Bots, Bugs, and Blogs: The Challenges of Preserving, Interpreting, and Sharing Digital Artifacts

This week we look at how digital technology is changing what we preserve and how we preserve it. How do we handle the preservation of digital formats? How can twitter bots create historical interpretation? And how does digital technology open those preservation and interpretation processes up to more people? This week’s readings attempt to grapple with those questions.

Social Memory and Preserving Digital Formats

In Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory, Jon Ippolito and Richard Rinehart discuss the preservation of new media formats in the context of the art world. They focus especially on social memory, which they define as “how and what societies remember” (14). Museums, libraries, and archives have traditionally been key sites of this social memory, but they often do a poor job of handling digital formats. Ippolito and Rinehart argue that in order to handle these formats, institutions need to be more open to preservation techniques like emulation, migration, and reinterpretation, rather than solely storage. If a piece of art was created to display on a computer screen, what matters is usually not the exact computer or even the exact operating system, but the visual experience the viewer has. That experience should be the focus of the preservation, not the physical details. They heavily emphasize “variable media,” and the idea that the works that will survive best are those that don’t rely on a specific medium to function.

Sebastian Chan and Aaron Cope provide a concrete case study of the challenges of collecting and preserving digital media in their article. They examine the Cooper-Hewitt’s acquisition of Planetary, an iPad app that visualizes the user’s music library as a series of solar systems and galaxies. It quickly ceased to be compatible with the current version of iOS, so the Cooper-Hewitt pursued a variety of measures to maintain it. They open sourced the code and encouraged derivative works to keep the program going and maintained an ongoing relationship with the donor to help evaluate those derivative works. They also collected earlier versions, change logs, and bug reports as part of the acquisition – with digital formats, a single “final version” often is not enough. It may not even exist.

Bots and Interpretation

New digital formats can also impact the way people and institutions create and perform historical interpretation. Steven Lubar and Mark Sample both delve into the world of Twitter bots. Lubar (whose work some of us remember from our History of Museums class) shares his appreciation for museum bots, which share random objects from a museum’s collection. They can call attention to how much is not on view and how museums make choices about what to display. Sample turns his attention to protest bots, which in some ways provide interpretation for our present historical moment. His examples are fascinating, but he imposes an extensive and strict set of criteria, and I wonder if he could end up excluding some interesting bot projects.

Dragan Espenschied’s “Big Data, Little Narration,” cleverly presented as a series of text messages, goes a step further and examines not just how we interpret history with technology, but how we interpret the history of technology. It contrasts Google Zeitgeist, a visualization of searches made in different cities, with a tumblr project to share old Geocities pages. Both share the history of what we do with technology, but Zeitgeist has no real interpretive frame and doesn’t invite further exploration. The Geocities project, on the other hand, invites further user interpretation of these old pages. It makes the pages communicative again, which is exactly what they were designed for in the first place.

Inviting the Public In

If we shift gears and look at the Sheila Brennan article, that same idea of inviting the public to engage comes through. She focuses on digitally opening collections. By providing item-level information and metadata online, we can invite users to explore collections in greater depth than they ever could in person, and to engage with multiple perspectives. When collections are displayed in the almost-infinite digital space, rather than in the very finite physical gallery space, there’s room for more than one narrative.

This call to invite the public in brings us full circle, back to Re-Collection. Ippolito and Rinehart don’t just discuss social memory, they also break it down into formal and informal types. Formal social memory is carried out by museums, libraries, and other institutions, but there’s also room for the informal social memory of amateurs and the general public. In many cases, informal practitioners are more willing to embrace flexible forms of preservation, like migration and emulation, while formal institutions lag behind with their insistence on storing the original copy. If we want to preserve old websites, or video games, or other digital media, letting the public take part in the process is often useful and may even be necessary.


