Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond

The Library of Congress published this collection on their website for viewers around the globe to access. The collection, “Finding Our Place in the Cosmos” examines the “changing models of the universe through time, ideas of life on other words, and Carl Sagan’s place in the tradition of science.” *the quote I’m pulling from the site used “ideas of life on other words,” is it supposed to say worlds?* The collection includes manuscripts, celestial atlases, newspaper articles, sheet music, and rare books. The Library of Congress organized this online collection into three sections:

The Cosmos: It’s Structure and Historical Models

The main objective of this section is to acknowledge the shifts of human understanding of the universe throughout time.

After clicking on “The Cosmos: It’s Structure and Historical Models” you will find yourself on this page. On the right you can see drawings on models of the cosmos. On the left, you can see the subtopics for this section. Toggling through all of the subtopics will present new evidence of how humans have understood the cosmos overtime. On the top of the screenshot, just above “Modeling the Cosmos” you will see three subsections titled, “About this Collection,” “Collection Items,” and “Articles and Essays.” The first two are overarching views of the whole collection, but “Articles and Essays” are where the Library of Congress creates the distinction between the three main sections of the collection (“The Cosmos,” “Life on Other Worlds,” and “Carl Sagan.”)

Life on Other Worlds: History of the Possibility

This section focuses on science fiction and popular culture, revealing the importance of the connection between imagination and scientific findings and how human ideas about life in the universe have developed over time.

The screenshot above resembles the previous screenshot, however there are some differences. In this screenshot, on the left, you can now denote the three main topics underneath “Articles and Essays.” You can also see “Teaching Resources” on the left hand column that students, teachers, or any regular Joe can investigate.

Carl Sagan and the Tradition of Science

The items in this collection come primarily from The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive to show how Sagan fits into the tradition of science and served as a mentor and role model to other scientists and the public.  

It is important to note that the items displayed for the Carl Sagan section are only a portion of the The Seth MacFarlane Collection of the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive‘s contents. To view the whole collection, one can use the  finding aid for the collection is located online here.

RHIZOME: The Theresa Duncan CD-ROMs

In the 1990s, Theresa Duncan and collaborators created three videogames to demonstrate interactive storytelling via the digital sphere. RHIZOME is an online exhibition that brings these three videogames brings them back to life. The three games include Chop Suey (1995), Smarty (1996), and Zero Zero (1997). Each game has a linear intro, with Smarty and Zero Zero featuring outros too. The games follow a series of vignettes, interactions, and mini-games. While the games are geared toward young girls with its mysterious and glamorous depiction, the stories also teach stories about the complexities of life.

Chop Suey (1995)

Theresa Duncan and Monica Lynn Gesue met through work at the World Bank in Washington DC. The duo then transitioned to careers at Magnet Interactive in Georgetown. At Magnet, Duncan and Gesue were introduced to CD-ROMs, inspiring them to create a moving storybook for children. This first game would be dubbed “Chop Suey.” Chop Suey is geared towards the imagination of girls aged 7 to 12.

Chop Suey’s title page.
Chop Suey‘s main page/town.

Smarty (1996)

Unfortunately, Duncan and Gesue’s partnership faltered and the duo never created another game. Duncan teamed up with artist Jeremy Blake to create Smarty (1996) and Zero Zero (1997).  Like Chop Suey, Smarty also takes place in a small Midwestern town, utilizing diners, beauty salons, and hardware stores for its story. The music played in Waffle House inspired the music in Smarty.

Smarty‘s title page.
Smarty‘s main page/town. It’s noticeably a lot more spread out than Chop Suey.
Smarty’s credit page or outro.

Zero Zero (1997)

Branching off from the previous games, Zero Zero takes place in Paris, welcoming players to a world of bakeries, catacombs, and museums.

Zero Zero‘s title page invites players to a darker, more mysterious, game than the previous two.
Zero Zero’s main page/town. The main character in Zero Zero is the girl, climbing out of the chimney in the foreground of the image. Her name is Pinkee and the game follows her around Paris at night.
Zero Zero‘s outro/credits.

