16.629 preservation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Apr 18 2003 - 04:32:54 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 629.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                         Submit to: humanist@princeton.edu

       [1] From: Norman Hinton <hinton@springnet1.com> (10)
             Subject: Re: 16.624 preservation and absence

       [2] From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk> (62)
             Subject: preservation

       [3] From: NINCH-ANNOUNCE <david@ninch.org> (34)
             Subject: Digital Preservation Management Workshop: August 4-8,

             Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 09:26:47 +0100
             From: Norman Hinton <hinton@springnet1.com>
             Subject: Re: 16.624 preservation and absence

    I'm always amused at the "post-paper age", or "we don't keep paper records
    any more" school. I have much more paper now than I ever had before the
    days of PCs. If I have anything I really want to keep, a computer is the
    least reliable, least trustworthy place to put it. If someone sends me
    really important email (it actually does happen once in a great while), I
    send it to the printer right away instead of taking a chance of losing it
    forever to bad software, viruses, wrong keypresses, computer obsolescence,
    etc. My files are fuller than ever and have spilled over to a nearby
    storage room. Just think what they would be if even 5% of the material on
    the Net were accurate and scholarly!

             Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 09:27:06 +0100
             From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk>
             Subject: preservation

    I'm glad to see that my remarks on preservation struck some sparks off some
    critically intelligent minds. These in turn sparked a few additional thoughts.

    The sort of handwaving I am most worried about is the kind that distracts
    us away from a genuine problem. Thus the definition of the verb in the OED:
    "hand-wave": "to smooth the surface of (a measure of corn) with the hand,
    instead of using a strike". And I thought that "handwaving" might encode
    some cultural misunderstanding about the communicative value of
    conversational gesturing....

    I still don't see how the transition from one medium (in this case, paper)
    to another (e-files) can possibly occur without loss as well as gain. I
    suppose that one problem is the variation among individuals, some of whom,
    I see, do not experience any significant loss at all, while others do.
    Since, however, we are professionally engaged in thinking about how
    research happens across the humanities, our own individual cases, while
    perhaps useful, have limited value. Not no value, but limited value.

    So, a limited-value but useful anecdote. I have somewhere still the
    original of an article on a point in Hebrew grammar given to me by a former
    teacher, who had just then (in the mid 1980s) made the transition to
    wordprocessing, leaving behind the densely cut-and-pasted, white-out'd,
    interlinearly corrected, typewritten article. He didn't want the original
    any more, it being of no value to him. When occasionally I run across this
    gift, I am, of course, enormously relieved that I don't have to work that
    way anymore. I recall the dark days of typewriting my PhD dissertation. I
    play my wordprocessing computer like a musical instrument and am charmed.
    All that. BUT looking on that old article through an historian's eyes, I
    see immediately that "the tracks of my [old teacher's] tears" -- to quote
    words from the title of a song -- today mostly evaporate, leaving not a
    trace behind. Unlike some others I do not keep multiple versions of past
    work. I couldn't be bothered to keep what I (accurately, I think, in my
    case) regard as utterly valueless. Were I a Heinrich Hertz, this would be a
    great historical loss. Fortunately I'm not, so it isn't, but today's Hertz
    is now doubtlessly out there, perhaps working on his or her computer,
    happily discarding the tracks of his or her discoveries.

    Having realized the loss, the question is, what do we do about it? We
    cannot change other people's habits, not immediately at least. But we can
    begin by understanding with an historical imagination what the new world of
    electronic records leaves behind so as better to understand what we're
    dealing with now.

    Thanks to Elisabeth Burr for pointing out that new-media triumphalism is
    not new, and for suggesting that preservation involves choice -- which also
    means that it can go too far as well as not far enough. Fr Leonard Boyle
    (the great palaeographer) in one of his essays had some thrillingly
    withering observations to make about the extreme preservationism that
    afflicts keepers of manuscripts. Thanks to John Lavagnino for noting that
    the amount that is preserved continues to grow. Is this a good thing?
    People who live in old cities have constant reminders that our attitude
    toward preserving the past is itself historically contingent. Thanks to
    Patrick Durusau for the observation that there's nothing inherent in the
    digital medium that keeps the tracks from going unrecorded. Perhaps,
    however, there's no such thing as "the digital medium", only the artifacts
    that we make with the tools we have, in which case the point is to look at
    what we are in fact doing. No one will ever see the words I have written
    but then deleted from this note, and I cannot even remember at the moment
    what they were. A trivial case, perhaps, but not in its implications, I
    think. What migh these be?



    Dr Willard McCarty | Senior Lecturer | Centre for Computing in the
    Humanities | King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS || +44 (0)20
    7848-2784 fax: -2980 || willard.mccarty@kcl.ac.uk

             Date: Fri, 18 Apr 2003 09:28:02 +0100
             From: NINCH-ANNOUNCE <david@ninch.org>
             Subject: Digital Preservation Management Workshop: August 4-8, Cornell

    News on Networking Cultural Heritage Resources
    from across the Community
    April 17, 2003

                            Digital Preservation Management:
                      Short-Term Solutions to Long-Term Problems
                August 4-8, 2003: Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY

               To Be Repeated October 13-17, 2003 and three times in 2004

    >>To: mcn-l@mcn.edu
    >From: Guenter_Waibel@notes.rlg.org
    >Date: Thu, 17 Apr 2003 10:09:48 -0700
    >Date: Wed, 16 Apr 2003 14:06:26 -0400
    >From: Erica Olsen <ejo6@CORNELL.EDU>
    >Subject: Cornell Digital Preservation Training Program

    Digital Preservation Management: Short-Term Solutions to Long-Term Problems
    August 4-8, 2003
    Cornell University Library, Ithaca, NY

    Cornell University Library will offer a new digital preservation training
    program with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
    Institutions are encouraged to send a pair of participants to realize the
    maximum benefit from the managerial and technical tracks that will be
    incorporated into the program. This limited enrollment workshop has a
    registration fee of $750 per participant. Registration is now open for the
    August workshop. A second workshop is scheduled for October 13-17
    (registration will open this summer). There will be three workshops in

    Gnter Waibel
    Program Officer/RLG

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