5 – Digital Archives: Excursion to Wilson Library

What does it take to get a digitized copy of a historical source on the internet? In this session we will discuss the practicalities of digitization with experts. We will also look at other digital archives worldwide and explore the new possibilities they offer for researchers.

 Required Readings


Recommended Reading


Tools of the week

3 thoughts on “5 – Digital Archives: Excursion to Wilson Library

  1. 1. Dan Cohen proposes the possibility of a collaborative work between Google and historians to make service like Google Books more meaningful and powerful tools. I think that his idea is inspiring because historians (or maybe just me) oftentimes consider themselves as users of such service or critiques and not necessarily as partners. This might be one of the new venues for alt-ac historians to exercise their expert skills. If this private company-scholars collaboration become a more general trend in humanities in the future, what structure or system can one evaluate such works? Or even such a work can exist in humanities?

    2. Dan Cohen’s article also makes me think about the function and roles of commercial-based gigantic yet very expensive databases that had limited accessibility to non-university affiliate users. Are there any articles that evaluate these costly databases for the use of such databases?

    3. Alan Liu’s argument in New Historicism is provocative but I am not quite sure if I understand it. I am particularly interested in a slave anecdote and how it was seen as “bugs” in the God’s structured program in the nineteenth century. Yet can the late twentieth/twentieth-first century relational database be the one to save and understand this “bug”? How can database change our perception of this anecdote as a “bug” to a meaningful story? Relational database does have a power to include this anecdote as part of relational data and equalize it with different types of data but I felt database is not necessarily an institution which automatically gives it power.

    4.Digitized materials are useful but digitization is such a tedious work. How Cohen and Alan Liu’s articles are relevant in creating the sustainable mode of digitized materials and databases that host them?

  2. 1. Cohen seems to speak strongly in favor of Google in regards to their involvement with historic projects. While Google is a large company with multiple goals, I find it hard to separate their different intentions. Whether or not they are good for history seems to be based on a “product” level. Are there other considerations that need to be made before labeling them good for history?

    2. Cohen asks “where are the volumes of criticism of ProQuest.” ProQuest is not the most buzzworthy word for selling books. However, Cohen does not discuss in great detail the dialogue occurring about institutions and open access. Could Google’s efforts be considered positive moves for open access, or are their motives not in tandem with other open access ideas?

    3. Liu talks about the pressure to enter in database information a certain way. Should we pay more close attention to the human error that can occur in these processes? Cohen reiterated in his article that trillions of entries could mean millions of errors. Would more definite workflows eliminate bad practices?

    4. The challenges of MyLifeBits seem to be an issue with Big Data. New Historicism appears to favor this abundance. While the abundance serves a function to the ideology of New Historicism, it appears to create a challenge for data curation. Does New Historicism’s idealism propel an electronic records disaster?

  3. 1. Cohen portrays a picture of pre-Google historians picking and choosing from a wide variety of sources too numerous to read comprehensively. But there are multiple levels of picking and choosing that exist before the historian is able to do research, levels which include (but are not limited to) actors such as librarians, archivists, and creators and caretakers of artifacts. How much do these “selectors” still play a role in the present day? Are they generally helpful, or a barrier to research?

    2. Cohen describes Google (and presumably other digital information retrieval technologies) as “less capricious retrieval mechanisms which … are often more objective than leafing rapidly through paper folios on a time-delimited jaunt to an archive.” Are there types tasks for which this is more (or less) true? In other words, are there tasks where modern information retrieval actually hurts the practice of history?

    3. Relatedly, what types of historical practices are helped by more connections to more things? I think this concerns the issue of close vs. distant reading that we’ve previously mentioned.

    4. I thought about Liu’s discussion of MyLifeBits in terms of UNC’s recent relationship with Ancestry.com. Especially this section: “The most advanced, random-access digital technology, in other words, is dedicated to reproducing exactly the concatenated mess that was life in the first place.” In the presentation some of you attended given by employees of Ancestry, there was some discussion about a new kind of common history which is enabled by the Ancestry databases– one in which people can explore and organize unending connections between themselves and the past. How can we think about that claim in the context of Liu’s discussion of history in the age of databases?– which, in the end, I was unable to judge as hopeful or pessimistic.

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