Friday, May 29, 2009

Literature versus Time

Last night I read David Pearson’s Books as History (British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2008), which emphasizes the artifactual value of books. Near the end, there is this marvelous engraving, “Literature saving the past from destruction by Time,” by Louis du Guernier:

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Collections Grid

Last week I heard Lorcan Dempsey present on the topic of institutional responses to digital curation. During his presentation, Dempsey referred to the Collections Grid. This grid provides a helpful illustration of how libraries currently focus on broadly distributed (“published”) content—i.e., what is uniform and universal. But what are becoming increasingly important for institutions are materials below the uniqueness midpoint bar—i.e., what is unique and local. These are, in formats old and new, special collections.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Update: More information, with a discussion.

Dealing with Digital Literary Materials

Matthew Kirschenbaum, who mused about Shakespeare’s hard drive a couple years ago, led an NEH-funded digital humanities project that explored the complexities of curating digital literary materials. The project’s report, Approaches to Managing and Collecting Born-Digital Literary Materials for Scholarly Use, highlights a range of familiar issues: from “it is difficult even to achieve consensus on the proper object of preservation” (21) to “the need for basic (cyber)infrastructure in the area of born-digital collections” (24).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What is Data and How Do We Curate It?

I’m attending a data curation institute this week (you can see what’s happening right now—or what happened then, depending on your temporal point of view—by searching Twitter for #sihdc09). Immediate issues include an unclear definition of “data” and uncertainty about how to curate it.

Image: Babbage's second Difference Engine.

Digital Directions

Two recent stories highlight how digital technologies are being used to enhance access to ancient records and books.

The first, “The Next Age of Discovery,” identifies a variety of digitization projects (including 3-D X-ray scanning).

The second, “Iran's Ancient Story Preserved Digitally,” announces the digitization of administrative tablets from the palaces of Persepolis.

Image: Persepolis, from Voyages de Corneille Le Brun par la Moscovie, en Perse, et aux Indes Orientales (Amsterdam: Freres Wetstein, 1718)

Digital History

The May 2009 issue of Perspectives on History focuses on the intersection of new media with history. The articles make it clear that, as historians become engaged with the development of new media materials and tools, issues of preservation cannot be separated from issues of presentation. One article makes this point:
in order for digital history data to be considered a scholarly product in and of itself, to inform our own research and to be shared with others, we will need to more fully address the accompanying challenges of quality (peer review), preservation, and open access.
See also: “The Future of the Past: History Beyond the Book” on supplementing printed books with websites.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Team Digital Preservation

From DigitalPreservationEurope: “Digital Preservation and Nuclear Disaster: An Animation”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Special Collections at the Center

In “Special Collections Surge to the Fore,” an editorial in the latest issue of portal: Libraries and the Academy, Sarah Pritchard asks:

As libraries increasingly subscribe and have access to the same packages of easily replicated digital content and as publishers’ portfolios merge and converge, what will be the features that differentiate libraries and that help us assess the quality of information services available at a given institution?

The answer: “the provision of unique primary sources.”

Pritchard points out that the increasing importance of unique local collections is not restricted to research libraries:

Numerous smaller academic libraries, historical societies, museums, corporations, state agencies, and other places boast of materials of essential value to research and national heritage.

To see the central place that special collections will have in the University of Aberdeen’s new library, see this post.

Friday, May 1, 2009

A Complicated Cultural Fiasco

Here is an interesting interview with Lawrence Rothfield, author of The Rape of Mesopotamia.

This is the author's one-sentence summary of his book:

The looting of the Iraq Museum (and the even more disastrous pillaging of thousands of Mesopotamian sites) was a complicated fiasco arising out of a number of factors: indifferent political leadership, to be sure, but also an international legal framework that has not caught up with the new threat of post-combat looting by civilians; a military that has no built-in capability for policing sites and museums; weak cultural heritage bureaucracies and N.G.O.s oriented toward conservation rather than protection efforts; and an insatiable demand for Mesopotamian antiquities by super-wealthy collectors.

I Wonder How the National Archives Will Handle WhiteHouse 2.0

Posted today on the White House Blog:

In addition to, you can now find us in a number of other spots on the web:

The WhiteHouse blog (RSS) will power a lot of the content in these networks, but we’re looking forward to hearing from our fans, friends and followers. Don’t forget these sites as well:

Technology has profoundly impacted how – and where – we all consume information and communicate with one another. is an important part of the Administration’s effort to use the internet to reach the public quickly and effectively – but it isn’t the only place.