers strange, uncool, offbeat? Because really good teaching is about not seeing the world the way that everyone else does.

Good teachers know that now, in what’s called the civilized world, the great enemy of knowledge isn’t ignorance, though ignorance will do in a pinch. The great enemy of knowledge is knowingness.

… a college education is about more than acquiring negotiable skills and knowledge. It’s also about figuring out who you are and what you bring to the world.

The issue (and more) is available from: http://www.nytimes.com/indexes/2008/09/20/magazine/index.html.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reading Online?

How much is read online? Little, apparently. See Mark Bauerlein, “Online Literacy Is a Lesser Kind: Slow Reading Counterbalances Web Skimming,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 19, 2008, available from: http://chronicle.com/free/v55/i04/04b01001.htm.

Below: An illustration of the “F” pattern of reading described in the article.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dark City

This last weekend I watched the director’s cut of Dark City—“a shadowy sci-fi masterpiece,” according to the blurb on the Netflix folder. I didn’t remember the original well enough to notice the difference(s), but this time I was much more interested in how the movie plays with the notions of memory and reality. But it only plays with them. Still, documents have a small role—and artifacts a large one—and there is a character named Mr. Book.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Libraries in Fashion …

… if not in form: “It's Not Because of Books; They're 'Memory Rooms' or TV-Free Private Spaces.” More: http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB122117550854125707.html.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Way to Run a Culture

Here is Stewart Brand telling the story of the 500-year plan to replace the oak beams in the dining hall at New College, Oxford: http://blog.longnow.org/2008/09/11/the-oak-beams/.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Curation in the Mission

The first sentence of the University of Edinburgh's strategic plan reads:

The mission of our University is the creation, dissemination and curation of knowledge.

Available from: http://www.planning.ed.ac.uk/strategic_planning/SP2008-12/SP0812.htm.

Via Digital Curation Blog: http://digitalcuration.blogspot.com/2008/09/curation-in-university-mission.html.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Marilyn’s Papers

At Frank Sinatra’s suggestion, Marilyn Monroe kept her life inside two filing cabinets … This secret trove would remain virtually unknown to the world for more than four decades …

See “The Marilyn Files,” available from: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/marilyn/marilyn; and “The Things She Left Behind,” available from: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/10/marilyn200810. A video introduction to the contents of this archive is available from: http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/video/2008/marilyn_video200810.