How to Keep Digital Archives From Disappearing – Slate Magazine

I use the catch-all term digital archive with some trepidation. Digital does not distinguish between digitized (e.g. scans, transcriptions, recordings) or so-called born-digital materials (websites, emails, and digital photos). The term archive is itself contested, as detailed in Trevor Owens’ aptly titled entry for the Library of Congress. Owens, who is the senior program officer at the Institute of Museum and Library, recently shared with me several projects that illuminate the eclecticism of approaches to digital archives. One of the earliest projects, the Rossetti Archive, digitizes the correspondence and manuscripts of 19th-century writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti, alongside contextual materials such as contemporary periodicals; the result is, in Owens’ words, a “hybrid” of a critical edition and literary archive. The Salman Rushdie Papers, meanwhile, allow researchers to access born-digital materials by loading an emulator of Rushdie’s Macintosh Performa. The Sept. 11 Digital Archive was the first to crowd-source the collection of born-digital items, and its struggle for sustainability reveals how such projects are untenable without the human and financial support of universities, philanthropic organizations, and federal grants.


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