What is the role of the digital humanities in the future of the archive?

  • Technologies of the Book

    Margaret Konkol's picture
    by Margaret Konkol — Old Dominion University 1 Comment view

    There would be no digital humanities without archives. As a literary critic and a digital humanist trained in textual studies and scholarly editing and who worked as an Assistant to the Curator of the SUNY Buffalo Poetry Collection, I regard the archive both in concept and in practical manifestations as significant for DH research and, as I have written elsewhere, for teaching. For literary critics, the codex historically has and will likely persist, even in its future iterations, to serve the field as a primary document or site of evidence. The book, a remarkably resilient technology, is a meaning-making object.Technology, with its root techne, signifies art, craft, or skill. A poem can be a techne. Speech is also a techne. To consider the technologies of the book is to investigate a mixture of new and old forms, from incunabula (books printed in the 1500s during the first era of moveable type) to ebooks and electronic literature. Therefore study of the codex and its contents involves study of old and new objects with old and new methods of inquiry.

    “Technologies of the Book,” a course I offered in Spring 2017, explored the history and future of the book, print technology, the way books are made, shared, collected, preserved, and discarded, and the status of the book within larger information systems—archives, libraries, and private collections—in the digital age. I conceived of the course as informed by the interests of book historians as well as digital humanists. Practically speaking this means that we explored the status of print and digital ephemera from broadsides to social media and how these old and new forms of textual production challenge the monograph’s authority. Asking, “how do we reconceive the book and its place in the increasingly digital cultural archive?” critical readings were drawn from the fields of book history (Robert Darnton, for example) and scholarly editing (Peter Schillingsburg, Ken Price, Terje Hillesund and Claire Belisle, to name a few) as well as significant new digital humanities work––––Lauren Klein and Matt Gold’s edited volume Debates in the Digital Humanities and Lori Emerson’s Reading Writing Interfaces.

    This course is intended to be an introduction to a wide variety of specializations within digital humanities. Therefore, the course incorporated collaborative lab exercises as well as site-visits to a print shop and the ODU Special Collections and a collaborative writing assignment for Media Commons. I introduced students to extensive markup language (TEI) and the JUXTA tool in order to explore the revision history of Marianne Moore’s  “Poetry,” guided them through creating digital representations, the basics of computational text analysis, desktop frabrication, as well as micro-computing with Arduino.

    There are four ways the archive is of central interest to the future of digital humanities: 1) forensic/micro-analysis as a species of close-reading as found in the continued practice of textual and genetic criticism, 2) macroanalysis or large scale assessment as performed by Tanya Clement, Matthew Jockers, and Franco Moretti, 3) prototyping the past or fabricating new old things—as Devon Elliott, Robert MacDougall, William J. Turkel and Jentry Sayers have done and 4) preserving imperiled material and making it newly accessible to ever broader publics.

    The six commentaries that follow are written by graduate students enrolled in “Technologies of the Book.” Often polemical, these responses range from discussion of methods to materials and rally optimistically to DH as a promising means of equitable and socially-just critical practice. In “The Infusion of Digital Humanities in the Secondary Education Classroom: The Possibilities and the Concerns,” Yvonne Santos and Shannon Anderson address pedagogy and education policy, specifically extending DH to high school curricula and finding ways to link STEM and humanities through DH. In “Response,” Angel Kidd imagines the future of the ebook. In “A Look into Distant Reading,” Adam Flores considers the famous exchange between Kate Trumpener and Franco Moretti, arguing for the value of combining quantitative and qualitative methods in archival research. Ava Meier and Kimberly Goode attend to the importance of recovery of historically-marginalized voices. In “The Archive, Digital Tools, and Copyrighted Texts” Megan Thompson and Lori Hartness remark that the opportunity to “ re-evaluate who can archive and what gets archived [means that ] DH has the opportunity, at its start, to be inclusive—invite and involve the tinkerer, the homebrewer, the marginalized, the novice, the expert.” As Meier writes in “Focusing on the ‘Humanities’ in Digital Humanities,’ “we must ensure that the ‘humanities’ of digital humanities is represented by including the recovery of writings by marginalized groups, and the restoration of their experience to the narrative of human experience” because it would be all too easy to reinscribe “the inequities embedded in older methods steeped in white Western supremacy.” In a similar social justice vein Goode notes in “Blending Photography and the Diorama: Virtual Reality as the Future of the Archive & the Role of the Digital Humanities,” the importance of black digital humanities as a critical perspective that can examine “how the “‘material realities of blackness’ are replicated in [virtual] spaces.” 

  • The Archive, Digital Tools, and Copyrighted Texts

    A. Lorean Hartness and Meagan Thompson's picture
    by A. Lorean Hartnes... — Old Dominion University view

    To discuss the role of the digital humanities (DH) in the future of the archive we must consider what “the archive” is. Defining archive proves challenging because it is a “slippery”[1] term. Archive tends to take on the definition that suits a given scholar’s needs. We suggest that digital humanists embrace this fluidity of definition. As a nascent field, the digital humanities can afford to be creative in moving toward the future of the archive. Rather than pigeonholing archivists and scholars into one standard definition, let’s embrace what Marlene Manoff calls the ambiguity and complexity of the archive.[2] Accepting archive as an umbrella term democratizes both the process and the product. We can re-evaluate who can archive and what gets archived. Derrida warns, “There is no political power without control of the archive, if not memory. Effective democratization can always be measured by this essential criterion: the participation in and access to the archive, its constitution, and its interpretation.”[3] DH has the opportunity, at its start, to be inclusive—invite and involve the tinkerer, the homebrewer, the marginalized, the novice, the expert.

    Advances in Optical Character Recognition and Creating an Archive of Modern Texts

    The growth of digital tools and accessibility to these tools will allow us to reevaluate not only who can make archives, but what can be archived and analyzed. As humanists and scholars, we want to be able to do topical studies of works not in the public domain, allowing individuals to research texts that are not open-access. With the improvement of optical character recognition (OCR), for example, preparing an archive of non-public domain documents for an individual scholar to study is more possible. Depending on the size of the study, it may not be so overwhelming. In the 1990s, OCR was new, and though it saved hours of typing and provided a searchable record, documents scanned using OCR still required extensive editing to ensure the new document matched the original. Now, OCR programs search for whole words rather than individual characters, effectively reducing these types of errors. In addition, newer documents have clearer texts.Editing is still required for OCR texts; however, with fewer errors, the task becomes quicker, making the work more accessible for the novice and the professional. With tools like OCR, digital humanists have the opportunity to create “private archives” in which scholars can collect and archive modern, copyrighted texts. In this way, archives can be closed spaces for individual study.

