18.283 loss and preservation

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004 06:30:51 +0100

               Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 283.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Martin Holmes <mholmes_at_uvic.ca> (38)
         Subject: Re: 18.280 loss and preservation

   [2] From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois (22)
         Subject: Re: 18.280 loss and preservation

         Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004 06:24:41 +0100
         From: Martin Holmes <mholmes_at_uvic.ca>
         Subject: Re: 18.280 loss and preservation

Hi there,

At 12:01 AM 12/10/2004, you wrote:
>take a
>Babylonian tablet: after so much thousand years, you need only your eyes to
>read it. now what if we were in the year 10472 and need to read a cd of
>year 2004? who knows the format physical /logical of the disc? and the
>format of the data? and the program able to read that data format? and the
>hardware able to accomplish all these tasks?

Perhaps a better analogy, though, would be to say that the CD is like a
photograph of the tablet. The photograph may fade, be damaged, or be
destroyed completely, but there is no limit to the number of photographs
you can take. You can also scan your photograph and store it digitally, and
you can then move that digital representation from one hardware medium to
the next as technologies change -- in fact this is what happens when you
move your data from your old computer to your new one; you may not notice
it, but you could be converting it from a FAT32 format to NTFS in the
process. A digital document lives in the digital realm, and it will need to
have a certain amount of attention paid to it periodically to make sure
it's copied to new storage locations and converted to an updated file
format when necessary; but a stone tablet also needs some care and
maintenance to prevent erosion or theft. The digital document has the
advantage that it can be stored in many locations on many storage devices,
and it can be kept backed-up automatically. Anyone who stored the only copy
of an important document on a flimsy and volatile medium like a CD-ROM
would be acting rather irresponsibly; we need to store data in multiple
locations, and tend to it periodically to ensure its continued health, but
doing this is no more of a chore than looking after a printed document, surely?


Martin Holmes
University of Victoria Humanities Computing and Media Centre

         Date: Wed, 13 Oct 2004 06:25:10 +0100
         From: lachance_at_origin.chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
         Subject: Re: 18.280 loss and preservation


Is it me or is there a very reductionist slant to the what if scenarios
that are invoked to champion the merits or attack the deficits of any
given medium of storage? The futurist scenarios whether utopian or
apocalyptic seem to assume storage in single format.

Preservation is not determinable by simple replication (more copies of
in the same medium). Reproduction (many copies in different media) and
distribution (many copies, in different or the same media, in different
locations) are also at play.

Take the example of the cuniform inscription. The clay media may
perish in a geopolitical event accompanied by the looting of artefacts;
the transcription may survive.

Preservation is not only about fetischization. It's also about the labour
of copying and cataloguing and reading again what has been copied and
catlogued. Preservation in its social aspects is at the core about the
geneology of readership.

Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
A calendar is like a map. And just as maps have insets, calendars in the
21st century might have 'moments' expressed in flat local time fanning out
into "great circles" expressed in earth revolution time.
Received on Wed Oct 13 2004 - 01:44:44 EDT

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