[Humanist] 26.17 the taxonomy; preservation

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun May 13 22:30:48 CEST 2012

                  Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 17.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (44)
        Subject: the taxonomy

  [2]   From:    Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>              (128)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.930 bit rot & preservation

        Date: Sun, 13 May 2012 07:00:44 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the taxonomy

In asking about the taxonomy that I sketched, my intention was to 
highlight the mostly one-way traffic, from the technologies of computing 
to the humanities, that seems to dominate our discussions, thoughts and 
work. Recently I have been provoked to think about the degree to which 
the digital humanities is what the term implies, one of the disciplines 
of the humanities concerned with digital methods and tools. If all that 
it amounts to de facto is analogous to what an engineering firm does 
when it builds a standard bridge, then "humanities" doesn't belong in 
the name of it. Nor does "humanities" belong if all our more theoretically
inclined colleagues do is to study the *impact* of the machine without
for a moment questioning the whole idea of an impact. As John Law and
John Whittaker wrote in 1986, in the Proceedings of the third ACM-SOGOIS 
conference on Office Automation Systems, "the PC is not a projectile"
(pp. 21-32, in the ACM Digital Library). The strong effects of the
technologies we unleash are of course in need of study. But great
programmes of innovation such as are now being funded are in danger 
of getting nowhere, or worse, if no one simultaneously asks what human 
needs and desires correspond and, for us especially, which are going 
unwatered and unloved. 

I always have ringing in my ears the passionate 
awakening call of Louis Milic, "The next step", which appeared as the 
first article in the first issue of the first journal in our field, 
Computers and the Humanities, 1.1 (1966). He spoke of a great 
imaginative failure on the part of the implementers of the time. They 
were largely taking "the computer" (as if it were one fixed thing) as 
an impactful force and then shaping their research accordingly. 
What are we desiring?

I would like to hear that we've taken the next step Milic contemplated. 
Have we?

I attach here below the text of Milic's article (without the notes) for the 
benefit of anyone sufficiently exercised about the quality of our form 
of life to take the measure of it.


*** Attachments:
Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, University of Western Sydney; Editor,
Interdisciplinary Science Reviews (www.isr-journal.org); Editor,
Humanist (www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

        Date: Sun, 13 May 2012 16:58:49 +0100
        From: Andrew Prescott <andrew.prescott at kcl.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.930 bit rot & preservation
        In-Reply-To: <20120502052214.8C929280F3B at woodward.joyent.us>

Dear Willard,

I was very interested to read here about the site attempting to archive 
election literature. Electionleaflets.org appears to have been 
established without any knowledge of the wonderful efforts of the 
British Library of Political Science at the LSE to systematically 
archive election ephemera. The LSE collection admittedly focuses on 
general elections, but does include considerable quantities of local 
materials, particularly from Greater London. Some information about this 
important and long-standing project is available here:


However, this collection doesn't systematically include local elections, 
which appear to be the immediate focus of electionleaflets.org.

The LSE collection is not the only one. Salford University also a huge 
collection of election ephemera as part of the Conservative Central 
Office archive:


Strathclyde University has also systematically collected material 
relating to recent Scottish elections:


In Wales, the National Library of Wales and many local record offices 
have also collected large quantites election literature.

So, there is plenty of collecting of election literature going on by 
libraries and archives. The problems are not that this material is not 
being collected. I would suggest that there are some other questions 
which however we ought to consider:

- Should we worry about election leaflets at all? Isn't a more pressing 
question ensuring that web sites are archived? The LSE piece I linked to 
above points out that these fall in the remit of the UK Web Archive, 
which currently links to about 130 sites, but this is clearly far from 
comprehensive. I suspect that there is a far higher risk that you will 
not be able to find your local councilors web presence in 20 years time 
than that you can't find their election literature.