    Available Technologies for Distant Reading and Topic Modeling

    Within these private archives, scholars will be able to utilize tools available in the digital humanities that give us the ability to extract data from texts and archives. Voyant,R and R-StudioPython nGram, and MONK are open-access tools individual scholars can use to explore texts and archives, using what Matthew Jockers calls macroanalysis. Jockers, Franco Moretti, and Tanya E. Clement, among others, have used these tools to reveal new characteristics and information previously inaccessible because the size of the text or corpus made an analysis of the works nearly, if not completely, impossible. In the beginning, the information revealed using macroanalysis and topic modeling tools provided us with new knowledge of documents within the public domain. Moving forward, these tools for distant reading can lead scholars to new and meaningful discoveries in modern texts.

    [1] Clement, Tanya, et. al. “Toward a Notion of the Archive of the Future: Impressions of Practice by Librarians, Archivists, and Digital Humanities Scholars,” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, and Policy, vol. 83, no. 2, 2013, pp. 112-30.

    [2] “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines,” Libraries and the Academy, vol. 4, no. 1, 2004, pp. 9-25.

    [3] “Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression,” Diacritics, vol. 25, no. 2, 1995, pp. 9-63.

    Image from http://brunellocreative.com/blog/captcha-spam-and-digital-books/

  • The Infusion of Digital Humanities in the Secondary Education Classroom: The Possibilities and the Concerns

    Yvonne de los Santos and Shannon Anderson's picture
    by Yvonne de los San... — Old Dominion University view

    The Possibilities

    Mathew Gold and Lauren Klein have recently made the case that Digital Humanities is an active and quickly growing field of research. However, their assessment is based on observation of tertiary education. It is not until DH makes its mark on secondary education that this claim can be true. By training secondary school teachers as also digital humanities scholars ensures the future of the archive as a collective cultural memory and the internet as an archive and repository of human knowledge. The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has been challenged to attract students in K through grade 12 to become proficient in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) through grants. They have teamed together with the Department of Education to create new approaches for students to learn STEM opportunities that few students, otherwise, would have seen as a future career. By combining STEM skills with humanistic material, i.e. literary texts, students can find new entry points for learning coding, macroanalysis, computation, and fabrication.

    This is especially true for those who come from Title I schools, a designation given to schools in which a high number of students are from low-income families. According to the National Science Foundation (NSF), women, minorities, and persons with disabilities are the least represented groups holding positions in STEM fields. In an attempt to balance the playing field, there are a number of opportunities to take advantage of NEH-funded science-humanities projects. These grants put STEM into dialogue with digital humanities initiatives. For example, in such Title I areas, access to free books or ebooks for the classroom help ensure that all students meet challenging state academic standards.  Introducing the world of digital humanities to secondary education students is not greatly dissimilar to teaching a 101 level introductory undergraduate course on digital humanities. It will uncover the general pattern of a book production and literary consumption over stretches of time such as the Harry Potter or the Hunger Games series, to the history of canonized books such as Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. At the practical level, it also introduces other DH methods including working closely with librarians to examine books that are archived. Collaborating with the school librarian also helps students gain access to computers that are housed in the library versus in the classroom. At the secondary education level, such STEM students who qualify to study subjects in advanced placement (AP) programs such as AP Language and Composition are among the best candidates to which to teach digital humanities to. An example of a collaborative ebook archive project is Frankenstein, accessible for free through Project Gutenberg.

    Arizona State University has taken advantage of this idea with The Frankenstein Bicentennial Project. Through the site’s Transmedia Museum, it integrates digital and hands-on activities to inspire deeper conversations about scientific and technological creativity and social responsibility. This includes a call for writers to submit original and true stories to Creative Nonfiction’s magazine. It also highlights ASU professor David Guston’s new annotated edition of Frankenstein which includes the 1818 version of the manuscript combined with leading scholars who explore the social and scientific creativity behind the novel.  

    The Concerns

    In the public education secondary high school classroom today, electronic devices for academic advancement is the assumptive norm, whether it be through the implementation of Smartboards, personal computers, or a curriculum enhanced by the use of cell phones for research and communication. In truth, a classroom today without computerized technology would likely be non-existent or part of an environment lacking in resources, awareness, or access to necessary means of execution.

    One glaring issue with the use of technology in public academic environments, specifically with the infusion of digital humanities as part of the core curriculum standard, involves those classrooms in rural and low-income communities that fail to receive the necessary resources to maintain equitable training and long-term career opportunities for students. Ultimately, graduates from these schools will suffer, both financially and psychologically, as they discover that their digital acumen lags behind those pupils who both at home and at the institutions they attended had easy access to technical tools. In turn, lower-income students will be equipped with skills that allow them far fewer employment prospects and corresponding salaries that prevent them from acquiring even middle-class economic status.

    While the benefits of incorporating modernized digital instruction in lower-income and rural area classrooms supersede those of maintaining book-paper-pen tradition, the digitization of public school curriculum must become a reality for all schools. Without this balance, those students living in economically-disadvantaged areas will continue to fall behind while middle and high-income bracket schools will use their elevated tax revenues to purchase those resources necessary to keep students prepared and competitive. As a result, both the possibilities for long-term career success and resulting socioeconomic status in the graduates of low-income public institutions will continue to pale in comparison to their economically-advantaged peers.

    To underestimate the importance of incorporating up-to-date technology in the high school classroom would be both short-sighted and futile, as the digitization of all written texts, both STEM-based and otherwise, is a certainty. Just as the number of paper-based texts in the post-high school academic environment continues to decrease exponentially, so must be the case in the secondary education setting. And just as the traditional chalkboard had to make way for the dry-erase whiteboard, the textbook will need to do the same for the digital archive. Like it or not this is simply the reality.

  • Blending Photography and the Diorama: Virtual Reality as the Future of the Archive & the Role of the Digital Humanities

    Kimberly Goode's picture
    by Kimberly Goode — Old Dominion University view

    As Matthew Kirschenbaum asserts, Digital Humanities plays a pivotal role in the study of archives, especially in regards to born-digital archives. It is no doubt the field will continue to play a role as our conceptualizations of the archive continues to expand. However, I am hesitant to refer to digital archives as the future of the archive. I believe digital archives are, indeed, gradually becoming the norm. A bevy of prestigious institutions have digital collections and online exhibitions. Harvard has over 50 online collections and exhibitions. The Library of Congress has hundreds of collections. Princeton has over 15, 000 collections. Yale has such an enormous online archive that it would be impossible to count the many collections and exhibitions their domain currently houses. The list could go on and on. We also consider YouTube and other popular social network sites to be archives. Therefore, are digital archives really the future of the archive or is it the current face of the archive? Or is it a supplement or addition rather than replacement? Can we continue to reflect on the role Digital Humanities plays when it’s beginning to be perspicuous?  

    Regardless of one’s stance, we can all agree that archival research shouldn’t be limited to digital archives. Especially, considering that there are burgeoning technologies that warrant our attention due to the endless possibilities they afford regarding our conceptualizations of archives and archival research overall. Virtual reality, in particular, seems to hold much promise.

