Preserving Lost Media onto the Vast Reaches of the Internet

For this week’s practicum, I will be presenting on two online collections/exhibitions. The Library of Congress’s collection uses digitized materials to build an online collection on the history of the universe and Rhizome uses emulation strategy to preserve computer games. 

Founded by Mark Tribe, Rhizome is a not-for-profit arts organization based in New York City. The Rhizome website displays various art and culture’s engagements with digital technologies through commission works, exhibitions, digital preservation, and software development. 

The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs is an online exhibition created by Rhizome and the New Museum. The exhibition tells the story of preserving old computer games through new technologies.  This project is also featured in the Rhizome x Google Arts & Culture, a collection that aims to preserve born-digital art and culture through web archiving and digital preservation. (The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs: Putting interactive classics online with Emulation as a Service) In the 1990s, Theresa Duncan and a team of collaborators created a highly acclaimed adventure-story computer game trilogy consisting of Chop Suey, Smarty, and Zero Zero. They were noted for having a relatable child’s perspective, and were notable in guiding young girls into dealing with various life issues. Theresa Duncan envisioned these computer games to be a presentation of children’s wild imaginations, therefore, they paid great attention in creating and developing beautiful and vibrant artwork for the game’s interfaces and backgrounds, complete with a soothing soundtrack. 

These games were played on CD-ROMs, which modern software no longer supports. In order to restore these games and allow them to play on modern operating systems, Rhizome collaborated with the University of Freiburg in Germany to create a system called Emulation as a Service (EaaS). This software allows the Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs to be played again on modern computers’ web browsers. This technology allows the digital art in the trilogy to be accessed again by a newer generation and ensures the digital preservation of not only Teresa Duncan’s work, but potentially thousands of other titles that are rare to access on their original mediums. 

Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond is a digital collection from the Library of Congress. This collection explores the universe and the work of American astronomer Carl Sagan by highlighting manuscripts, rare books, newspaper articles, audio, and movie posters collected in the Library. The online collection includes three main sections: the history of the understanding of the Cosmos, Life on Other Worlds, and Cal Sagan’s own personal collection. One thing I found interesting is a depiction of the Martians stemming from 1898. The online collection highlights different sources in each of the sections, serving as a general overview instead of a comprehensive exhibition of the Cosmos, inviting the audience to explore more of a vast number of digitized items related to the universe.

A depiction of one of the Martians from Edison’s Trip to Mars in the collection.

Why is the digital preservation of Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs just as important as preserving documentations that are deemed historically significant? Should the digitized contents like video/computer games from the 90s be accessible to the public, free of charge, the same way that digitized images in a collection are open to the public?        

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on Wednesday!

Listening to the Music (and History) on Audacity and SoundCloud

As we continue learning about methods for presenting history, another consideration to keep in mind includes methods for producing and interpreting audio. With the rising interests in podcasts, the presentation of audio sources has the potential to help historians reach new audiences.  For this week’s practicum, I’m going to be sharing two resources that can be used for digital audio projects: Audacity and SoundCloud. Audacity is a free audio recording and editing software, and SoundCloud is a free audio distribution website.

Audacity

To follow the process of creating audio resources, I’ll start with an overview of Audacity. If you are already familiar with oral history or have studied oral history, this information may serve as a refresher!

Home page on Audacity’s website

Audacity was created in 1999 by Dominic Mazzoni and Roger Danneberg at Carnegie Mellon University. In 2000, it was released as open-source software on SourceForge, which is a website that allows software developers share and manage their free open-source software projects. Since then, the software has been continually updated and refined by volunteers and teams of developers. The software continues to be free, so all of Audacity’s features and functions are accessible when the software is downloaded.

Audacity’s interface provides functions for recording audio, editing and rearranging sound files, applying effects to change speed and pitch of recordings, and converting sound file formats. Since Audacity is a multi-track audio editor, the interface also allows you to work with several audio files in one project. Due to its versatility, Audacity can be used for a variety of audio projects ranging from music production to audio storytelling. Personally, I have enjoyed using Audacity to create podcast episodes for class projects.  

