disembodying the past to preserve it

What follows is a keynote I gave at the Digital Preservation 2013 conference on July 23, 2013. If you’re curious, there’s a video up of the talk and the Q & A as well and a pdf of the slides I showed (some of which vary from what I’ve shown here).

“Disembodying the past to preserve it”

I am, as you’ve heard, not someone who focuses on issues of digital preservation. I’m a book historian and performance scholar who works at a cultural heritage organization that is focused on the preservation and exploration of centuries-old objects. I think about the digital and preservation from the perspective of someone who studies the past and seeks new ways to make it accessible to scholars and the public. § continue reading

What do we want from online facsimiles of Shakespeare?

Over at The Collation last week, I wrote a blog post providing a quick explanation for what might be gained from looking at multiple copies of digital facsimiles of the First Folio and linking to the eight copies I’ve found. Mostly what I was interested in there was the availability of such things and a taste of the joys of copy-specific reading. Here I want to look at what actually matters to me a bit more: the usability of such resources. It should be perfectly clear, but I’m going to say it anyway, just to be safe. This is my personal site and I am not representing the Folger’s point of view here, only my own as a user of such resources. § continue reading

where material book culture meets digital humanities

Below is the text from a talk I gave at the Geographies of Desire conference, held at the University of Maryland on April 27-28. Almost everything that I said there is something that I’ve said here before, so faithful readers won’t find much that’s new. But I promised I’d stick it up here, so here it is! If you’re simply looking for the set of links to the resources I mentioned, you can find those on Pinboard. I haven’t included all of my slides here, but you can find those here. I haven’t included all my ad-libbing either, but you would have had to have been there for that. § continue reading

traces of my dad

Arnold Werner, 1938-2007 (self-portrait)

When I was a kid, my father wrote a weekly column for the student newspaper at Michigan State University, where he taught. “The Doctor’s Bag” ran in the State News for six years, from 1969 through 1975. It was eventually syndicated and ran in 50 campus newspapers, with a circulation of around 600,000. What this means, in part, is that when I was little people used to ask me if my dad was “The Doctor’s Bag.” (That’s how they used to phrase it: Is your dad “The Doctor’s Bag?”) I had no idea what the column was; I just knew he wrote it. § continue reading

the serendipity of the unexpected, or, a copy is not an edition

My last post focused on my frustration with the assumption that digitization is primarily about access to text:

But access is not all that digitization can do for us. Why should we limit ourselves to thinking about digital facsimiles as being akin to photographs? Why should we think about these artifacts in terms only of the texts they transmit? Let’s instead think about digitization as a new tool that can do things for us that we wouldn’t be able to see without it. Let’s use digitization not only to access text but to explore the physical artifact.

I spent the remainder of that post brainstorming some suggestions about what digitization might enable other than access to text, and there were some great comments about the ramifications of textualizing the digital that I’m still mulling over. § continue reading

fetishizing books and textualizing the digital

For some time I’ve been perplexed by the way both pro-digitization and pro-book people talk about digitizing books. A crude characterization of the ways in which the two sides depict the argument as having two sides might look like this:

pro-digitization: Look, I can access all these wonderful old materials without leaving my armchair!

pro-book: Those aren’t books; you can’t feel the paper and breathe in their smell!

pro-digitization: But we can create a universal library!

pro-book: You’re not creating a library, you’re destroying libraries!

pro-digitization: Nyah nyah!

pro-book: Pfft!

And there you go. The digitization folks talk about access and the book folks talk about being in the presence of the object. § continue reading