17.467 digital preservation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Dec 17 2003 - 03:42:34 EST

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 17, No. 467.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

             Date: Wed, 17 Dec 2003 08:18:11 +0000
             From: Matt Kirschenbaum <mk235@umail.umd.edu>
             Subject: Re: 17.465 digital preservation

    > Date: Tue, 16 Dec 2003 08:24:18 +0000
    > From: Spencer Tasker <spencer@tasker.info>
    [ . . . ]

    > On the other
    > hand, as Maurizio also pointed out, 20 years are a but a drop in the
    > bucket and it does take faith of Kierkegaardian proportions to assume
    > that any particular datum which we now possess in electronic will
    > still be available in 500 years.

    There's often a kind of lop-sided materiality that holds sway in
    discussions of digital preservation: on the one hand we're quick to
    point out how all the ugly realities of computing--the warts and
    blemishes of hardware, software, and standards--conspire against the
    notion of preserving anything digital; yet on the other hand,
    counter-examples based on the preservation of printed artifacts tend to
    come in form of idealized abstractions. "I can still read an Old English
    manuscript." Well yes, because its been kept in a climate-controlled
    vault with access restricted to credentialled scholars. 500 years is an
    awfully long time, no matter what the medium. Will the acid-free book on
    the library shelf exist 500 years from now? Probably, if the thought
    experiment consists in imagining that book in a vacuum. But think of
    everything that's being assumed here, starting with the ongoing
    stability and homogeneity of "the library" as a cultural institution.
    Assuming that "the library" is still recognizable as such in a few
    centuries, however, it's worth pointing out that when we want to find
    the acid-free book we will do so via electronic (or maybe quantum)
    records. For some this becomes the occasion, a la Nicholson Baker, for
    insisting on the importance of keeping the card catalogs around; I
    prefer to think of it as a reminder of what preservation really is.
    We're not dealing with a print vs. digital dichotomy here, any more than
    we really were a decade ago when we liked to talk about the death of the
    book and whatnot. We're dealing with a media _ecology_ that's in a
    constant state of flux, with relations between different media shifting
    and redefined through the advent of new material technologies. Any
    sustainable approach to preservation, I would argue, starts with that
    larger ecology, not with one specific medium or format. Matt

    Matthew G. Kirschenbaum_____________________________

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