DH and Archiving: A Killing Combination

For the past few days, I have taken time out of my busy schedule to inform myself on the role archiving is currently playing in the fresh new field of digital humanities. First I took a gander at the two videos of Ben Vershbow explaining his DH work in creating online archives. I found it pretty interesting when Vershbow mentioned the origins of the digital archive What’s on the Menu?, which deals with the preservation of old restaurant menus; this particular digital archive wouldn’t have been possible without the assistance of a woman outside of DH who had a large collection of thousands of vintage restuarant menus. The fact that a woman with no digital humanities training played a hand in a digital archive shows that anyone can support the field in any way possible regardless of experience and knowledge in the digital humanities.

In the same video, Vershbow also talked about his digital archiving work with maps and how useful digitally archived maps were following the earthquake in Haiti a few years ago. According to Vershbow, the maps were used to help officials get a sense of what certain locations in Haiti looked like prior to the devastating earthquake. Vershbow also made an important point that the digital archives that he works with continue to accumulate new content over time, a recurring indication of the digital humanities’ status as a growing academic field.

After watching the Hacking the Library videos, I read Kenneth Price’s “Edition, Project, Database, Archive, Thematic Research Collection: What’s in a Name?”, which delivered some insightful context into the current status of digital archiving. Price clarifies that the term “archive” is disliked by some scholars because it is adopted by the creators of resources and also because traditional print-based archives contain unedited materials . The term that Price favors instead is digital thematic research collection because rather than being used to creators of resources, it is used by people who describe the work created. Price mentions the special digital archive dedicated to collecting and preserving the works of Walt Whitman because it serves as an example of the significance of digital archiving; Price notes that as it is still undergoing developments, the Walt Whitman Archive will continue to accept new contributions that are currently being worked on, something that wouldn’t have been possible in physical archives that deal with print editions.

In the end, after watching the Hacking the Library videos and reading Price’s essay, I now better understand the great lengths digital archiving can go that traditional archiving can’t. Ordinary people can easily access digital archives from their computers and can contribute to their growth by uploading items that they possess to digital archiving websites. Traditionally, people had to travel to institutions that had archives and sometimes needed to make arrangements and know cerain people in order to use their resources. Even old items such as menus which were at one point considered to not be historical evidence worthy of preservation are now being widely accepted in digital archives. Hence, DH and the great strides made in the practice of archiving can be seen as a killing combination.

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