Duality of Archives & Digitization (I finally came up with a title!)

The phrase “canonical bias”, as mentioned in Earhart’s “Can Information Be Unfettered”, deserves special mention because it relates to our previous discussions on “net neutrality” and the democratic tendencies of the Internet. The unification of the Internet and Humanities imagined the “abandonment of the ideal of high culture”, offering a place where citizens and scholars could produce/upload their work at an increased rate for a simple “small hardware investment” (Earhart). Yet this ideal is not reflective of the contemporary status of archival digitization.

According to Earhart, early digitization projects did not reflect Jay D. Bolter’s ideal for “free web spaces”. Instead they represent the vicious hierarchies endemic to academia. I personally cannot comment on this given my lack of knowledge on the subject, but Catherine Decker argues that major universities are responsible for reinforcing the status quo due to their “funding and institutional affiliations” (Earhart).

As Misty DeMeo points out in “The Politics of Digitization”, the archival process is not without bias. Before information is catalogued in a database, it must be evaluated on its relevancy and “evidentiary value” (DeMeo). The chances of finding the “hidden gems” of an archived collection are thin because the information has already been processed from the top. Ideally, scholars should have access to as much information as possible, yet in the age of budget cuts, money is the deciding factor for most institutions.

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DeMeo is justified by stating “not every problem is a tech problem”. I view the issue of canonical bias as a “catch 22” spurned on by a lack of funding. Many public institutions recognize that Internet provides an ideal location for information to exist, completely free and unfettered. However, complex database systems require major monetary and labor investments before coming into existence. Many places simply don’t have the funds to sustain such a project, leaving those with money unchecked. Digital archives could in fact be cheaper in the long run, however the start-up costs are too high for many to survive. It’s equally ironic as it is sad that information is hidden behind a looming pay-wall.

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