    Virtual Reality as the Archive of the Future

    By virtual reality (VR), I mean a “three-dimensional, computer-generated environment which can be explored or interacted” with via a VR headset and an appropriate smartphone or a PC gaming console (Virtual Reality Society, Cnet). Granted, the type of headset you purchase dictates the degree of interaction you will have (Cnet). However, most VR technology immerses users into fictive or “real” artificial worlds where they either inhabit a character or enter as themselves. For instance, in the VR short film Hard World for Small Things, users join a group of people driving around South Central Los Angeles where they witness a racist officer accosting a Black man. In another film entitled Perspective Chapter 2: The Misdemeanor, users, initially, inhabit the Black teenagers who are accused of theft and subsequently, the police officers who accuse them. Conversely, Dan Archer, graphic journalist and founder of Empathetic Media, recreated Michael Brown’s murder in an experimental film called Ferguson Firsthand. Here, users embody a few of the eyewitnesses to the shooting.

    In a sense, these films are archives. Or, at least, they function as archives. Despite the lack of tangible materials, they do operate as a repository of some sort. Unlike traditional and, even, digital archives, “virtual archives” solely contain memory. These archives can, so far, house the memory of events, records, and characters. For instance, Ferguson Firsthand allows users to enter into a virtual representation of the Michael Brown shooting. Users may not be able to access physical or digital records of the event, but they can access the event by proxy. It’s sort of like photographs and the camera. If we consider photos to be materials of an archive, then why can’t we perceive the camera to be an archive? If photographers took photos of various Black Lives Matter protests all around the country, wouldn’t the camera count as a repository of some sort? Alternatively, “virtual archives” are also similar to the diorama. Dioramas are three-dimensional depictions of historical events, landscapes, wildlife, etc. They also function as a means of preservation and replication. Habitat dioramas, for instance, were designed to preserve the species that had been killed for display or to depict animals as they are in their natural environment. Essentially, dioramas offer viewers a “sense of place and… [a] sense of reality” (Mickens).“Virtual archives” would be a combination of the two. Like the camera, the VR headset functions as the actual receptacle. The contents act as both the photo and the diorama. Similar to the photo, “virtual archives” effectively capture events, people, places, etc. and freeze them in time. In all three of the films, users experience the same events, interact with the same characters, or inhabit the same characters. It is as if the user is physically living through the memories of said events, people, places, etc. Likewise, “virtual archives” provides the same a “sense of place”, “sense of reality”, and, dare I say, sense of wonder dioramas affords. Seeing a diorama in person at a museum is simply awe-inspiring. You feel as if you have been transplanted into a different world. Again, virtual reality has an analogous effect. Yet, with virtual reality, the feeling of awe is heightened. You are mentally transported to an artificial existence. It is possibly one of the most profound out of body experiences you will ever experience.

    Positionality of the Digital Humanities

    At first glance, the role Digital Humanities plays in these new “archives” may seem clear. Digital humanists have many “important lessons and insights to share in regards to cyberinfrastructures” as well as the ability to process them (Kirschenbaum). Thus, scholars might offer a number of discussions, analyses, and programs regarding the technical aspects of “virtual archives”. However, there are other affordances. For instance, based on the aforementioned films on police brutality, Black Digital Humanists might examine how the “material realities of blackness” are replicated in these spaces (Gallon). That is, researchers might question the ethical considerations of depicting and immersing users in settings where they will experience or witness racial violence. Or, they might critique whether there’s a chance users will be desensitized if they frequently partake in such simulations? Following from this, will users become engrossed in the violence perpetuated against black bodies? Is there a likelihood users will use these simulations as a way of vicariously committing violent acts against Black people? Equally, they may question if such stimulations strengthen racism as opposed to decreasing it.

    Call for Further Study

    Due to numerous contributions Digital Humanists have made in re-conceptualizing the archive, we now recognize there’s a plasticity of archives (Theimer). For many different people and in many different professions, archives mean many different things. Archives went from being solely defined as places “where documents and other materials of public or historical interests are preserved” to repositories of digital collections or information that invite participation from both users/researchers and archivists (Manoff, Ramsey-Tobienne). Thus, it is not a leap to suggest archives can also signify virtual containers of memory. Nevertheless, there is significant need for more research in this area.

  • Focusing on the “Humanities” of Digital Humanities

    by Ava Meijer — Old Dominion University view

    An important role for digital humanities regarding the future of the archive is in acknowledging “humanity” as not being a fixed category and the creation of tools representing that.  Before moving forward, we must ensure that the “humanities” of digital humanities is represented by including the recovery of writings by marginalized groups, and the restoration of their humanity in regard to the narrative of human experience—and also to ensure that the tools used to do this are not reinscribing the inequities embedded in older methods steeped in white Western supremacy.

    Kim Gallon, in “Making the Case for the Black Digital Humanities,” included in the most recent edition of Debates in the Digital Humanities, argues that digital humanities can help expose how humanity is a construct, but with real, material consequences for the marginalized, or more specifically in this case, African Americans (Gallon 1).  Black digital humanities focus on recovery not only of texts, but of the humanity of black people which has been affected by white supremacy, colonization, and subjugation.  Tool making should reflect this view of constructed, fluid, and restorative humanism, so that digital humanities does not begin in a position where it has already failed.  This requires the inclusion of marginalized people in the creation of these tools.

    As an acknowledgement, I am white, and I am not commanding others to do the dirty work.  Rather, I am affirming the need to support marginalized creators through funding and recognition of their efforts.  Topics regarding race should be always welcome, lest the practice fall into the fallacy of being “raceless.”  The inclusion of diversity is pivotal in the digital humanities, as Gallon states that, “digital humanities developed exclusively by white scholars often reflect the racial hierarchies seen in higher education” (Gallon 4).  Marginalized voices, contributions, and leadership are essential in disrupting existing practices and tools.  Otherwise, the “humanity” in digital humanities will be static, fixed, and unaware of its manufactured status.

    Successful tools and practices will include naturally intersectional work.  One example can be found in “Something Else to Be,” from No Tea, No Shade.  The authors, Alexis Pauline Gumbs and Julia Roxanne Wallace, describe their Mobile Homecoming experiential archive project as “a form of reading and writing community” (381).  The essay details how the two women approach collecting the stories of queer black people in an effort to reclaim stories and history while also challenging the form of the archive.  Examples such as this demonstrate the importance of accounting for a full range of experience to be present in the humanities, particularly in the transition to the digital.

    While there is a significant faction of Digital Humanities practitioners who insist that computation is the most worthy agenda for DH, I disagree. This is not to say that text mining should be discontinued until we reach some point in the future where humanity becomes a fixed category, which would not happen, but rather that there is a need for an emphasis on recovery and an awareness of the usage of tools to push aside subjects such as race or sexuality. Adeline Koh, in “A Letter to the Humanities: DH will Not Save You,” writes that in order to “save” digital humanities, practitioners must “champion the new wave of digital humanities: one which has humanistic questions at its core” (Koh).  It is a challenge of technology to not replicate systems of oppression.  To move forward, digital humanities must also look backward, and recover what has been lost in the human experience.

