Last weeks readings illuminated the laborious process that is archival construction. It is not so much the construction of the archive that is troublesome but the meticulous collection of metadata and the arrangement of it in a format that is culturally responsible that takes time.
The internet represented the democratization of knowledge. Early work in the digital humanities focused on digital text conversion and text recovery. Amy Earhart described how scholars “imagined that the free access to materials on the web would allow those previously cut of from intellectual capital to gain materials and knowledge that might be leveraged to change the social condition of people of color.” To a certain extent, the internet has aided this effort. Misty DeMeo references how the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation commission has used public archives to document abuses suffered by aboriginal communities in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, there are a range of issues preventing the archiving of texts.
The Humanities do not have the money or people required to handle all the work associated with digitizing texts and processing and cataloguing archives. Because the archives were incomplete, much of the archive databases are inaccessible. “In 2004 only 44% of surveyed archives explicitly permit access to unprocessed records.” People in the field are partnering in interesting ways to get archives cataloged. Amy Earhart provided an example of how DIY groups and larger organizations are working to expand the American canon. One such referenced organization is NINES. NINES started as a small project intending to teach individuals to encode with the international standard of TEI/XML. Once individuals learn these skills they can partner with larger universities or institutions.
In my opinion, the most challenging and precarious question facing the digital historian today is how to deal with “the ghost” as defined by Lauren Klein. Klein’s article was intriguing to me on many different levels. Klein created a visually appealing, intuitive graph detailing the correspondences Thomas Jefferson had concerning James Hemming. Through these correspondences, she could paint a picture of Hemming (maybe incomplete but a picture nonetheless). More important Klein documented how through empirical observation and inductive investigation President Jefferson “inscribed silences of slavery into American culture.”
Earhart also makes mention of ghosts. These ghosts are the works of Sojourner Truth, Sui Sin Far, and Maria Christina Mena. Authors of color who should be present in any standard anthology of American Literature are absent on the Metadata Offer New Knowledge (MONK) project. Whatever the reasons may be Allan Liu seems right in stating that “If we do not theorize our technological approaches with a mind toward cultural constructions, we will continue to exclude certain materials from digitization.”
Before this week’s reading I thought archive and e text creation are tasks that can easily be carried out by machines. In my mind, all we needed was a robot with a little red laser eye that reads old books, stores this information and then injects it into the internet in readable form. Not too far-fetched, right? Now I realize that it is truly a painstaking process and to cut corners is to deny individuals like James Hemmings their rightful place in history. I would not want to reproduce another “Farm-book”.