While they examine different aspects of the issue, all six of these texts fundamentally agree that the way we collect, preserve, display, and interpret history will have to change I response to the explosion of digital media. It’s a big topic, and I’d love to hear your overall thoughts on it, but here are few specific questions to get us started:

  • When looking at a digital artifact or project, is there such a thing as a single, definitive original? How do we define what’s important about the “original” version of something for the purposes of preservation?
  • How can institutions grapple with the additional resources and maintenance required to keep digital collections usable? Will this change funding structures, archival practices, and relationships with donors?
  • Espenschied mentions how the youngest viewers of the Geocities tumblr are sometimes confused by unfamiliar aspects of early-2000s technology. When exhibiting digital content, do we need to interpret and contextualize the medium as well as the content?

Horror in the House! Demystifying the Mystery House, Digital Preservation, and Democratization of Media

By Michael Toy

NOTE: Apologies to my classmates for not having this posted sooner. I hope you all get a chance to take a look at this before class Wednesday–it’s a very cool website and a landmark game in the history of video games.

In a week dedicated to exploring and dissecting the many varieties of digital content and how the digital intersects with the physical, it is fitting that we turn our attention to Mystery House Taken Over (MHTO, for the sake of brevity), a website built in homage to the smash-hit and groundbreaking 1980 adventure computer game Mystery House. The game was so popular and influential that even today, nearly three decades later, amateur programmers and game designers continue to create new mods and versions of it. In fact, as recently as 2016 a Mystery House app debuted on the smartphone; now a copy of the original can downloaded in seconds from the app store and played right on one’s phone. MHTO, however, was born during a lull in Mystery House’s popularity and played a decisive role in ensuring that its data and the many works derived from it remain safe in a digital vault.

MHTO is run and maintained by a small cadre of seven or so volunteer bloggers, academics, writers, and programmers that are relatively well known within this niche of the digital world, as many are themselves veteran authors and/or programmers of critically-lauded works within the “interactive fiction” genre—some in the text-based, exploratory vein of Mystery House, others completely and wholly unique unto themselves. The site offers a public and (commendably) free download of the original Mystery House game, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Though simple and unadorned, MHTO’s website also hosts and offers hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of “modded” (professionally- or user-modified) variants of the original, as well as the tools and information necessary for one to create their own mods for Mystery House, or even (in theory at least) their own unique game.
MHTO is essentially a free, one-stop mod shop for both amateur and professional game designers looking to build something new out of the discrete base components that together comprise Mystery House.

However, to best understand MHTO, one must first understand at least the fundamental aspects of its foundation. So, before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the site itself, let’s take a moment to briefly look at the birth and legacy of the historic videogame that started it all: Mystery House.

Mystery House’s official cover art.

The plot of Mystery House, like its graphics and structure is relatively rudimentary, even cliché, by today’s standards. The game opens with the protagonist standing outside of an ominous Victorian mansion (pictured below), the game’s setting, and upon entering finds himself locked inside with seven other characters: Tom the plumber, Sam the mechanic, Sally the seamstress, Dr. Green the surgeon, Joe the gravedigger, Bill the butcher, and Daisy the cook. It is soon discovered that a cache of jewels and riches is hidden somewhere in the house (with a “finders keepers” policy no less), initiating a frenzied search to find it before it’s claimed by another.

The mansion in which Mystery House takes place and as well as the story’s opening graphics.

With a locked door at his back and no choice but to move forward, the player joins the others, who split up to cover more ground. As the player makes his way through the mansion he stumbles across the bodies of the other house guests one by one, at which point the real plot is revealed. Whether it’s one of the other seven guests or some unseen inhabitant of the house, someone used the ruse of jewelry to lure the others and has been slowly but surely eliminating them one by one. Simply put, our protagonist is locked in the mansion with a murderer with only one goal: using clues, caution, rationality, and logic, unmask the murderer before he makes you his next victim and escape with your life.

Left: the mysterious message luring the group inside. Right: the entire cast of characters assembled in the foyer. Admittedly it’s difficult to identify who’s who, considering the five males are exact clones of one another, as are the two females. Though groundbreaking in its field, the artwork is… shall we say, rudimentary.