    Works Cited

    Gallon, Kim.  “Making a Case for the Black Digital Humanities.”  Debates in the Digital Humanities, edited by Mathew K. Gold and Lauren F. Klien, University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

    Gumbs, Alexis Pauline and Julia Roxanne Wallace.  “Something Else to Be.”  No Tea, No Shade, edited by E. Patrick Johnson, Duke University Press, 2016, pp. 380-93.

    Koh, Adeline.  “A Letter to the Humanities: DH Will Not Save You.”  Hybrid Pedagogy, 25 Apr. 2015, http://www.digitalpedagogylab.com/hybridped/a-letter-to-the-humanities-d…

  • A Close Look Into Distant Reading

    Adam Flores's picture
    by Adam Flores — Old Dominion University view

    Though the term Distant Reading is scarcely more than a decade old, the practice it describes is central to many practitioners of Digital Humanities and it enjoys an unimpeachable status in the field. Yet, I would like to highlight the fractious effect of this method in what has become a famous exchange between Franco Moretti and Kate Trumpener.

    Franco Moretti’s 2009 quantitative microanalytical approach to seven thousand British novels pinpoints title length in fiction within the novel and its implications in certain genres spanning 110 years (1740-1850[1]). Moretti defines specific arguments that raise awareness to title creation and its “half sign, half ad” (Moretti 135) purpose such as the use of definite and indefinite articles in a title. He declares the definite article “the” gives thought to “something we already know,” whereas the indefinite article “a” and “an” defines something “we are encountering…for the first time…” (154). While this may imply a feminization, does it also predicate the “othering” of race, class, and gender? Additionally, does this play out in contemporary contexts, namely do American fiction titles follow this pattern? Do Moretti’s other findings include his main point of title length and variation and article-adjective-noun combinations? Moreover, I conclude in one area that the extended title length he examines is basically a synoptic title (synopsis), yet he does not use the word synopsis to support why authors titled their writing in this fashion. Distant Reading with quantitative approaches can be beneficial in finding patterns of lexical data; however, it does not provide the interpretation that traditional humanistic method or close reading offers. Bridging the gap, the Digital Humanities can provide scholars and researchers new insights into theoretical approaches in authorship and offer an overview of the literary archive.

    Katie Trumpener examines Moretti’s quantitative research and takes it further in a macroanalytic view of literature across different eras, cultures, and genres.[2] Taking a skeptical view of the validity of Moretti’s findings, she relies on her literary training and study of German sociocultural contexts. Trumpener tends to overlook Moretti’s overall pedantic approach, but supports Moretti’s research and findings: “…Moretti’s provocative essay…seems to provide the answer…” (Trumpener 161). She finds fault with the way in which his study only focuses on British novels and ignores (at its peril) other genres or national literatures. Trumpener addresses the need to explore definite/indefinite article usage and further asserts how they assist in the title/topic being presented by the author (162), something Moretti did not explore in much detail. She further expands on her cross-culture -genre examination with her German literary culture upbringing by claiming Moretti “takes for granted that by the end of the eighteenth century the novel is centered primarily on bourgeois life” (166) and claims Germany, during the same period, attempted “to establish the possibilities of a bourgeois national public” (166), looking to British and French Enlightenment models. I have recounted this debate as it is widely recognized to be a significant example of how old and new methods of conducting humanities research often meet in contentious ways.

    In my assessment, the microanalytical approach of Moretti and the critique to which Trumpener subjects it reveal they both come to similar conclusions about literary titles and subtitles across a broader spectrum of literary canons. One of the other aspects of DH which is often overlooked is its collaborative spirit. Borrowed from the sciences, “labs” and co-authored essays are common DH practice. If Trumpener would collaborate with Moretti, a broader and more in-depth analysis could result which would be even more valuable than their individual findings.

    The role of the Digital Humanities is vital in bridging the gap between quantitative and qualitative analyses of literature. Quantitative data used in Distant Reading can supplement intuitive assessments and qualitative close reading of the text. The role of the digital humanist is vital in helping to explore the canon in ways that were not possible in the past. Dr. Konkol’s “Technologies of the Book” graduate course in Digital Humanities played a major part in developing my thesis project and personal role/responsibility as a digital humanist/archivist. My creation of a digital archive of the Mace & Crown student newspaper will be a digital collection to further enhance research and scholarship within the journalistic narrative of Old Dominion University. By using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software (the conversion of scanned images to text), the digital archive, in its quantitative dataset, can yield new qualitative research and scholarship exploration on both the micro- and macroanalytical levels. Moreover, with various software applications such as NGram and Voyant, the possibilities seem endless in utilizing these digital tools to present new scholarship.

    Moretti and Trumpener represent polar opposite positions in regards to the value of the Digital Humanities. Instead of a dividing line in regard to using digital technologies to decipher authorship codes within literature, by embracing new methods of quantitative research we can unlock and further the discussion of what lies beneath the surface in the canon.

    [1]Moretti, Franco. “Style, Inc. Reflections on Seven Thousand Titles (British Novels, 1740-1850).” Critical Inquiry, vol. 36, no. 1, 2009, pp. 134-158.

    [2]Trumpener, Katie. “Critical Response I. Paratext and Genre System: A Response to Franco Moretti.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 36, no. 1, 2009, pp. 159-171.

  • Response - Angel Kidd

    Angel Kidd's picture
    by Angel Kidd — Old Dominion University view

    Much of what I have heard about digital humanities has been unfavorable. Its effect on the archive is considered equally undesirable. Tristram Hunt, newly minted director of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London expressed his disdain for digitizing historical documents, noting the bibliographic study of the book as text as a more effective way to study history. Could the progressive, yet still ambiguous, identity of the digital humanities be provoking this negative relationship? As an archivist herself, Kate Theimer seemed apprehensive about the world of digital humanities, comparing herself to “a tourist in a foreign country.” Her article, “Archives in Context and as Context,” discusses the issue of disconnect between archives and digital humanities. She proposes that perhaps it is merely the evolution of the word “archives” when used in digital humanities discourse that makes this relationship seem incompatible. But Terrence Lockyer, in his blog A Phrontisterydebates this affiliation, summarizing that “too much discussion is in terms of polar opposites: libraries or online archives, e-books or print, digitized sources or physical ones.” Why does this relationship between the digital humanities and archives seem antagonistic? Why does one connote the destruction of the other? Maybe we should think of the relationship between digital humanities and the archives as more of a constructive and valuable, interdependent coexistence: essentially, symbiosis.

