All the World’s a Stage

TroymcclureHi! I’m Joe Carrano, you may remember me from such courses as Digital Public History, Spring 2015. This is (hopefully) my last semester in grad school where I am pursuing an MLS with a concentration in archives, records, and information management as well as an MA in history with a focus in U.S. history. As I mentioned, I took Digital Public History last year and thought taking another course with Trevor would be a valuable experience. While that class was more in my wheelhouse, I’m hoping to challenge myself a little more with this course.

I do know the basics and principles of digital preservation but have very little background in art, let alone new media art. I don’t plan on becoming a digital art curator but I think having broad knowledge of the issues of multiple fields is essential. The networked world is fascinating to me and understanding its many facets and its interconnections are important to preserving any slice of it. As Rinehart and Ippolito discuss in Re-Collection, all of these fields are part of the process of preserving social memory.  

In particular, I hope this class can teach me some of the commonalities of digital art preservation and general digital archiving work and allow me to see where the two fields might learn from each other. With the advent of the internet and things like gifs, memes, and emojis, the way we convey information seems more visual than ever. Additionally, some of the complex issues with digital audio, video, and software are the same no matter the subject genre. Similarities in genre extend to legal and organizational issues as well. Still, digital art is unique and has complexities that merit their own attention and make other digital objects seems easier.

In Re-CollectionRinehart and Ippolito make clear that all the world’s a stage and the bits and bytes are merely players. What I mean is that, in a sense, every digital object rendered on a screen is a performance which we mentally separate from the physically encoded bits on a hard drive. Thus when we talk about digital art versus simply a digital document there are many similarities that I think are more available than when comparing analog collections. The question is how important are the aesthetic or performative aspects of these objects when preserving them into the future. At first thought this is very important to artworks. Preserving art means preserving aesthetics, right?

However, Rinehart and Ippolito raise the alternative option of preserving instructions or the “score” of an artwork so that it may be reconstructed in the future. This approach allows for certain variations as the work is reproduced each time. Furthermore, they bring up the option of emulation, where an object is severed from its original hardware and displayed using newer components. A document, conversely, is often kept for its informational value. But in the world of a multitude of hardware, software, and websites, when is the aesthetics and the functionality of the digital document necessary to preserve?

Overall, whose opinions matter in making these decisions? Is preserving the hardware a necessary part of preserving the context? The extent to preserve a digital object is something that continues to puzzle me. How feasible is it to emulate everything? Is that desirable? I think learning more about curating digital art will help to clarify my thinking on how to determine significant properties of digital material, the informational value to visual culture, and how to best preserve these elements.

Whether or not we can all agree on how much to preserve, it is important to act now to combat the ephemeral nature of the digital world. The Fino-Radin and Smithsonian piece both give more practical examples or steps forward, showing the trades-offs made when trying to do your best with the tools at hand instead of seeking perfection and being frozen by inaction. I’m looking forward to tackling these issues and meeting everyone in person!

2 Replies to “All the World’s a Stage”

  1. Thrilled to have you in class again Joe! I think we should have a good mix of folks with a background in various arts and with limited arts background. I tend to like this area for exactly the same reason you mentioned in your post. So often artists are focused on pushing at the edges of media and mediums and as a result. I’ve routinely found that these edge cases are really powerful at helping push back on some of the more mundane assumptions that are in play when we talk about documents and records in other contexts. Interestingly, arts preservation also has a significant history of “documentation” as a methodology for preservation, which tends to mirror many of the developments in areas like oral history. So that is another interesting public history parallel. Looking forward to getting into all of this in person again.

  2. I am intrigued by the question “how feasible is it to emulate everything?” I think emulation is a really attractive solution and one that, if successful, can really help preserve old technologies by embedding them in the new. However, it really hinges on the question of if the old technology can be embedded in the new. I recently saw this posted ( where a 19-year-old Scottish developer was able to emulate the old Windows 95 OS only using Java Script, so it ran through your web browser. Pretty cool, right? But, when looking at the comments, it looks like some of the features don’t work. And people also commented that Microsoft was bound to take it down like it has for other attempts like this made in the past. An interesting example of how emulation is not the answer for all cases.

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