Though crude by today’s standards, Mystery House’s mechanics worked in much the same way that later graphical adventure and puzzle games would, like the hit 1993 adventure game Myst. Because of technological limitations of the time, the player controls Mystery House’s protagonist by way of a binary input decision tree, which in practice works much like a very long series of “yes-no” questions: “do you want to go upstairs or stay on the main floor? Upstairs: do you want to investigate the master bedroom or go back downstairs? Bedroom: a note on the dresser offers a clue to the treasure’s secret location, do you share this with the others or keep it to yourself?” This allows the player at least a modicum of freedom and choice at a time when most computers simply lacked the complexity, processing power, or memory to engineer or host what’re known today as “sand-box” style games à la Grand Theft Auto, Skyrim, or Fallout—the type of game that offers an entire (albeit bounded) world to explore at one’s leisure.

Another groundbreaking aspect of Mystery House, and that which it’s best known for, is that it was the first game of its kind to integrate a text-driven adventure narrative with accompanying digital illustrations of the characters and surrounding environment. Though some argue that it is the first game to integrate text-driven narrative with graphics, period, several “dungeon-crawl” RPGs preceding Mystery House had featured basic graphics linked with text. Mystery House was, however, the first interactive-fiction adventure game to integrate text with graphics on a large scale, and did so well enough that it sold tens of thousands of copies (possibly as high as 80,000 units) by the mid- to late-80s, earned the attention of influential members of the video game industry, and has repeatedly been honored by leading tech and gaming magazines like GamePro and Computer Gaming World as a recurring member of “best” and “most innovative” videogames lists.

Mystery House was conceived of, written, and illustrated by a woman named Roberta Williams and programmed by her husband Ken in the late 1970s. The Williams were inspired after playing a game called Colossal Cave Adventure and, discovering that few if any similar games existed at the time, decided they would simply make their own. Roberta drew influence from a wealth of literature in creating the game’s plot, none more so perhaps than Agatha Christie’s murder mystery And Then There Were None Alive. Since then (somewhat ironically) many games have drawn inspiration from Williams’ work and include small nods, winks, and Easter eggs relating to Mystery House. The couple worked well as a team; Roberta was the creative force, designing the plot, writing the dialogue and textual descriptions, and creating over 70 illustrations for use in-game. Ken, well-versed in programming and eager to make use of the new Apple II computer’s processing power, handled the digitalization of Roberta’s work, translating his wife’s narrative into a digital format meant to fit on a single floppy disk.

Originally marketed for sale by mail order at $24.95, the Williams were shocked to discover that demand was rapidly outweighing supply and quickly sold over 10,000 copies between 1980 and 1982. By 1982 the couple had founded a company called On-Line Systems, which quickly changed to Sierra On-Line, SierraVenture, and ultimately Sierra Entertainment, which only recently dissolved in 2007 following its acquisition by Activision. Under the SierraVenture name the Williams couple re-released an updated copy of Mystery House in 1982, boosting sales higher than ever. By 1987, when the Williams released Mystery House to the public domain, they had sold over 80,000 copies, and later a Japanese company would pick up the title for re-release in Japan, generating similarly impressive and surprising sales overseas.

Since the Mystery House code and software were now free to use by the public, amateur programmers and gamers quickly took advantage of this access to the game’s internal coding and dissect that code almost line by line. This allowed developers and programmers wishing to follow in the Williams’ footsteps to use the underlying structural framework of Mystery House as a foundation upon which to build one’s own graphical adventure games. While the near-simultaneous birth and rise of the Internet in public life certainly facilitated and fanned the flames of this phenomenon, this early gift from the Williams’ to early game development cannot be overlooked. By the new millennium, though the game and the growing number of related mods could still be found online, enthusiasm for this now ancient tech had dwindled precipitously in the face of powerful dedicated gaming consoles like the Nintendo 64, PlayStation, and Xbox.

However, many still remembered Mystery House with a fond nostalgia, and by the early 21st century the videogame community’s desire to preserve this relic of early gaming reached the attention of New Radio and Performing Arts, Inc (or NRPA), an organization dedicated to archiving and preserving new and experimental artforms like radio art, sound art, and net art. In 2004, with funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, NRPA commissioned the creation of an official online archive to house the original Mystery House and its countless derivatives: The Mystery House Taken Over project, which can still be reached here Regardless of whether NRPA commissioned to honor its mission of preservation or simply to boost traffic to its official online archives at, the MHTO project has since flourished and has remained online and available to the public for nearly 15 years since its commission in 2004.