Understanding Digital Content: Media, Materiality, and Format

Jonathan Sterne, “Analog” Digital Keywords: A Vocabulary of Information Society and Culture

Analog versus Analogue? From the 1980s to 1990s, these two terms gained popularity. “Analog” is defined as “smoothly varying, of a piece with the apparent seamless and inviolable veracity of space and time; like space and time admitting infinite sub-division, and by association with them connoting something authentic and natural, against the artificial, arbitrarily truncated precision of the digital.” (Sterne, 31). Sterne argues that analog indicates a certain technical process, using one quality to represent another. Additionally, analog is not everything outside of the digital processing world, because analog has to have a technocultural relationship to nature.

Etymology of analog:

– French analogue which means “a thing that has characteristics in common with another thing” which derives from Greek and Latin terms for analogy

Oxford English Dictionary (OED) reveals two distinct threads for analogue, one as a natural science thread, and the other as a technology thread. The table below highlights how OED utilized the term analogue over time.

Entries in OED from the 1950s onward begin to denote analog as something not-digital. By the 1970s, analog focuses on the contrasts between different digital technologies.  In the 1980s, analog began to blur the lines of digital and not-digital in engineering and computer science fields. How can analog refer to both things that come into contact with digital technology and things outside the realm of digital technology?

Do you agree with the idea that analog media resembles the senses more than other media? Do you agree with Sterne’s argument that analog is a dimension of life, rather than life itself?

Caroline Arms and Carl Fleischhauer, “Digital Formats: Factors of Sustainability, Functionality, and Quality,”

Arms and Fleischhauer created this to help Library of Congress staff deem which digital content should be preserved in the Library of Congress’ collections.

The goals of this study were to:

  1. Support planning and decision-making
  2. Provide an inventory of information about emerging digital formats
  3. Identify and describe formats that are promising for long-term sustainability, and develop strategies for sustaining these formats

The focus of the digital content in question includes data files and data streams.

Types of Formats

  • Formats have versions, subtypes, and dependencies on other formats. The goal is to help staff distinguish between format requirements and variants.
  • Commonly used format names are TIFF, PDF, jpg, mov, MIME
  • Formats include versions developed over time, file extensions, and variants distinguished by different encodings
  • Because there are so numerous format options, it is hard to know which subtypes will be offered to the Library of Congress
  • 3 stages of formats: initial (while the author creates the format), middle (while the publisher utilizes the format), and end (what is sold to end-user)

What should you consider when choosing formats?

  • Seven sustainability factors
    • 1. Disclosure, or the “degree to which complete specifications and tools for validating technical integrity exist”
    • 2. Adoption, or the “degree to which the format is already used by primary creators,”
    • 3. Transparency, or the “degree to which the representation is open to direct analysis with basic tools”
    • 4. Self-documentation, or metadata that relates to the early stages of the format and helps manage the later stages of the life cycle
    • 5. External dependencies, or the “degree to which a format depends on particular hardware, operating system, or software for rendering for use and the predicted complexity of dealing with those dependencies in future technical environments,”
    • 6. Impact of patents, or the “degree to which the ability of archival institutions to sustain content in a format inhibited by patents”
    • 7. Technical protection mechanisms, or “implementation of mechanisms such as encryption that prevents preservation of content by a trusted repository”
  • Quality and Functionality Factors for still images, sound, textual materials and vieo
    •  Normal rendering –> for still images and ability to zoom in and out
    • Clarity –> necessary for high image resolution
    • Color maintenance
    • Support for graphic effects and typography –> use of shadows, filters, and other effects such as font, patterns, transparency
    • Functionality beyond normal rendering –> 3D models, layers

So, what formats do Arms and Fleischhauer prefer?

Their top preference is the TIFF with no compression. Lossless JPEG2000 is also acceptable. For images in digital cameras, TIFF/EP are preferred. For graphic art, TIFF/IT or PDF/X are preferred. They admit that with changing technology, these preferences may be different in the future.

Jefferson Bailey, “TAGOKOR: Biography of an Electronic Record”

TAGOKOR is the Korean War Casualty File, 2/13/1950 – 12/31/53,, which includes the Records on Korean War Dead and Wounded Army Casualties File, 1950 – 1970, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905 – 1981, Record Group 407, located in the National Archives at College Park in College Park, MD. The TAGOKOR file contains 109,975 records, with each record listing twenty-six discrete units of coded information.

