When Archives Become Digital

Digitised archives in theory and practice

Convenors:  Andrew Cusworth

Hashtags: #ArchivalMachines and #DHOxSS20

Computers: please bring your own laptop (no tablets please) where you have admin privileges. It may also be helpful to have access to a digital camera or phone-camera during the week.

Abstract

This strand will help its participants to frame and negotiate a range of the major considerations in producing and working with digital and digitalised archives. It will introduce some of the opportunities and challenges created by digital archives, combining hands-on sessions of working with data and digitised archival materials with discussions of some of the theoretical, ethical, and political issues surrounding the cultures of digital archives in a number of contexts.

Intended outcomes

Through practical sessions and theoretical discussions, participants will gain insight into the possibilities and challenges presented by digital archives and working with digital cultural heritage materials.

 

Working with both digitised and born digital materials participants will be introduced to a number of digital tools and workflows for collecting, cleaning and processing data from digital archives and archival sources (such as OpenRefine), as well as to open-source software solutions that can be used for cataloging, enriching, and publishing digital and digitised materials (such as Tropy and Omeka).

 

Hands-on sessions will be complemented by discussions of issues surrounding digital archival practice that will help participants to frame digital archives within their theoretical, political, ethical, cultural, and technical contexts.

Experience necessary
 

No prior technical knowledge necessary.

 

Computer and software requirements

 

Please bring a laptop (no tablets please) where you have admin privileges. It may also be helpful to have access to a digital camera or phone-camera during the week.

Advance reading list

There is no essential reading for this strand, but participants might find the following materials useful stimuli in relation to our discussions

  • Stephen Poliakoff, Shooting the past, BBC Video, 1999 [or, script, Methuen Drama 1998].

  • Lara Putnam, "The Transnational and the Text-Searchable: Digitized Sources and the Shadows They Cast," The American Historical Review 121, no. 2 (2016): 377-402

  • James Smithies 'Systems analysis of the humanities' in The Digital Humanities and the Digital Modern, 2017, chapter 5.

 

Convenor biographies


Andrew Cusworth is an 1851 Research Fellow at the Bodleian Libraries attached to the Prince Albert Digitisation Project. He has held positions at the National Library of Wales, Ceredigion Archives, The University of Exeter Special Collections. His research interests centre around the intersections between digital research, the archive, cultural history and collective memory. He is also active as a musician and composer.

"I thought teacher knowledge was excellent, they were obviously skilled at what they do."
DHOxSS 2019 participant

TIMETABLE

 
 
 
 
 
 
Monday, 13th July

08:00-09:00

Registration (Sloane Robinson building)
Tea and coffee (ARCO building)
09:00-10:00

Opening Keynote (O'Reilly lecture theatre)
10:00-10:30

Refreshment break (ARCO building)
10:30-12:00

You, me, and the future of history

You, me, and the future of history Introductions to each other, and to the week’s course. We will touch upon some of the language we will use, some of the key ideas for the week, and set a discussion in motion about what it means when archives become digital.

 

Speaker:  Andrew Cusworth

12:00-13:30
LUNCH (Dining Hall)

13:30-15:30

Shaping data, shaping meaning: Contextual data in the archival context (I)

Cultural and historical objects derive a lot of their meaning and interpretation from the contexts in which they are created and subsequently experienced. When digital surrogates or born-digital artefacts are created, it is important that this contextual information is also represented in the digital domain. This talk will explore the nature of context and provenance (which can be seen as a historical series of contexts), and consider how they might be modelled digitally.

 

Speaker: Neil Jefferies

15:30-16:00

Refreshment break (ARCO Building)
 
16:00-17:00
 
Shaping data, shaping meaning: Contextual data in the archival context (II)

 

Session continued from before break.

Speaker: Neil Jefferies
Tuesday, 14th July

09:00-10:30

The mess we make: Data and cleanup

This hands-on session will introduce OpenRefine, a free tool for exploring, normalising, cleaning, and linking digital datasets. In this course we will work through the various features of OpenRefine, and how they can be applied to archival workflows to make data cleaner, more flexible, and altogether more satisfying.

 

Speaker:

10:30-11:00

Refreshment break (ARCO building)
11:00-13:00

Machining the archive

When is an archive digital? How does it relate to its non-digital forebear? What happens in a search? How do these questions affect how archives are used, how scholarship happens, how materials mean? These and other topics form the basis of seminar to consider some of the foundational questions of digital archival practice.