Returning to the current Mystery House website, MHTO’s primary purpose is two-fold. First, MHTO serves as a relatively simple and publicly-accessible archive for the countless sequels, spin-offs, remakes, parodies, re-imaginings, original works and other Mystery House mods that have emerged since the original’s 1980 debut. Some of these mods were created by Mystery House’s original designers while others are individual user contributions or collaborative works; unsurprisingly, this means that quality varies wildly from mod to mod, but if one is willing to sift through the duds there are true gems of digital artwork to be found—works that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but technically sound and narratively compelling.

MHTO’s archives are impressive enough in and of themselves, but it’s the website’s other main service that sets it apart and makes it such an interesting specimen to study: that is, providing the tools and the means for both amateur and professional game designers and enthusiasts alike to download the base components of the original Mystery House (or any of its modded derivatives) and use them to create their own original digital project. The process can be somewhat overwhelming for those not familiar with the process, requiring the downloading of several third party programs—to name just a few: 7-Zip (readily available free file decompression software, pictured below), a “Glulx interpreter” like Gargoyle (essentially a player for .blb, or Blorb format files), and most importantly, MHTO’s proprietary creation tool, the MHTO “Occupation Kit,” which contains every single known file, folder, picture, and line of coding of the original game. Using the 7-Zip program to extract and decompress these files, compiled in the “MHTO_kit,” one can easily obtain a full inventory copy of the game’s core commands and individual graphics (pictured below); unfortunately, making effective use of these discrete parts and reassembling them into a working game format is the challenging part.

The compressed files from the MHTO Kit

However, once one has familiarized oneself with the necessary tools, the MHTO Occupation Kit allows those with the time, interest, and skill to create whatever sort of interactive digital art or videogame the author/artist can imagine—within reasonable technological bounds of course. Even the two Williams’ quickly discovered that much of what they had wanted to include in the game was simply too much data to store on the floppy disks available in that era). However, given the level of raw processing power available in even today’s mid-range computers, the speed with which that power is increasing over time, and the democratization of digital archives, assets, and information the boundaries defining the possible and impossible in the world of the digital continue to expand, blur, and even fade away as time marches relentlessly forward.

The Forensic Files: Digital Content Edition

This week we are furthering our discussion of the digital by focusing on what is behind documents, digital photos, and videos. How are they constructed? Do they contain their own separate digital language?However, before we direct our attention to these questions Lisa Gitelman encourages us to consider the media history of the document through the past 150 years.

Now I must admit, this concept of the paper document is one I have been considering since 2005 when I first begged my parents to let me stay up past my bedtime to view a little television program called The Office. In between hilarious hijinks and bouts of absurdity, the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company struggles to stay afloat while contemplating “limitless paper in a paperless world.”(The Office, Season 4, Episode 5: Local Ad). I know most people tuned in for the tactless antics of Michael Scott or Jim Halpert’s clever office pranks,  but I have always been drawn to the paper backstory. It was a poignant commentary on our digital transition by helping us grapple with our paper past. How was paper so foundational to the modern world and what does it mean now that it has been supplanted by the digital?

Gitelman explores documents and their “fillability” and how these documents prescribed a structure, way of thinking, and bureaucracy that has impacted our society (22). She also acknowledges our transition to the digital as we encounter these documents today in the form of PDF’s rather than on paper. Gitelman grapples with the photocopy and what it meant to have things copied and distributed. She uses the example of the Pentagon Papers to demonstrate that a Xeroxed copy is to be read as a document but wants us to acknowledge that the person making the copy is editing the original document. In the case of the Pentagon Papers David Ellsberg copied the papers and distributed them but cut off the words “top secret” from every page and didn’t copy certain sections. She uses all of these examples in order to show that we can apply this knowledge of the paper document to the digital word. Looking at the document helps us understand how we are conditioned to understand and looking at the photocopy helps us understand how the documents on the internet can be edited and changed as the morph from form to form.