Downloading and Using Audacity

You can download Audacity on the team’s website. The software is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux operating systems. When I first used the software, I thought that interface was a little overwhelming. However, there are several content creators who have made tutorials for Audacity on YouTube. Additionally, when you first open the software, Audacity links provides a user manual, forums for questions, and a Wiki page with tips and resources.

Although Audacity has a slight learning curve, I found it was relatively easy to use for simple functions such as cutting audio into clips and rearranging sound clips. With some trial and error, it has the capability to create polished pieces such as songs and podcast episodes. You can also use it to clean up audio files with some background noise (within reason).

Screenshot of my oral history project from last semester on Audacity

As a free resource, I think that Audacity is a fantastic tool for digital historians who are interested in oral history, podcast creation, or implementing audio elements into interpretive materials and exhibits. It is relatively easy to use, and it provides the basic functions needed for audio projects.

SoundCloud

After you finish editing and creating an audio project in Audacity, SoundCloud provides a platform for sharing the project with your audiences. SoundCloud was created by Alexander Ljung and Eric Whalforss in 2007 to provide a cloud-based audio platform for distributing music. Many amateur and professional musicians, podcast producers, and oral historians use SoundCloud to share their work.

SoundCloud is a free audio distribution platform; however, the website requires payment for some of its features. The free version of SoundCloud allows you to listen to most of the content available on the website, and it also allows you to upload a limited amount of content. Paid subscriptions provide access SoundCloud’s full catalog, audio mastering through Dolby, and offline listening capabilities.

When I created a free account on SoundCloud, I enjoyed exploring the site. Since anyone can create a SoundCloud account and upload audio, there is a wide variety of content, including highly produced songs and musical pieces, experimental audio projects, and podcasts. One of the projects that I found really interesting was created by Leyland Kirby (https://soundcloud.com/leylandkirby/sets/the-caretaker-an-empty-bliss) as a persona called The Caretaker. The Caretaker used snippets from samples of ballroom music to create tracks that reflect the memory loss of Alzheimer’s patients.

Outside of experimental music, SoundCloud includes a variety of podcasts created by oral history organizations. For example the East Texas Research Center has uploaded several of their oral history interviews. Many of their interviews are organized in playlists by oral history project. I also found the podcast that the oral history initiative at my undergraduate university produced called Sam.wav!

SoundCloud profile for the East Texas Research Center

After exploring the site, I think that SoundCloud is a great audio distribution platform. It seems easy for individuals and organizations to use for free, and it gives people the opportunity to share their work with the public easily. Although there are some paywalls for uploading a large amount of content, the process seems easier than other well-known streaming platforms and podcast hosting platforms like Spotify, Apple Podcasts/Apple Music, and Bandcamp.

Conclusion

I hope that these overviews are helpful! Have you had experience working with Audacity and/or Soundcloud or seen them used in projects by other historians? If so, what did you think of the software and platforms? Are there other audio editing or distributing resources that you prefer? Looking forward to sharing more about these resources during class!

Digital Archives: What are and aren’t they? (Readings 5-9)

For the second half of this week’s readings, we will be looking at articles that ponder the more theoretical aspects of digital archives, and whether it is even appropriate to call digital collections “archives.”

The first article, The Rationale of HyperText, Jerome McGann highlights his vision for the optimal digital archive, one composed of hypermedia, and which incorporates both visual and auditory elements. In making the case for his hypermedia archive, McGann points out literary limitations that inhibit non-digital archives, such as the need to create new editions, which can be inaccessible to readers. Hypermedia, McGann argues, circumvents such difficulties by allowing readers to easily navigate through large masses of interconnected documents. Additionally, he lays out several design decisions that current projects should consider, such as the utilization of hypermedia in terms of the largest and most ambitious projects goals, as opposed to the project’s limitations, and that projects should be designed in the most modular and flexible way, so that changes in hardware and software have minimal impact upon the project. (McGann)