TAGOKOR provides an excellent example for the existence of such detailed records and the preservation of the records by its custodians and users. The files are all searchable and downloadable via the National Archives and Records Administration Access to Archival Databases. TAGOKOR came from the Adjutant General’s Office (TAGO), a military unit in 1907 that housed personnel records, and established data processing systems for the United States Army. As some of these records included those dedicated to the Korean War, KOR is included in the acronym. The beginning stages of data processing for TAGOKOR included the punch-card. Many units utilized the punch card to track different types of troop information, including casualties. The punch cards were converted into seven-track magnetic tape, 556 BPI in 1964 and where copies were made. One copy lives in the USADATCOM and the other in the Army Record Center.

The TAGOKOR then utilizes ten different methods of classification. The first eighteen characters detail the casualty’s name, with the remaining sixty-seven character spaces constituting an array of classification procedures.

In 1989, TAGOKOR was transferred from the Data Processing Division of the Adjutant General’s Office to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). At the time, NARA lacked the technology to read the files, so they had to rent time on mainframe systems at government computing centers. TAGOKOR was then analyzed with the Data Interfile Transfer, Testing and Operations Utility (DITTO) to determine the labels and sample records. In 1991, the Archival Electronic Records Inspection and Control (AERIC) allowed for a more comprehensive verification of the records. In 1993, NARA launched the Archival Preservation System (APS) which allowed greater preservation of TAGOKOR. In 1999, TAGOKOR was preservation copied to maintain NARA’s 10 year policy of media migration, allowing the file to finally be “formally verified” in the AERIC system. TAGOKOR appeared on the World Wide Web in the early 2000s. In 2012, the file migrated to NARA’s Electronic Records Archive (ERA) system, allowing greater accessibility to users.

TAGOKOR represents how files evolve throughout time, especially in record preserving processes.

Trevor Owens, Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation

Chapter 1: Preservation’s Divergent Lineages

Owens presents a history of preservation by utilizing three preservation frameworks, artifactual, informational, and folkloric. Artifactual is “based on a notion of historical contiguity of a tangible physical object,” (Owens, 15). Informational is the idea that any copy with identical information is the same. Folkloric believes that as long as the key elements of the story are there, it is okay if every word or phrase is not consistent. Owens then applies the frameworks to Homer’s Iliad, archives, and butterfly gardens. The Iliad denotes physical historical spaces, has millions of copies throughout the world, and has been told slightly different ways over centuries. Archival records house preserved objects, like cuneiform tablets, and publish archival material online or in physical copies, like the Papers of Thomas Jefferson project. In editing the Thomas Jefferson Papers, editors replaced some words with others, placing the preservation method into the folkloric. Butterfly gardens operate in a folkloric frame, with each insect as different informational data, but still representing the physical reality of a butterfly.

Chapter 2: Understanding Digital Objects

To fully understand digital preservation, you need to understand the structure of digital information and media. Owens presents three strands of new media scholarship that help with this understanding.

  1. Digital information is material. Digital information is composed of “bits”, the lowest fundamental unit. These bits are encoded in a sequence which are read from one medium and copied to another. Preserving these bits is essential to preserving digital information.
  2. The database is an essential media form for understanding the logic of digital information systems. Instead of reading databases, we query them by organizing information in files, folders, etc. Archives and libraries utilize databases to order collections and files that are finable and accessible by users.
  3. Digital information is best understood as existing in and through a nested set of platforms. Owens utilizes the term platform to describe any type of software the user utilizes. Platforms include operating systems, programming languages, file formats, compression algorithms, and exchange protocols.

Chapter 3: Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Preservation

In the modern age, digital preservation is more concerned with keeping the media information rather than maintaining the platform the media is encoded on. Computers constantly reorganize its storage to optimize files, but it does so by rewriting on the medium itself, adding new media information. Owen’s utilizes the example of Larson’s Word Files and others to describe this phenomenon. The chapter concludes by mentioning how all the layers of the platform need to be studied and interlocked so we can make sense of the complied information.