Now we must turn our attention to the digital.

If you’re anything like me, you ascribe to “screen essentialism” (Kirshenbaum, 31). This is the tendency to focus only on display technologies without considering what is behind the document, photograph, video, audio file, or image on your screen. I can certainly say I have firmly been a screen essentialist. Until this week, my concept of the word document upon which I constructed this draft would have only extended to the words that I type that appeared onscreen.  Likewise, my knowledge of the inner workings of my computer extended only to the loud noise my fan has been making over the past couple months.

My tower of digital content ignorance has crumbled with Matthew Kirshenbaum’s Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Kirshenbaum draws upon the ideas of forensic and formal materiality to illustrate the importance of this form of writing. brings us beyond writing and language as we know it, and encourages us to consider electronic writing and digital language as a real and essential form of writing. He takes us inside the magnetic cards that store information for our metro cards, constructs a world in which our hard drives exist as a “volumetric” or three-dimensional writing space, and addresses the “fixidity” and “fluidity” of this writing space (Kirshenbaum, 91, 56).

Kirshenbaum draws back the curtain and reveals this new writing and writing space he raises the issue of digital forensics, or the activity of recovering or retrieving electronic data, interpreting it, and preserving it. Like regular forensics, this practice operates under the assumption that “every contact leaves a trace” (Kirshenbaum, 49). In other words, when you delete a file from your computer, it is not automatically erased from your hard drive. Instead, it continues to exist until it is overwritten. Kirenshenbaum likens it to an Etch A Sketch where you can still see the previous drawing behind the new one.  This means that this form of writing is both ephemeral and fixed. You can attempt to erase it or write over it, but there is often still a trace.

Sometimes, the trace is an advantage. Data is retrievable. Often new technologies and genres of digital components reconstruct previous information and data into new forms, as in the TAGOKOR  file which contains information about Korean War U.S. army officer and soldier casualties. Jefferson Bailey’s article “TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record, encourages us to consider the complexity of managing and preserving digital archival records. It traces the transition of this digital archive from punch cards, to magnetic reel tape, to tape cartridge, to disk.  This continual reprocessing of information has left a trace on how this archive is “inscribed, described, and preserved” (Bailey). Like Kirshenbaum, Bailey encourages us to note that while this archive is a representation of tragedy and human experience, it is also a record of the various methods of technological infrastructure which make up its current form.

“Digital Formats: Factors for Sustainability, Functionality, and Quality” by Caroline Arms and Carl Fleischhauer continues this exploration of the world behind the screen. It outlines the framework followed by the Library of Congress when evaluating born-digital content for preservation. There are many different types, subformats, and versions of the digital content formats people are typically familiar with. For example, a PDF is too generic and a further distinction must be applied to the file to distinguish it from various subformats. Additionally, digital archivists must consider sustainability factors when choosing a format for digital content including, disclosure, adoption, transparency, self-documentation, the impact of patents, and technical protection mechanisms.

While Kirshenbaum, Bailey, Arms, and Fleischhauer have revealed the fascinating world of digital writing, Jonathan Sterne encourages us to reevaluate our conception of “analog.” He notes that there is currently an expanding notion that everything that is not digital is analog. Originally analog was meant to indicate points of contact between digital technologies but by the 1970’s it indicates contrasts from digital technology. Just as we construct the digital world as an abstract cultural conception, we also construct the analog. As we move forward in time, the technologies we now consider analog were often understood as “jarring or artificial.” (Sterne, 40). At one point Freud’s voice on a phonograph was described as “cold and mechanical” while today it would seem “warm and organic” (Sterne 40). All this is to say, as we become more comfortable with technologies, our concept of what is digital and what is analog changes.

A Couple Questions to ponder:

Should we stop using the term analog?

What is the difference between forensic materiality and formal materiality

How are documents different when they are compiled in online databases versus collected and stored on paper in filing cabinets?






