Changing Authorities

My name is Setsuko Yokoyama, a first year PhD student at the Department of English. Prior to coming to Maryland, I completed a master’s program at the University of Michigan School of Information. (Yes, I seem to be chasing block Ms.) My research interest lies in American poetry, contemporary editorial theories and practices, and digital humanities. As a part of my dissertational project, I am planning on developing a digital platform for an American Modernist poet. The idea is to make primary resources readily available online for students and scholars in order for them to make their own judgment when navigating through the poet’s literary legacy. This is why I’ve decided to join the course, hoping to equip myself with the best practices for born-digital project and to be familiar with the debates in the field. I am also interested in getting to know my colleagues at iSchool, hoping we might be able to collaborate in the future.

I was particularly thrilled as I went through the somewhat idealistic description of “The Open Museum” chapter. Richard Rinehart writes: “Can we imagine museums whose authority is used to facilitate & engage a community rather than treat its members as passive cultural consumers?” (106) My marginalia reads: YES! Rinehart, of course, has in mind the new media art and that is different from my “digitized art”, i.e. digitized tape audio records. However, examples Rinehart provides concerning the generative nature of open source code make me realize that the metadata aspect of my work would be considered “digital art.” I seek relevance because, not surprisingly, Rinehart’s illustration of the historical shift among the cultural institutions’ role is also mirrored in the gradual change in Anglo-Saxon academia, concerning the notion of what scholarly edition of literature ought to be. It used to be the case that “authoritative” or “definitive” editions were considered desirable. This status quo of scholarly edition was further enhanced by the limitation of print media. Editors at times need to make scholarly judgment when met with variants, illegibility, and/or uncertainty of the manuscripts as they labor to transcribe the writer’s hand. The problem was that once transcription was presented in a manner divorced from the manuscript’s empirical evidence, those scholarly interventions became close to invisible to the readers’ eyes. Digital publication platform now allows editors to display the variants of manuscript and invite readers to the dialogue of what constitutes a literary text.

Though digital editions have challenged the authoritative notion, I think we have yet to leverage the power of the digital. That is to say, to the best of my knowledge, there hasn’t been a participatory edition that allows the readers to “play with” metadata scholars produce. As Rinehart describes, codes can be downloaded, studied, used, and remixed. Imagine what we can do with major digital editions such as The Walt Whitman Archive, Willa Cather Archive, and Emily Dickinson’s Correspondences should they allow users to download a big set of carefully prepared metadata? They are there, but their potential is yet to be fully appreciated, in my opinion. It seems like the book technology and/or archival and library exhibition model are deeply engrained in scholarly editors when designing the user experience—relevant to what Rinehart and Ippolito described concerning the “fixation on fixity” mentality of conventional cultural institutions.

I wonder how I can best address the need to reconsider the expansive possibility of literary metadata. Should editors be wary about the derivable projects? Rinehart and Ippolito provide examples about the weeding process of ArtBase. Granted we are forgoing the elitist and colonial approach, what do you think is the healthy relationship between professionals and amateurs concerning the Open Museum model? I ask because I think there will always be an agenda from the professionals’ side (including literary editors) in wanting to facilitate, say, reinterpretation of resources.

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!

Infinite possibilities, infinite complexities

Hi all, my name is Brittany and this is my second semester in the MLS program at UMD, on track for Archives and Digital Curation.  I really wanted to take this course because a) it’s the only course offered by the iSchool MLS program so far that deals specifically with the arts, and b) I was an Art History major as an undergrad and hope to one day work for an art museum in their library or archives, so I will most certainly be dealing with these issues at some point!

One of the main themes that stuck out to me in Re-collection was that the preservation of digital art has to become more dynamic because the materials and concepts of digital have become vastly complex and infinite in possibility.  There is an enormous variety of technologies available now for artists to use and mash together.  And because of the way technology developed to be user-friendly to non-programmers, the physical technology is separated from the logical presentation provided to the viewer.  That is to say, When I’m typing away words in a Word document and saving it to my hard drive, I’m not seeing the tiny magnet moving across the disc to store my document in binary form.  Instead I see my document as a “file” saved in a “folder,” which is a way of simulating the print environment we are familiar with, where papers would be filed away in folders.  When you have these layers upon layers of technologies interacting with each other, and then on top of that you have a conceptually and materially complex artwork, it’s no wonder that preservationists are having such a hard time.  The effort and thought processes necessary to preserve these digital artworks need to be multi-layered and dynamic.

One common thread between all of the readings was that the metadata stored with the artworks need to change for born-digital collections.  The metadata standards, whether using MANS or a customized variation, need to be able to capture the different layers of that digital artwork.  Not only the different technologies used, but the relationships between those technologies, the hardwares and the softwares, the cultural and aesthetic context, the blueprints for recreating the work, etc.  Incorporating as much information as possible about the artwork into the metadata from the start will enable a more secure preservation future.  However, I think it is important to note, as the NDSA points out, that most of this metadata should be computationally generated and not manually, because that would just be way too much work for our preservationists and catalogers, and the information overload would become a serious issue.

You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Hello to everyone, my name is Kerry Huller and I am in my second year of the Digital Curation and Archives program. I am getting close to finishing the degree and was excited to see a new class being offered in digital curation, which was also specific to the arts.

My undergraduate education was in photojournalism and over the years I have worked for various publications. Photography was strictly analog when I began, but digital tools slowly began to make an appearance. By the time I had my first permanent job as a newspaper photographer, everything about the process was digital. From these very early days in digital newspaper photography, circa 1998, it was clear that archiving the work was going to be a problem. The newspaper I worked for had made no plans for saving anything. Back then, only images that ran in the paper were being saved, and they were only getting backed up to the computer’s hard drive, until of course we began to run out of room. At that point, a disgruntled IT staff member elected to trash what little had been saved to eliminate the problem.

As the Smithsonian Interview Project points out, preserving photography and film, or any art that began as analog work, is much more stable today. But, the conservation of digital art beyond this typical analog-turned-digital variety is a very young field. Christine Frohnert estimates it is roughly 15 years old in the Smithsonian article. All of the readings seem to stress that preservation just needs to start somewhere, anywhere. We just need to work on it, experiment and realize it is an evolving process. As Catherine points out in her post, and my own experience tells me, we will lose things. But, if newspapers have learned to no longer store photographs on a computer hard drive and that they should not throw them away when that hard drive is full, then we have made progress.

It has been a messy path, but I do think collaboration is key to moving forward. Fino-Radin stresses communication with the artist, while the Smithsonian article and Rinehart and Ippolito’s book highlight working with a variety of stakeholders, including the artist, curators, conservators, archivists, programmers, etc. This leads me to a question that has constantly come up while pursuing my MLS – how tech savvy does an archivist need to be in today’s world? Yes, a large organization will have a lot of staff to fill these roles, but what about small institutions? What do you think is feasible for a staff that may only consist of a few people or is perhaps a one-man show?

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