Chapter 4: The Craft of Digital Preservation

Digital preservation needs to be considered a craft, because it is “grounded in an ongoing dialogue with preservation professionals,” and “must be respondent to the messiness and historically contingent nature of logics of computing,” (Owens, 72). Digital preservation is about crafting the right approach for each preservation context. Digital preservation requires an expansive view of the subject with adequate planning. Due to the evolving digital world and technologies, the solution for preservation is not final. Part of adapting with the changing digital material includes an interactive approach. To ensure digital preservation, you need to establish a policy and enact it through practice. Owens discusses utilizing models as frameworks to find what works and does not work with the preservation method at hand.

Understanding Digital Content Practicums

Demo Mystery House:

Mystery House is a very simple computer game that involves a character moving through an old Victorian Mansion during a murder mystery. It is a classic scene. The player sees graphics of rooms and items  and controls the view and movements by simple word commands like “open door” and “take candle.” It is a bit difficult to use, but fun when you figure out the mechanics.

There is not too much to explain, as the instructions for the game are very simple. You can only enter short phrases, and when it doesn’t understand it will tell you it doesn’t know how. The plot is that there are 7 people in the house, and one of them is a murderer, and you need to somewhat figure it out.

The game is mostly relevant though because of its use as an example in one of the readings. I only partially understand how it works, so I thought it wisest to just quote the section:

“Mystery House, a 1980 game for the Apple II, allows a player to explore an abandoned Victorian mansion. the game presents players with graphics showing different rooms and places in the house and text describing what happens as you move through it. the details of the game aren’t particularly important for this example.

After downloading a copy of a disk image of the game, a bit-for-bit copy of an original 5 1/4 floppy disk on which this game had been saved, it is possible to boot the game up in an Apple II emulator and explore it. You can also take a copy like this one and explore it through a Hex editor. A Hex editor is a computer program that lets you read the actual binary data that is laid out on a disk. At this point the disk is a really a virtual thing. The disk image file is a bit-for-bit copy of how information was laid out on an actual floppy disk, but we have no idea where that original disk is or if it even exists anymore.

When Matthew Kirschenbaum did exactly this–downloaded a copy of a disk image of the game from the web–and started looking around in it with a Hex editor, he found something unexpected. As a reminder, text encoded inside a file is itself interpretable and renderable outside the file. So when exploring sectors of a disk with a Hex editor, the editor can render text as it is actually laid out on the disk. What Kirschenbaum found was text from two completely different games, Dung Beatles from 1982 and Blitzkrieg from 1979. As is the case with digital storage media, the information on a disk is not erased when deleted. Instead, the space is simply marked as empty. As a result, when you poke around in the actual sectors of the disk, or the bit-for-bit copy of those sectors in a disk image, you can find traces of files that were overwritten. The end result is that some decades later, by exploring sectors of this copy of the disk, it is possible to learn what had been on this disk before the Mystery House game was saved on it.

The disk image of the game is entirely informational; it is a sequence of bits that has been copied and shared with many different users. However, in the process of copying this disk, more than the informational content of the intended game was copied. By exploring the contents of seemingly overwritten space on the disk, it becomes possible to learn about previous uses of the physical object on which the game had been encoded. Aspects of that artifactual physical object have been carried forth in the informational world of replication.”-


Glitching, put quite simply, is intentionally messing around with digital files to produce certain artistic results. This can be done a few ways, but one example would be changing a photo file into a text file, removing and moving lines of data, and then turning it back into a photo to see the glitched picture. Another example would be trying to view an audio file as an image, which can get a little weird.


Here is the original image: Fenway.jpg

Now, I will change the extension from .jpg to .txt and open it in a text editor, and just delete some stuff. Here is the new Fenway.jpg:

Pretty weird, I just randomly deleted some of the text in the editor and it only darkened the image a ton, with some gray bars appearing at the very bottom.

Link to Blog

Hi everyone! As I mentioned last week, I have set up my blog and my first post is up! If you want to follow along here’s the link:

I would love to hear any feedback too, so feel free to reach out. My site is still very skeletal, so not everything is up and running quite yet. If you have any suggestions or favorite blogs, posts, website designs you really enjoy, please send them my way! After I have a few more posts up I would like to start building a community on the blog, so feel free to join in!