Practicum: Glitching Files

There’s a lot to be learned from taking the assorted files we all have laying around on our computers and taking them apart, seeing what makes them tick, and then breaking them.  First and foremost, doing this is a chance to recognize that, although we may look at an image file or text file as simply an image or text, they only appear as such when viewed through a lens provided by our computers.  Those files, however, are not those things.  At their most basic, they are set of electromagnetic states of certain physical spaces on your hard drive (or electrical states of your solid state drive, if your computer uses one of those).  In an intermediate sense, the computer uses more basic lenses to view those states as code, and that code may need several layers of interpretation by your computer before you see it in the form it was intended to be viewed in.  This should remind us that, although we often imagine a dichotomy between the physical world and the digital, all digital objects are merely physical objects which are being viewed in a certain manner.  We can achieve similar understandings of the physicality of digital items by placing a magnet near one’s hard drive, provided one does not mind loosing the further use of that hard drive.  We should also be reminded that the appearance of these digital objects is not static, but depends on what lenses they are being viewed through, and we are also reminded that, although two image, text, video, or sound files of different types may appear similar to us, they are actually quite different.


While it may sound technically complex to some, glitching a file can actually be quite an easy thing; many of us even manage to do it by accident.  To demonstrate, I will use 3 different types of image file (with the hopes of demonstrating how these are different), as well as an audio file.  Those trying this themselves should make sure to make copies of all the files they intend to glitch and preferably cordon them off in a separate folder, to make sure they don’t accidentally break a file they didn’t mean to.  For the images, I’ve selected a .jpg (a preliminary design for an unbuilt class of USN warships), a .png (a shot from the opening of a recent, award winning television show), and a .gif (a motivation penguin).   The specific images have been chosen in the hopes that they will prove memorable and to show that one can learn from glitching whatever images one has on hand.

To begin with, the .jpg in an unaltered state:

Next, we will convert this file to a text file.  To do this, you will need to rename the file, so that the extension (the 3 letters at the end of the file name after a period, which exist to tell the computer what type of file this is and what program it should use to open it) says .txt instead of .jpg.  If you cannot see any file extensions, open file explorer options from the control panel and ensure all options pertaining to extensions have been set correctly.  When the file has been converted to a .txt file (a common type of text file), it should then be possible to open it with a word processor.  Some word processors, such a Microsoft Word, may recognize that the file is not what it appears to be, but wordpad and notepad will both suffice.  I will be using Notepad++, a version of notepad with extended functionality.  The result looks like this:

Note that although this is mostly gibberish, the “Photoshop 3.0” appears in the first line, and “8BIM” appears several times in the first few lines.  Removing these will not actually change the image.  On the other hand, deleting several full lines, particularly from the very beginning or end, can easily result in a file which cannot be opened.  More judicious removals of one or two lines here and there from the beginning of the body of thefile resulted in this:

Copy and pasting segments of text at the center of the document, meanwhile, added this to the image:

By doing this, one can see the methodical way in which the data which the image represents is stored; if code from the top of the file is removed segments of the image are also removed, starting from the top.  .png files, on the other hand, are less straightforward.  Here is an unaltered .png and the same file as text:

Once again, the Photoshop name appears, but beneath it, we see a collection of metadata, intended to provide us with information about what this image is.  Most of it is incomprehensible to those who are not more technically skilled than me, but the “history” section is interesting, as it contains a date, presumably when this file was created; this date does coincide with when the show was airing.

If we start deleting segments from the body of this image, we see a much different result:

The new image contains not only the missing and correct segments we saw in the .jpg, but also an area which is highly distorted.  This indicates that the file does not store data in a purely linear fashion, pixel by pixel, but stores some information about one area of the image in one part of the file and other information elsewhere.  Also worth noting is that the blog did not allow me to display this image, so the print screen function was used to replicate it.

.gif files are interesting because, although they are an image format, they allow for simple animations to be displayed.  Here is one accompanied by the same file as a .txt.  Note that you will need to click the .gif for it to play.