- If we decide that it is important to archive printed leaflets as well, 
is the scanning and uploading method used by electionleaflets.org more 
efficient than the more informal methods used by LSE (which has relied 
on an army of volunteers simply to collect and pass on the leaflets)? At 
present, electionleaflets.org has gathered over 7,000 items, which 
compares with 14,000 items in the LSE archive, but local elections will 
of course generate far more literature than general elections.

- The most pressing question is what happens in the long terms to sites 
like electionleaflets.org. We haven't got much information about how the 
data collected by electionleaflets will be preserved. Its motivation 
appears to be a political one rather than establishing a long-term 
archive, and the infrastructure looks limited: 'The idea was conjured up 
in December 2008 at a weekend in Derbyshire, and finally acted upon in 
Francis's front living room in Cambridge at the end of April 2009'. Will 
this site still be with us in twenty years time? Equally mysterious is 
the status of the more long-standing British Election Ephemera Archive 
which has now linked up with electionleaflets.org: 

In general terms, however, what strikes me (yet again) is how much we 
need to build closer links with the librarians and archivists who are at 
the coalface of these issues. It is not simply that there are important 
archives like the one at the LSE of which we are apparently unaware, but 
it should also be remembered that there is now a huge scholarly 
literature on such issues as digital curation and archiving of 
born-digital materials which seems somehow to have eluded many 
practitioners of the digital humanities.


Andrew Prescott
Head of Department
Department of Digital Humanities
King's College London
26-29 Drury Lane
London WC2B 5RL
+44 (0)20 7848 2651

On 02/05/2012 06:22, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:
>                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 25, No. 930.
>              Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
>                         www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
>                  Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org
>          Date: Tue, 1 May 2012 10:42:35 +0200
>          From: Jonathan Gray<j.gray at cantab.net>
>          Subject: Re: [Humanist] 25.927 publications: bit rot; spectral imaging
>          In-Reply-To:<20120501054715.32016280848 at woodward.joyent.us>
> I agree that we should not be too hasty in thinking that archiving
> everything is an unconditionally good thing. Borges and Calvino also
> have nice short stories parodying this [1]. And Nietzsche writes
> wonderful things about memory and forgetting in his "On the Use and
> Abuse of History".
> Regarding the Economist article, I think it is making a very important
> point, which is that archivists are struggling to implement policies
> and practises to preserve material which is of historical interest. On
> the one hand this depends on what we consider to be of "historical
> interest".
> A few years ago I attended a seminar on digital history at the British
> Library co-organised by the National Archives and the Royal Historical
> Society [2]. Natalie Ceeney, then Chief Executive of the National
> Archives, said that they were saving what they could, but that they
> didn't really know what to save, what not to save and where to focus.
> She asked for assistance from historians in the room to advise the
> National Archives on what to prioritise.
> The loss of up to 22 million emails from the Bush administration
> (partly as many private non-governmental email accounts were used to
> discuss matters of national interest) helps to put this into
> perspective [3]. Some friends of mine recently started a site to
> archive election leaflets, to try to track the promises of politicians
> before they came into power - as apparently no-one else is
> systematically doing this [4].
> While archiving everything for the sake of archiving everything is
> clearly questionable, much of what we now consider digital detritus
> could well be transformed from dust into gold by a gifted historical
> interpreter, investigative reporter, or documentary maker. In my
> opinion we - qua digital humanists - shouldn't let amusing or
> insightful straw men satires from the likes of Borges or Calvino
> incline us (consciously or accidentally) to side with policies that
> protect the short-term interests of publishers or politicians, as
> opposed to the longer-term objective of preserving and opening up
> material that could be of interest to historians, the media and the
> general public.
> Jonathan
> [1] http://jonathangray.org/2011/08/24/on-archiving-everything-borges-calvino-google/
> [2] http://blog.okfn.org/2007/11/14/gerald-aylmer-seminar-2007-digital-horizons/
> [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bush_White_House_email_controversy
> [4] http://www.electionleaflets.org/

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