(Re)Presenting the Archive – Question 5
5How do digital representations of archival materials change our perceptions of those materials, and in particular, aspects of those materials not considered previously editable or archivable?
Digital technology has created new possibilities for the representation and use of archives. The forensic software that the British Library used to capture and store Wendy Cope’s emails, for example, allows for full-text searching. For me, this was a huge change compared to working with a paper archive of correspondence. In the email archive I was able to search email subject headings, messages, and attachments for the names of particular people or individual poems, and therefore quickly found the information I wanted.Read this Response
Some of my answer to Question 4 is relevant here, especially in relation to mobile apps and GPS, which have brought a spatial dimension to archival material, affording it a direct connection to space, which perhaps was not possible before. In turn, this obviously makes it easier to welcome physical space, buildings, and location-specific material into the archive.Read this Response
This is a complicated set of questions. One element in the complexity is that quite a lot of libraries or archives seem to have given little thought to the issues raised here, thus assuming that the act of digital representation is in itself inherently meaningful. This is not necessarily the case. One way of imposing some dimension of enhanced understanding may be by digitizing specific categories of material systematically.Read this Response
It is undoubtedly the case that the specific materiality of digital representations affects our perception of archival materials. One only has to reflect on how print culture has privileged certain kinds of material (books, say) or modes of representation (the verbal over the visual) to judge how the forms of digital media will affect our culture and society. When thinking about our non-digital cultural heritage, the important thing is to recognize the productive potential here, as new media allow archival objects to be imagined differently.Read this Response
It is important to talk here about a change in general perception that digital transformations have brought about in everyday life, as this has an encompassing effect on the consideration of changed perceptions regarding digitally transformed archival materials. Disembedding singular aspects of digital transformation from the general picture of societal practice is a dangerous practice, though we see this taken up as a critical methodology in many situations.Read this Response