The next reading, What do you Mean by Archive, by Trevor Owens, seeks to understand the variety of meanings that “archive” takes on, depending on the context. One meaning of archive regards its usage in an organizational context, where the purpose of the archive is largely as a “place in the organization that is required to retain and organize records of the organization…In this case, a big part of the the work of an archive is to make sure they are keeping around only what is deemed to be useful for particular future use cases.” In this context, the archive is very selective. The second context Owens highlights is the archive as a “particular kind of collection.” Usually, these kinds of archives are collections of papers that center around a specific theme or person. The third context is as a context menu in computing. In this case, the archive is more of a back-up to an original copy of a document, but is still relatively accessible. The fourth, tape archives, are the physical, magnetic tapes, which many institutions use as their cheap, rudimentary forms of back-ups, ones which are the most unresponsive, and least likely to be accessed. The fifth context, web archives, are organizations and programs, such as “Wayback Machine,” which crawl the internet, saving and storing copies of websites. Finally, there are digital archives, like the September 11th Digital Archive, which are crowdsourced, and largely follow the format of McGann’s hypermedia dominated digital projects. As a whole, Owens’ article highlights the difficulty in defining “archive,” and how that meaning can change depending on what medium it is based in. (Owens)

The third article, On Excess: Susan Sontag’s Born Digital Archive, by Jeremy Schmidt and Jacquelyn Ardam, investigates the laptop and hard drives of Susan Sontag as a case study of born-digital archives. In doing so, the article highlights several drawbacks and benefits to born-digital archives. One of the main points that the article argues is that in born-digital archives, there exists a paradox in that they have to balance the need to preserve hard drives and files in a manner that protects them from degradation, while also allowing them to remain relatively accessible. Additionally, digital archives suffer from unique challenges, such as the need for old programs and documents to be converted into a format that modern programs and software can make use of. However, the authors argue that the benefits greatly outweigh the drawbacks, and point out that digital archives are far more spatially-efficient than conventional archives, with boxes and boxes worth of documents being possible to condense into a single laptop. (Schmidt and Ardam)

The fourth article, Archives in and as Context, by Kate Theimer, makes the case for why digital collections do not constitute legitimate archives, and why people in the digital humanities might make that mistake. For instance, she points out that often, people in the digital humanities call their collections “archives” because the objects are selected. However, she argues that there is more to archives than just a selection process, and instead, maintains that “an archives is a repository for the historical records of its parent organization.” Furthermore, she lays several fundamental principles of archives, such as “provenance,” “collective control,” maintenance of the “original order imposed by the source of records,” and that the objects be “primarily original or unique materials and not published ones.” Since digital collections do not adhere to these strict guidelines, Thiemer believes that they should not be referred to as “archives.” (Thiemer)

The final article, Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History by Owens and Padilla, explores some of the fundamental concepts of digital history, the unique challenges of digital history, and questions that one must ask when pursuing digital history. For instance, in one section titled “Digitized Primary Sources,” the authors discuss why an institution or organization might digitized one primary source over another. An example they give highlights that many institutions prioritize digitizing materials from before 1923, in order to avoid copyright issues. In the section “Born Digital Sources,” the authors define born digital sources as those sources that “started off digital; email messages, digital photographs, websites, databases, etc.” One of the hypothetical questions that the authors pose for born digital sources is “how were the sources created, managed and used, and how does that impact what one can say about it?” They note that these contexts behind the born digital sources can reveal a great deal about them, giving the example of a message sent that states “Sent from my iPhone.” Because of this, the existence of typos or briefness of the message can be explained. Overall, the article presents a broad inquiry into the nature of digital humanities, the methodology that is employed in creating digital histories, and the key questions that need to be considered when pursing digital history. (Owens and Padilla)

Taking a Look at some Digital Archives

As historians, we are indebted to archives. These stores of documents are essential for our research, and archivists’ hard work organizing them helps make our job go much more smoothly. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the past year, archives can be disrupted. When we can’t go to these places in person, our ability to research can be greatly hindered. Enter digital archives. The ability to go through years of documents from our own homes is a tremendous aid to historians. Today, we’ll be looking at two examples of digital archives, the September 11 Digital Archive and the Rosetti Archive, to see how we can best use these valuable resources.