    Digitizing the humanities allows for access to history and culture that others may not otherwise have. In effect, this remediation would aid in educating more people with primary sources available via digital collections. If somehow the original 95 Theses or one of its copies were found well preserved from the 1500s, historians should not be kept from viewing this artifact because of logistical issues. In this age of swift information sharing, where news travels through the Internet within minutes of its occurrence, digital humanities could aid in publicizing this artifact quicker and with little further damage to the actual document. It could be used to educate people all over the world more efficiently and effectively while allowing documents to stay preserved and minimally disturbed. Darwin Online is one such project that gives open source access to Charles Darwin and his many manuscripts. Without digitization efforts, these writings may have stayed relatively obscure and only studied by those who knew of its existence, and could travel to the location where these records were held. The Blake Archive is another project that has beautifully digitized many paintings by William Blake. Although the works are undoubtedly retouched or refined, the images still convey some of the history behind the works and the culture it represented. 

    With this objective, the field of cultural studies has the potential to expand more rapidly than before. Genealogists working with archives could more easily share their collections amongst their peers. The general public interested in researching familial ties could visit one archive and have virtual access to many more records that are digitized and shared between libraries, without having to travel to remote places. Digitized genealogy collections of the U.S. National Archives include census and military service records, along with immigration and naturalization records. These records are open to the public and can be searched by anyone online. Although part of the experience of realizing family lore and kinship comes with travelling to the place formerly inhabited by one’s ancestors, it does come at a cost that not all can afford. The availability of these ancestral records online circumnavigates this logistical issue.

    Additionally, increasing hostilities throughout many regions in the world have seen ancient artifacts irreparably damaged. If those archives are not evacuated properly, primary source history could be lost. The destruction of the National Library of Sarajevo in the 1990s and the 2014 bombing of an Armenian church in Deir el-Zour are two examples where books were burned, historical sites toppled, and countless documents and photographs reflecting the heritage of people had been ruined. Although the physical copies are essential, a digital repository with a backup of primary source documents could have aided in preserving first-hand accounts of historical events we only read summaries about in history books or websites. While the reverence of seeing the authentic document in person is arguably not the same as seeing a historical document digitally, it would still serve the purpose of educating the casual user. What better way to learn about ancient civilizations and their effects on current cultures than with documents written by the people immersed in that society?

    Although digital remediation of the archives is no match for having the actual artifact in hand, knowing it had possibly seen hundreds of years, it is a reasonable and viable repository to preserve traditions, culture, and heritage. A number of natural and unnatural events can occur at any given time that could significantly impact these special collections. Moving into a more digital world, it seems appropriate that history as a discipline, along with its archives, adapts and co-arise with the digitization of the humanities so as not to become relics themselves. 

  • The Digital Humanities and the Archive in Undergraduate Curriculum

    Charles Goldberg's picture
    by Charles Goldberg — Bethel University view

    I’m grateful to have the opportunity to continue the line of thinking begun by my colleague at Bethel University, Kent Gerber. In Kent’s capacity as Digital Library Manager, he has worn many hats to further digital scholarship and pedagogy at our university, a Christian liberal arts school in the suburbs of the Twin Cities in Minnesota. As a first-year assistant professor of History, I also coordinate our Digital Humanities program, which is in the final stages of launching a new undergraduate major. I hope to contribute to this conversation by sharing how a historical archive, such as the one we enjoy at the Bethel University History Center, can serve as a central hub for digital learning and research for undergraduates. What I write comes from the perspective of a history professor at a religious school, but much of this can easily apply to any secular institution with compassionate, contemplative students; that is to say, nearly anywhere.

    The materials in our archive document people and events all throughout our 145-plus year history. These materials reflect our collective past, rooted in the immigration to the upper Midwest by Scandinavian Christians in the Pietist tradition. While our archive may be comparatively small, there are remarkable stories lying in the intersection between the everyday and the extraordinary. An example of the kind of project our community has produced through work in the archive is Bethel at War 1914-2014, an online exhibit created by my colleague, Dr. Chris Gehrz, and then-undergrad Fletcher Warren, History and Political Science, ’15, which documents the experience of Bethel members in that long century of warfare. The Bethel at War project digs deeply into archival material to help shed light on how individuals navigated the often competing demands of patriotic citizenship and the Christian imperative of peacemaking. What’s more, in its final form as a WordPress website, it brings these archival stories to a much wider audience than is traditionally the case with undergraduate work, which typically takes the form of a closed white paper conversation between professor and student. It is perhaps by taking advantage of such public-facing platforms that undergraduate students working in traditional archives can impact the world around them to the greatest extent.

    When undergraduates go to college or university, their focus typically is on how their present can help craft their future employment. It is often taken for granted, however, the degree to which the collegiate community they enter into has been shaped by what has come before. And it is here where the digital humanities can play a crucial role in opening undergraduate eyes to the unobserved past. Bethel University will celebrate its sesquicentennial in 2021, and it is fitting to use that milestone as an opportunity to explore stories from our first 150 years. Borrowing from an assignment created by Dr. Austin Mason at nearby Carleton College, my digital humanities students will treat the local setting of Bethel University – its physical location, its buildings, and its historical archive – as a data set. It may go without saying, but the role that the digital humanities and the archive can play in undergraduate education depends on place. I use this word purposefully. Our aim, with the help of digital technologies, is to document the many layers of human experience embedded in our archives that have laid the foundation of our present community.

  • Expanding and Engaging the Archive within the Liberal Arts

    Kent Gerber's picture
    by Kent Gerber — Bethel University view

    Digital Libraries are a convergence of digital humanities and archives because they are involved in selecting, managing, curating and preserving artifacts of cultural heritage. As the librarian responsible for Bethel’s digital collections of scholarship, history, and cultural heritage I’ve collaborated with our archivist to select and convert physical items from the archive to present in an organized and sustainable online collection. Once the items are online, I collaborate with faculty, staff, and students to work on curation, discovery, and exhibition through our website and digital management software and teaching and outreach on campus.

    Digital humanities and digital library work is interdisciplinary and brings the contents of the archive into a broader context through digital collections that are well-organized, discoverable, and sustainable into the future for multiple disciplines, systems, and audiences. This means that digital collections and archives involve more than just traditional archival materials. This is particularly true in the context of a mid-sized liberal arts university where the scope is broader and less specialized. In addition to collaborating with the archives on campus, I also collaborate with the art galleries, special collections, natural history specimen collections, and campus entities like the International Study Abroad office who contribute reflective photo-essays from students who have studied abroad. On a larger scale, the digital environment requires collaborations with multiple disciplines and multiple cultural heritage institutions—which has become a meta-community called GLAM (Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums) demonstrated in the OpenGLAM. This convergence is also what can contribute to a dilution of the definition of the word “archives” as Kate Theilen discusses and pointed out by Cal Murgu in his entry DH and Digital Archives. The related concepts of “library” and “curation” are also subject to this same phenomenon being associated with a shallow “collection of items selected for a purpose” concept over the more comprehensive meanings. I find it helpful to use the Digital Curation Centre (DCC) Curation Lifecycle Model below, which shows the full range of activities and expertise involved in digital curation, as a common reference point with collaborators in order to clarify what we mean, and don’t mean, by "archive" in a digital humanities project and to determine the collaborative roles rather than overlook them or set them aside.