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth

13:00-14.30
LUNCH (Dining Hall)

14:30-15:30

Capturing text
 

This two-part interactive session will address text transcription, looking at possible models for transcription projects, tools that can help, and what can be achieved with transcribed texts in the context of the digital archive, and how digital tools can create a feedback loop to improve archival metadata.

 

Speakers: Stewart Brookes, Andrew Cusworth

15:30-16:00

Refreshment break (ARCO Building)
 
16:00-17:00

Additional sessions (various venues)
Wednesday, 15th July
09:00-10:30

Perfect pragmatism: What is best practice in practice?

This session will focus on situating projects within the spectrum of digital archival practices in relation to establishing best possible practice within available means. Giving play to a shortlist of potential project paradigms from academic archival research through to digitisation by national institutions, it will address the thorny matters facing those involved in digital archival scholarship, including digitisation quality, metadata creation, and the presentation and management of digital archives.

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth

10:30-11:00

Refreshment break (ARCO building)
11:00-13:00

When metadata meets metadata: EMLO, union catalogues, and the distant reading of archives

Introducing EMLO and some of the potentials that can be unlocked by exploring and framing relationships between different catalogues, this session will consider how our understanding of communications networks can shaped by archival metadata, and its presence and its absence. (TBC)

 

Speakers: Miranda Lewis TBC

13:00-14.30
LUNCH (Dining Hall)

14:30-15:30

We are all digital now
 

A seminar on the challenges of working with born-digital materials, introducing notions of digital preservation, the web archive, and issues and opportunities of working the web and its past, as well as the complexities of public, private, ephemeral, and permanent in the creation of archives from born-digital sources. 

 

Speaker: TBC

15:30-16:00

Refreshment break (ARCO Building)
 
16:00-17:00

Additional sessions (various venues)

Thursday, 16th July

09:00-10:30

The photographic flood

Self-digitisation is now a major feature of scholarly activity, from photographs captured informally with a phone to portable digitisation rigs. This praxical session will provide a chance to think reflectively about this process and look at a few of the tools (such as Tropy) that can be used to make it more manageable

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth

10:30-11:00

Refreshment break (ARCO building)
11:00-13:00

Hello world: from digitisation to digital archive

This workshop will introduce and demonstrate some of the freely available and straightforward ways in which we can move from some of the previous practical topics (digitisation, metadata creation, data cleaning) to maing a digital archive available online. Using Omeka and pre-prepared meta/data, the session will include the live creation of a simple online archive, as well as discussion of the differing affordances of off-the-shelf solutions and bespoke projects.

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth 

13:00-14:30
LUNCH (Dining Hall)

14:30-15:30

Metadata systems: Ethics and the archive

Do digital archives reinforce problematic understandings of materials and contexts? Do they create new ones? What does this mean for the peoples, histories, and subjects they represent and the audiences that engage with them. These are some of the more sobering topics that will be considered in this seminar.

Speaker: TBC

15:30-16:00

Refreshment break (ARCO Building)
 
16:00-17:00

Additional sessions (various venues)

Friday, 17th July
09:00-10:30

Cultural capital and the digital archive

Looking critically at the machinic elements of both non-digital and digital archives, economies of data and knowledge, and the radical culture of open data, this seminar-structured session will pose questions about the processes of digitalisation as democratisation of knowledge.

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth

10:30-11:00

Refreshment break (ARCO building)
11:00-13:00

Thoughts from the edge of the future: The digital archive in practice

A panel discussion with archival practitioners about their digital projects, aims, aspirations, and the challenges faced in making it all possible in the real world and under the institutional pressures faced by archives great and small.

 

Speakers: TBC

13:00-14.30
LUNCH (Dining Hall)

14:30-15:30

Is the end in sight? and, What happens next?

Looking back on the week, we will talk about what participants will take away from the week, what might happen next; we will exchange some thoughts, and consider how we might go about archiving a course about digital archives, should we happen to need it again in the future.

 

Speaker: Andrew Cusworth

15:30-16:00

Refreshment break (ARCO building)

16:00-17:00

Closing keynote (O'Reilly lecture theatre)
Speaker biographies

Neil Jefferies is Head of Innovation for Bodleian Digital Library Systems and Services at Oxford. He is a scientist by training but has been working with internet technologies for nearly 20 years, mostly commercially – his first website was Snickers/Euro'96. He is PI and Community Lead for SWORDV3, a protocol for machine-to-machine transfer of digital objects, a co-author of the Oxford Common File Layout for preservation-oriented object storage and Technical Strategist for "Cultures of Knowledge", an international collaborative project to “reconstruct the correspondence and social networks of the early modern period”. Previously, he was also a co-creator of the International Image Interoperability Framework.

 

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