September 11 Digital Archive

The September 11 Digital Archive has over 70,000 items in its collection. In 2003, it was accepted by the Library of Congress into its permanent collection. The archive runs off of Omeka, showing that platform’s powerful potential. It allows and is primarily based on user submissions, which can be text, images, audio, or video. You can browse the collection either through individual items or through certain collections, or by searching for a topic using the bar at the top.

3518 pages! That’s a lot of stuff to look through.

When you click on the “items” tab, it will let you look at all 70,000 publicly available items. You can sort by date added, title, or creator, out of which the date added will probably be most useful. Then, click on any item to view it in more detail.

For example, with this article, we can see a copy of the article, accessible by clicking on the image at the top. On the site itself, information about the object is available, like a description, date of creation, a source, any collections the item belongs to, and who submitted the item. Notably missing, however, is the date the item was submitted to the archive, which could be a useful thing to know.

However, some items on here are a little less useful, like this item titled “Home Depot.” To be honest, I have no idea what this “item” is supposed to be, or why it’s here. The submitter says that they were a police officer at the time of the attacks, and that they were referred to this site by TV, but there is almost no other information here. There are many other “items” like this, and I’m not sure whether they’ve been broken by some update to the site, or whether they have always been like this. There are also items that seem to have very little to do with the purpose of the archive, like this article about corruption in the Jamaica Tourism Board. Openness can be very useful for archives, but these examples show some of the potential risks of too much openness with submissions.

Overall, this is a very interesting archive. It is very publicly-oriented, for better or worse. On the upside, it allows a staggeringly large collection, collected from all walks of life. A scholar studying 9/11 would be able to find thousands of people’s feelings, images, and videos of the event and its consequences. The downside of this public focus is that there may be a lot of dubiously relevant material to search through. For a publicly-focused archive like this, there may be more moderation needed, to ensure that items are useful and relevant. That balance between relevance and openness is a tricky one to maintain.

Rossetti Archive

The Rossetti Archive is quite a bit different. It focuses on the work of one person, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a painter, designer, writer, and translator in 19th century England. This archive has been completed since 2009, after nine years of production. It is part of the NINES project, a collection of 19th century British and American literature and culture. You can browse the collection through certain indexes or through a search engine, and there is also a bibliographical list of scholarly sources connected to Rossetti, as well as related works that provide context for his time period.

Clicking on the “exhibits and objects” tab will show you the main indexes that the collection is organized by, such as books, pictures, manuscripts, and more. The related texts and other artists are also useful in providing context to Rossetti’s work, life, and time period.

Looking at the poem index as an example, there is text on the left that elaborates on Rossetti’s poetry, and on the right, the collection of his poems. By default, the poems are alphabetical, but you can sort them chronologically, too.

On this poem’s page, we see scholarly commentary on the left. This explains the poem and its context, including useful hyperlinks to related material in the archive. On the right side, we have more information on the poem, like its date of creation, a bibliography, and what type of poem it is.

Clicking on the image in the top left will take you to the text of the poem, located in a full text transcription of a book on Rossetti. The archive also contains images of each page, but unfortunately, it looks like the plugin they used to allow you to view those pages is no longer supported.

Overall, this archive is very well put together. The collection on its own is impressive, especially with the wealth of surrounding sources that are also available on the site. What puts it over the top for me is the scholarly commentary on most items in the archive, which helps explain the items even for those who know very little about the subject (like me, to be honest). The main flaw I found was the outdated plugin that makes it difficult to find images of some items. Even then, it appeared to only be limited to images of poems or manuscripts, and Rossetti’s artwork is still visible. It is still a reminder of the importance of maintenance to digital projects. One other consideration is whether the archive could have more of a public focus, like allowing comments on items.