    However, this convergence also affords greater opportunities for an archive to communicate its value by greater reach and use in research or teaching. At Bethel University, engaging in digital humanities through a collaboration between the Library and the History Department has extended the reach and impact of its archival collections. Digital archives have allowed students and faculty to more quickly research and explore certain themes within Bethel’s history and to respond to community events in a more agile way including memorials for colleagues who died. Access to the information has also allowed students, faculty, and staff to make more use of their own history including broader access to a biography of Bethel’s founder by administration, data mining of the full text of the student newspaper to determine the timing of a mascot change, and a faculty-student project resulting in a publicly-available resource exploring Bethel’s intersection with four world wars called Bethel At War. The larger scale of digital humanities work also impacts this work on a local level. An archive that was only locally accessible is now a regional and national resource through collaborations with the Minnesota Digital Library and the Digital Public Library of America to harvest and make these local collections more widely available.

    These resources and projects also impact the behavior of the researchers themselves. Due to projects like these, scholars who depend on archives for their research are able to access important primary sources without as much extensive travel.  A 2012 report from Ithaka S+R found that historians physically visit archives less, have more focus in their visits when they do, engage in more information gathering instead of analysis when on site, and publish their research in increasingly digital formats.

    Therefore, digital humanities can get the archives more deeply and widely involved in the activities of research and teaching and bring them into contact with a wider variety of disciplines and cultural heritage institutions. 

  • Digital Humanists on the Front Lines

    Kristopher Purzycki's picture
    by Kristopher Purzycki — University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee view

    Considering the preceding posts in this series, I wanted to take this opportunity to step away from technique, methodology, and pedagogy and reflect upon what is the most critical component of the digital humanities: the digital humanist. At the risk of offering a more optimistic, less critical discussion, it feels like it’s time a moment to reflect on the role (and express a bit of appreciation) of those that have employed their mastery of digital tools and practices to help preserve our social, cultural, and intellectual heritages.

    Of course, attention to DH practitioners is not new. In his contribution to Debates in the Digital Humanities, Rafael C. Alvarado incorporates the “history of people who have chosen to call themselves digital humanists” into his description of a definition of the field (50). Included in this same volume, Lisa Spiro argues for the development of a core values statement that might unify these self-proclaimed digital humanists under a professionally and pedagogically unifying treatise (30). These recent affirmations hint at the assertive stance digital humanists often must take when they align themselves with the field, at times defending their practice even against those in their own discipline.

    Setting aside the skepticism, accusations, and the occasional territorial pissing, we might take note of how it is the digital humanists that have been positioning themselves along the front lines against the same neoliberal forces that they are often accused of aligning with. Nowhere perhaps is this more clearly demonstrated than with the archive.

    “It’s the academic’s job to preserve these works and to ensure the public retains access to them.”

    As described by my advisor of a few years back (while discussing the disappearance of older computer games), the university is responsible for not only preserving but also defending our global intellectual and creative legacies. What mission could be more aligned with that of the digital humanities? In a 2011 essay, Alan Liu asked that the digital humanities assert a position of leadership. I would suggest that this role had been accepted some time ago.

    Over the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of working with UW-Milwaukee's Digital Humanities Lab, an embryonic space couched in our university library. Heavily influenced by the information sciences, DH on campus has taken a commanding position in using digital methods to collect and present local histories as well as provide scholars with the means to record and document new data stores for future research. Spearheaded by the efforts of the Center for Information Policy Research and local collaborations with global campaigns, these priorities are motivated by digital humanists’ seething commitment to free and open information.

    It shouldn’t have surprised me that librarians were the most vocal, ardent defenders of information: they’ve been the ones paying attention and taking extraordinary measures on our behalf in recent years. While some of us peck away at methods for documenting and preserving culturally significant experiences, it has been the library archivists that have been the more assertive, arguing that we aren’t pecking fast enough!

    Without those that would risk everything to preserve and secure the heritage of their people, what would we have to show for ourselves? Beyond the stacks, digital humanists have been making headlines in securing the archive of climate change data from an administration that is openly hostile to anything contradicting its propaganda machine. Perhaps this motley crew of scientists and hackers would not explicitly consider themselves digital humanists, but there can be little doubt that those of us that do should still be looking to them as exemplars.

    Works Cited

    Alvarado, Rafael C. “The Digital Humanities Situation” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 50-55. Print.

    Liu, Alan. “Where is Cultural Criticism in the Digital Humanities?” https://liu.english.ucsb.edu. 30 April 2017.

    Spiro, Lisa. “’This is Why We Fight’: Defining the Values of the Digital Humanities.” Debates in the Digital Humanities. Ed. Matthew Gold. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012. 16-35. Print.

  • Pre-Envisioning the Meta-data Archive

    Andrea Mariani's picture
    by Andrea Mariani — Università degli studi di Udine view

    Digital media definitely require new framings for our concepts of storage, archiving, vaulting, and retrieval. The Archive, its Foucauldian legacy in film and media history, and the Digital mutually affected the way we frame memory and history as well as the way we conceptualize our excavations into memory and (media) history. The archive took a major role in the clash between teleological and archaeological models of history, between narration of the past and the counting of the past – as the media-archaeological debate has been stressing for a long time. The Digital world, hardwares and softwares, stunningly increased the archival effect of what Thomas Elsaesser has called an “astonished turn towards the past” (Film History as Media Archaeology, AUP 2016): the emergence of digital media and their impressive and quick converging movement called for a plausible and intuitive backward jump towards the past, in order to rethink temporality in the search of a logic for such a massive and sudden transformation of the media sphere.

    Early modernity – the obsessive quest for the origins – offered a simultaneous field of investigation and excavation of the present. The digital turn made urgent a random and stochastic access to the past, by fragmenting and exploding the linearity of its narration: according to this paradigm, something was missing for the scheme of continuity and cause-effect logic in history. Materiality and new media technology made patent an epistemological crisis.

    Archive versus History

    Accessing the past from the archive, it soon recalled the operative models of databases, networks, nodes: a way to count the past into diagrams, rather than to narrate histories. Media theorist Bernhard Siegert recurred to the compound “cultural techniques” in order to frame models of genealogical and archaeological access to the past. The grid – one of the models discussed in his book (Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real, FUP 2015) – brilliantly epitomizes such a trend: locating the data into the grid, according to space and time coordinates, lets the historian access it through a code or random connection rather than causality. This crucial debate I’ve just recounted tells us the huge impact the digital turn had and still has on the humanities, concerning the way we access data of the past, how we locate data, how we excavate data, and where we excavate data. This “astonished turn towards the past” made data mining an imperative, and the circular re-activation and presentation of data through time(s) a symptom. Media preservation and presentation hold and will increasingly hold a major role in this frame. Media obsolescence and creative re-animation, media hacking, reverse engineering of past media technologies, media art, and media mining assumed the character of an active way to re-write history through the archive and the materiality of media—and a specific and active way to practice media-archaeology as Jussi Parikka and Wanda Strauven have proven.

