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!

6 Replies to “Preserving Lost Media onto the Vast Reaches of the Internet”

  1. I sat with your question about why preserving something like a CD-ROM is just as important as preserving documents deemed historically significant. I think the answer, for me, is that just because they aren’t “historically significant” doesn’t mean they don’t hold historical value or won’t in the future. For the history of technology, I think they’re very valuable, particularly because experiencing and using technology like a CD-ROM tells more of its story than just reading about what it does somewhere else.

  2. Hi Mengshu– I think that the digital preservation of Theresa Duncan CD-ROMS definitely has the potential to be important. Video games like these could be useful in may studies on childhood, video games, pop culture, etc. I’m always surprised with the types of sources that historians have used for their studies, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Theresa Duncan’s games turned out to be an unusual primary source for a study in the future. There are so many sources nowadays that could prove extremely useful in a study of childhood through the decades of the 20th century, with Theresa Duncan’s work being one of them.

  3. Hi Mengshu — For starters, woah. This is really interesting, I did not know these games had been preserved. I believe as many resources as possible should be made widely available to the public. Not only are these games very interesting, they demonstrate the importance of historical preservation and how the digital world is impacting preservation. Because the digital world changes so quickly, softwares and games become rapidly out of date and when they can be saved they should remain available to the public.

  4. The nostalgic part of me is really excited about this software, and made me curious about video games from my own childhood and whether any of them have been modified. I think saving these games, as others have suggested, could provide an interesting historical lens for future academics who wants to explore the evolution of technology + entertainment. I personally think that there will be histories of video games/movies/educational technological tools (even if they aren’t mainstream knowledge, I can see some interesting monographs being written). Your post really made me think and taught me a lot! Thank you!

  5. Hi Mengshu, like so many of my classmates above I think the the Theresa Duncan CD-ROM preservation and exhibition is a really cool throwback, so thank you for demonstrating them. I absolutely remember playing video games on CD-ROM. I think that these items absolutely have historical significance. I think video games and video game consoles amazing collections items that document how technology changed and evolved. I’ve read many pieces and watched many documentaries on the evolution of video game consoles, especially Nintendo. I’ve played around with Google Arts and Culture a bit and I think the collaboration with Rhizome is a really interesting and engaging project. I love that a platform like this not only allows for the preservation of games but also displays it an a digital exhibition that is engaging and collaborating.

  6. Hi Mengshu, like everyone else said before me I agree that the digitization of the CD-ROMs do hold “historical significance” even if they aren’t directly related to a major historical event. As Shae said, the nostalgia factor is very important and a lot of people will feel a connection with these games and be happy to re-explore them as adults. I think by using archives as a way of connecting people to older video games, as opposed to illegal or online emulators, it provides an outlet for people to explore archives beyond video games and to find other items that interest them.

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