Once again, there is a small amount of comprehensible text, this time in the form of “GIF” at the very beginning of the file.  Editing the file results in a much shorter animation playing, with a small amount of distortion of the image:

As you can see, this also results in the .gif playing automatically, for reasons which are beyond my technical skills to understand.  We can see from this that even a small amount of glitching can result in large changes to a .gif file.

As I am unclear of the legality of simply uploading an unaltered music .mp3 file to wordpress, I have elected to use music which all readers should be able to access through Youtube, specifically, the song Sonntagsfahrer (Sunday Drivers) by the Ostrock band Puhdys. If readers are interested in making their own glitches of the same song, an .mp3 can be purchased from Amazon, and otherwise, it can be listened to here:

As a file, the song can also have its extension changed from .mp3 to .txt, which looks like this:

Once again, the file starts with a small amount of metadata, such as that this file came from Amazon.  Editing this file as a text document can produce surprising results; it often takes the removal of large swaths of text to produce a change in the song, usually in the form of segments simply disappearing, rather than being distorted.  I will refrain from posting my own examples, again in the interest of not attracting the attention of amazon’s lawyers, but one can easily see this by editing their own .mp3s.

I hope this has proven instructive, as to the nature of the files we often interact with.  If your own experiments with glitching files produce any interesting results, please share them below.

Archivists Beyond Borders (Digital archives in other platforms)

How do you use a digital archive?

Digital archives are not just compiled archives by professionals. They can be created by archivists, librarians, historians, amateurs, non-profit or for-profit companies. Because digital archives can be created by a host of individuals, the purpose and criteria for the particular archive are important to know. When searching a digital archive, you should always be prepared with questions: “where does this content fit in the digital collection?”, “why were some items excluded?”, “how was this archive created?” As Kate Theimer says in her AHA conference paper, digital archives are making an argument, just like any other archive, and we must approach it the same way.

Digital archives can also contribute to breaking down the historically white, male dominated archive. In Kimberly Christen’s piece “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia,” we see how a digital archive both saves important Aboriginal historical and community based information while limiting what information is available to outsiders. This allows the Aboriginals to control how their history is saved and who has access to it, a courtesy that archives have historically denied native communities. Similarly, Jarret Drake’s piece “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories” brings up valuable insights into the traditional limitations of archives (language, distance, cost of travel, etc.) and practical subjects like needing a state-issued ID to gain access to the documents. He also touches on the importance of working with the community being archived to build trust and make sure that the archive is accessible to those whose history is being recorded.

Susan Sontag’s “born digital” collection is an excellent example of exploring the fine line between electronic preservation and the privacy of her personal life, as examined by Jeremy Schmidt and Jacquelyn Adram. Sontag kept a massive collection of her works, digitally, saved on her computer and hard-drives to be accessed by the public upon her death. Sontag was committed to protecting her privacy during her lifetime, yet she opened up her life to the public, in a digital format no less, after her demise. Sontag’s born-digital archives demonstrates the journey from traditional archives to born-digital, yet leaves room for users to explore these new digital archives. However, Sontag’s born-digital archive opens up room for questions about what should be preserved and what, if anything, should remain private?

The question of privacy is also explored in Jules’ article, “Preserving Social Media Records of Activism.” Social media accounts, particularly Twitter, have begun to play a larger role in documenting reactions of activism (largely in situations of race). Twitter has been thought of as a personal bubble and space where individuals can document their thoughts and feelings. But now Twitter, has become its own sort of digital archive, with tweets being viewed as primary source documents that can be preserved for future generations to see reactions and feelings on incidents of activism and social movements. The social media platforms, like Twitter, have also brought a spotlight on situations that otherwise would not have been recognized and have brought forth preservation of these events.


How do digital archives help break down the race/gender/class barrier that traditional archives have historically created? Do any authors (thinking of Drake in particular) offer practical solutions to addressing these issues with physical archives, or is this simply something digital archives can fix?

Should spaces like Twitter, preserve documentation of events, like Ferguson? What would that look like? Is it even feasible (thinking legality, privacy, etc.)?

Do tweets made by political figures, like Trump, count as archival material? What would the different authors say?