    Let us think on the work of Tom Jennings' The Story Teller, where the reuses of “ideas and obsolete material from media history, including a teletype machine, a papertape reader, and a speech-phoneme processing system” (Jussi Parikka, What is Media Archaeology, Polity 2012) are characterized by a recurring mode that presents itself as a “process,” and active intervention into obsolescence and disrupted and fragmented temporality where the work of art or the medium are only points of immanence in transit: a time machine that is also repeated and subject to variations.

    Media art becomes media history or archaeology: Jenning’s gesture is an archaeological (and genealogical: The Story Teller is about Alan Turing) excavation into the archive. How could/would the digital affect this process, and how could digital media preserve it? How to preserve this archaeological gesture?

    Data and Meta-data

    As a scholar who works in a film and media preservation Lab at the University of Udine, I would further discuss a crucial issue that is still largely missing from the debate. Media Preservation in fact raises similar issues. Re-visiting the data of the past, re-activating them, re-presenting and re-framing would be further enlightened by understanding the huge amount of information that digital media dramatically engenders and endangers: Meta-data, or How we’ve done it. Our archaeological or genealogical excavations into the past – in a way that could certainly be a media or moving image preserving operation as well as a media art intervention into the archive – deserve to be identified and re-counted also by the traces of the operation that brought past data/items to a new life; by the waste from the mining or reverse engineering operation it was subjected to; by the gesture of the preserver or the artist or the historian who played the role of operator or excavator.

    How do we locate this information (into the grid)? And again, what kind of information is missing from this picture? How much information are we missing by excavating the past? Thus, how to preserve and present the “preserving gesture”? How to excavate and store the “hacking procedures” or the “reverse engineering procedures” (a sort of counter-instructions for de-construction)?

    A first crucial step would be the “conversion” procedures of non-digital artworks or procedures or gestures into digital objects (or “information objects”). This conversion can only represent the complexity of the meta-data in the form of a documentary trace. Media artworks as well as Moving image preservation operations belong to a project (or “chain” of projects) and prove to be “archivable” only from a documentary standpoint, given their multidimensionality and material, conceptual, and progressive complexity (Cosetta Saba in Preserving and Exhibiting Media Art, AUP 2014): we are basically expanding and pairing the meta-data concept to the gestural and procedural operation of the media artist and the media preserver and archaeologist.

    However, the methods we are currently recurring to in the digital archive documentation show structural limitations (as a matter of fact, just in the field of moving images preservation, the FIAF’s or AMIA’s forums are actively debating this issue). Meta-data is the discourse network we are actually feeding as media scholars, as media preservers, as media artists: it is the shadow-trace that still deserves to be fossilized, and the paradigm that is missing.

  • DH and the Digital Archive

    Cal Murgu's picture
    by Cal Murgu — Western University view

    I’ll start off by disclosing that I am not an archivist; my perspective is informed by the time I’ve spent in archives as a researcher, and the work that I’ve been doing recently on digital historiography. In a way, I’m an outsider looking in. That being said, historians are introduced to and respect deeply the elements of archival theory that make their work possible, including provenance, authority, and context. I’m also aware that digital technologies have profoundly impacted the way that historians search for, perform, and disseminate research. In particular, historians are increasingly expecting, on one hand, to find primary sources on the web, and on the other, are encouraged, by funding bodies and institutions, to make material available online. This, in turn, has placed added pressure on archivists to allocate increased resources to improving catalogues and item descriptions, and provide full-text documents or high-resolution images whenever possible. The relationship is reciprocal. Practicing digital humanists have taken it upon themselves to develop curated online repositories using a variety of platforms to meet this demand and to support open access initiatives. While this practice is generally positive, I believe that considering an online repository as tantamount to an archive — gestured by our use of the “digital” qualifier — requires some critical attention.

    In the most recent edition of the Debates in the Digital Humanities (available online), Jentery Sayers published a thought provoking piece titled “Dropping the Digital.”  In short, Sayers “ruins” the digital humanities through ruination, a technique whereby a text is manipulated and subsequently compared to the original text to identify differences and confirm or refute previous assumptions. Sayers “drops the digital” from a corpus, and combs through the product in order “to examine how its absence shapes meaning and interpretation.” Ultimately, Sayers’ essay encourages us to be reflexive about how and why we append “digital” in qualifying research. The way I see it, a comparable act of uncritical qualification is occurring on the web with the recent explosion of so-called “digital archives.”

    The proliferation of low-barrier of entry and low cost digital repository and content management systems, like Omeka and DSpace, has led to the creation of hundreds (if not thousands) of online repositories housing digital artifacts. Artifacts are digital copies of analog materials, or repositories of borne digital documents, or both. Importantly, non-archivists often create these repositoriesthey are open access, and are sometimes referred to as “digital archives.” The final point requires attention. How does “dropping the digital” from “digital archives” inform our understanding of these online repositories? How are they different from the “physical” archive that we are so familiar with?

    Perhaps this is all just a natural shift in what the word "archive" means to people, prompted by digital methodologies and tools. However, I’m in agreement with Kate Theimer as she argues that the colloquial use of the term “archive” to denote simply “a purposeful collection of surrogates” is problematic due to “the potential for a loss of understanding and appreciation of the historical context that archives preserve in their collections, and the unique role that archives play as custodians of materials in this context.” Indeed, the act of archiving is not simply an arrangement of curated artifacts; materials undergo a strict process of appraisal according to principles of provenance, among others. And while archival institutions are not without criticism*, I think it’s important that we remind ourselves of what we’re overlooking when we co-opt the term “archive”, a term laden with symbolic meaning, for our digital repositories. Without a doubt, the digitization work that we undertake in cooperation with institutional libraries and community organizations is significant and worthwhile; however, the very act of attempting to create a “digital archive” is deeply informed by a value system embedded in Western ways of knowing. Ultimately, the creation of digital collections will continue, as it is a trend fueled mainly by principles of accessibility and is therefore commendable and much needed. However, humanities scholars that are turning to and creating these digital resources must think critically about why and how they are created, and how they might affect new scholarship and knowledge.

    * See, for example, Wood, Stacy, et al. "Mobilizing records: Re-framing archival description to support human rights." Archival Science 14 (2014): 397-419.

  • Rhetoric, Digital Humanities & the Archive

    Pamela VanHaitsma's picture
    by Pamela VanHaitsma — Old Dominion University view

    The role of the digital humanities in the future of the archive is in play across the humanities. Approaching this matter as a rhetorician, my primary interests are in two related questions. How, as rhetorical critics, may we uncover the rhetorical dimensions of the archive and articulate this rhetoricity in conversation with our colleagues across the humanities? And, as critics who also teach rhetoric, how may we involve students in forms of archival participation and production? This post responds by offering what I see as key rhetorical practices for the future of the archive, while also routing readers to other scholarship in rhetoric and the digital humanities that accounts for these practices further.