These two archives are quite different from one another. The September 11 archive is very open and broad, while the Rossetti is tightly focused. What do you think about these? Is there a place for both? Should the September 11 Archive tighten up a bit, or should the Rossetti Archive involve the public more?

Organizing the [Digital] Archives: March 24 Readings #1-4

This week, we take a look into the conceptualization of digital archives. Digitizing archival materials and expanding public access through the internet allows archives the power to expand the accessibility and usability of their archives. However, as Spiderman will attest, with great power comes great responsibility.

Mr. Stark trusted me. I am not gonna let him down. : boy, bye | Tom holland  spiderman, Tom holland peter parker, Tom holland
Tom Holland’s Spiderman, Marvel Cinematic Universe

In our first reading for this week, Jefferson Bailey argues that the advent of digital archives bring the opportunity to reexamine and reimagine the organization of archives. Bailey begins his article, “Disrespect des Fonds: Rethinking Arrangement and Description in Born-Digital Archives,” by exploring the origins of respect des fonds, which is a principle of grouping records according to the generating bodies or donors. Respect des fonds seeks to preserve provenance of physical documents by grouping them by agent of transfer. The origins of this archival management system date back to the French Revolution, as records of the monarchy were destroyed and systematically reorganized by the revolutionary government. Digital Archives present an opportunity to reconsider Respect des fonds because, in the digital world, arrangement is “no longer a process of imposing intellectualized hierarchies or physical relocation.” Rather, it is automated by a computer system. Digital Archives have the ability to draw attention to collections’ inter-related nature and facilitate more dynamic exploration. While researchers still romanticize physical archives as the ideal place for research, Bailey argues the Digital Archive has the potential to alter the ways which we organize and access information.

The authors of the next three readings focused on the ways that archives can and should engage in community activism. In the first of these readings is “Archival Challenges and Digital Solutions in Aboriginal Australia” by Kimberly Christen. While the digital archive has the ability to democratize access to archival materials, Christen argues that aboriginal Australians still lack access to archives where their culture’s histories are stored and shared. Christen details her work with the Mukurtu Project, which strove to make a new management system using Warumungu systems of knowledge and cultural protocols. The resulting digital archive categorizes users according to how much access aboriginal cultural protocols would allow them. For example, some sacred object are only accessible by elders. The archive’s website is navigated by clicking on photos which indicates categories. The Mukurtu Project demonstrates one among many possibilities for imagining digital archives that effectively collaborate with indigenous and aboriginal communities.

In “Expanding #ArchivesForBlackLives to Traditional Archival Repositories,” Jarrett M. Drake tasks archives with responsibility approaching the preservation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. He defines two tasks which archives must carefully consider. First, Drake argues that archives must confront their roles in upholding the patriarchy and white supremacy through two problems. To do so, he suggests evaluating the accessibility of archives and whether the Black lives matter in the existing collections. Secondly, Drake argues that archives must build trust with the people around whom the #BlackLivesMatter movement is centered. This trust, according to Drake, must be built from a perspective of allyship, which focuses on making room for the impacted to be centered and heard. While Drake believes that independent, community based archives are the best repositories for preserving the #BlackLivesMatter movement, he believes these steps would help traditional archives be more responsible in their collecting.

Lastly, Bergis Jules writes in “Preserving Social Media Records of Activism” about the centrality of social media in today’s social activist movements. Jules argues that social media allows for an unprecedented amount of unfiltered experiences to be preserved in vivid detail on widely accessible platforms. According to Jules, the ability of any person with a cellphone to record anything is empowering. Social media is able to record the raw and personal reactions of individuals in social protest in astonishing numbers. With all that potential, Jules argues that it is necessary to develop preservation tools for this wealth of information and data that also respect people’s right to express themselves publicly.

All of these readings present arguments on how information on the internet challenges the historical uses of the archives, the ways they are organized, the people represented within then, and the people who use them. Do you know of any archives which take innovative approaches to organizing their information? What other considerations should archives make when attempting to document ongoing social movements?