    Considering the Rhetoric of Digital Archives

    Implicit in the practices discussed here is an understanding of digital archives as rhetorical formations. Rhetorical critics have advanced this understanding with respect to both brick-and-mortar and digital archives (Biesecker; Finnegan; Haskins; Morris; Stuckey). As Charles Morris explains in introducing the Rhetoric & Public Affairs forum on archives, the archive is “a rhetorical construction” (113); it “significantly influences what we are able to study, to say, and to teach about rhetorical history, and what we do, as rhetors, with its holdings in our scholarship, in our classrooms, and in the streets” (115).

    While all archives are rhetorical constructions in these ways, the rhetorical features of digital archives are distinctive. They are marked, as Ekaterina Haskins writes, by a “promise of representational diversity, collective authorship, and interactivity” (405). Digital archives do not always deliver on such promises, of course, and the promises themselves are not without their own problems. Of particular note to teachers of rhetoric, though, are the pedagogical possibilities afforded by the accessibility of digital archives (Purdy; see also Graban, Ramsey-Tobienne, and Myers). Most obviously, students may use digital archives to conduct primary research on diverse forms of rhetoric. But as Jessica Enoch and I argue, it is important that we train students as both researchers and critics, helping them to uncover “the rhetorical properties many sites exhibit: archival selection, exigence, narrative, collaboration, and constitution” (219).

    Constructing and Curating Digital Archives as Rhetorical Production

    With digital archives understood as rhetorical constructions, it follows that our pedagogies may invite students to participate in the production of archives as a rhetorical practice. This affordance is especially pertinent to digital spaces where, as James P. Purdy explains, “people can become both users and producers of archives” (34). Depending on the pedagogical goals of a course, students of rhetoric may collaborate to create relatively small-scale archives viewable only to members of the class; use platforms such as Omekaand Archive-It to invent more public archives; remix archival materials to compose anew; or contribute to existing archives 2.0 projects that invite crowdsourcing through uploading artifacts, creating metadata, and transcribing materials (Bessette; Enoch and VanHaitsma; Ramsey-Tobienne; Shipka, Hidalgo, Anderson, and Campbell; Theimer; VanHaitsma).

    Closely related to the construction of digital archives, another crucial rhetorical practice is the curation of digital archives. As Krista Kennedy writes, curation “is a rhetorical, dynamic skill set”(7) and, particularly in networked spaces, curatorial practices of invention and arrangement rely on “distributed collaboration” (178). In another post with Cassandra Book, Meagan Clark, Christopher Giofreda, Kimberly Goode, and Meredith Privott, I share an example of how such practices may be utilized to curate digital archives in a graduate seminar on women’s and feminist rhetorics. Cory Geraths and Michele Kennerly describe another pedagogical example of digital curation from undergraduate public speaking courses. Whether in undergraduate courses, graduate seminars, or scholarly research, the curation of digital archives is a complex rhetorical process of collecting existing archives while simultaneously composing new ones and blurring the line between archivists and audiences.

    Creating Digital Archivists through Rhetorical Education

    By way of conclusion, I draw a final practice from Jenny Rice and Jeff Rice’s community-based pedagogical work with pop-up archives, which are temporally oriented less to the “permanence and longevity” of preservation and more to an ephemeral present of user interactions (253). Reading their discussion of how students acted as pop-up archivists, I am reminded that, when considering the rhetoric of digital archives as well as constructing and curating them with students, we are in effect creating digital archivists. “By working in the temporary network spaces that digital media allow for,” Rice and Rice explain, “students are enacting the work of archiving. What is created is not digital archives per se but digital archivists” (251, emphasis in original). In a similar vein, might the role of rhetoricians and digital humanists “in the future of the archive” be less about the future of the archive per se, and more about the creation of future archivists?

  • Notes on the Digital Humanities and (Canadian) Feminist Archives

    Alana Cattapan's picture
    by Alana Cattapan — Dalhousie University view

    For the last several years, I’ve been involved in a number of projects that chronicle histories of Canadian feminisms and make them accessible to new audiences online. This work has included, among others, organizing my students to edit and expand the Wikipedia article on “Feminism in Canada” (and writing about the experience here) and contributing to the creation of Rise Up! A Digital Archive of Feminist Activism. These projects come as part of a long history of feminist activist archiving, putting documents and artifacts together to create formal and informal archives. These archives help resist conventional histories that fail to document women’s contributions, ensure that hard-fought battles are not forgotten, and work to help the next generation of activists learn from the ones that came before. Following Kate Eichhorn, “feminist practices of the archive cannot be easily disentangled from the rich histories of community-based organizing”—activism and the archive are often one and the same.

    As more feminist activism is archived online, I wonder about the possibilities of the digital archive for the future of feminist activist archiving. That is, what is the role of the digital humanities in the future of the feminist archive?

    There is much to be gained by framing online feminist projects as part of the digital humanities. For better or worse, digital humanities has worked to blur the boundaries of who gets to name, create, and define the archive, and what it means to house a collection. For feminist activists who might lack a background in archival science, projects in the digital humanities offer a roadmap, and provide a range of examples about what digitization might look like. Moreover, digital humanities has fought for recognition of these kinds of projects as legitimate sites of knowledge production, and the result has been new potential sources of funding support, and the reframing of volunteer labour as academic work—digital bricks on the road to tenure.

    At the same time, I can’t help but think about what might be lost in understanding feminist archives this way. The establishment of digital archives of feminist activism is, in many ways, a continuation of the kind writing and preserving of histories that feminists have long been doing.

    But by understanding these archives as digital humanities initiatives (with the university as their institutional home) there may be compromises in content, funding, and governance that limit their potential as sites of resistance. As these histories move to academic institutions—foregoing their place in activists’ basements, women’s centres, and feminist-run, DIY online systems—they may become sources for academic knowledge about activism, rather than potential sites of activism itself.

    These concerns are not unique to the online environment. They are true for “brick-and-mortar” archives institutionalized in universities and government-run libraries and archives. At the same time, given the political climate for feminist activism (and general lack of government support), scholarly initiatives—online or not—may be one of the few remaining homes for collecting these histories. In fact, the projects I have been involved in (as well as other Canadian initiatives, such as The Orlando Projectand the LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory)were largely academic initiatives from the outset, conceived and implemented by scholars in universities.

    But maybe it is this entanglement—of activism and academia, of digital archives and digital humanities—that tells us what role the digital humanities will play in the future of the feminist archives. The digital humanities are one of the ways that archives are institutionalized, rendered legible, and expanded to new publics. As feminist archives go online, we must resist through compromise and creativity, ensuring the sustainability of our histories while paying attention to whether the archive has become a site of academic knowledge alone. And while we can address by blurring the lines between scholarship and activism—through activist-focused governance structures for example, or community-university partnerships—it is also naïve to suggest that the university-centered nature of archives that exist within the digital humanities can retain their radical legacy (however romanticized). The role of the digital humanities is, perhaps, to enable these longstanding entanglements and challenges to continue online, creating new, digital spaces for resistance, engagement, and negotiation.