A Guide to Digitization

A helpful definition of digitization has been put forth by Melissa Terras, a professor at Edinburgh College of Art,. She defines digitization as “the conversion of an analogue signal or code.” Digitization as I will use it will concern the preservation and creation of sources through the medium of the Internet and online collections.

Digitization is a nuanced process that has many benefits and drawbacks in its current state. With that said, it has only become more accessible for the general public throughout the 21st century. One does not have to be a professional to digitize content or source material when many people own smartphones and laptops to casually document and preserve a memory, person, or event.

Professional projects and efforts revolving around digitization also produce interesting conversations when considering the field of the Digital Humanities. The general field of the Gallery, Library, Archive, and Museum (GLAM) sector for instance is moving towards mass digitization of collections across the globe. In other words, this is a general effort to create digital archives and collections for public research and consumption. Throughout such an endeavor, questions arise; such as the sustainability of digitization, what is lost in the experience, and environmental costs from running hosting servers and maintenance.

In terms of the digitization itself however, there are key things to consider, such as capturing the content as close to its physical counterpart as possible. To provide an example, consider a standard frying pan for a collection revolving around the 21st-century kitchen. One picture will not capture the entirety of the object, as one must consider the bottom being durable enough for the heat source to cook, the ridges on the handle, non-stick materials on the pan if that is applicable, and other visual aspects of the pan. Additionally, one must consider the “experience” that the physical object produces. The sounds, weight, feel, and utility are all things to consider with a frying pan and many other objects. Looking up a picture of a frying pan on Google is not the same thing as holding a frying pan and observing minute details.

This is where, I believe, other forms of digitization can aid in lessening what is lost compared to an in-person experience. Using the frying pan again as an example, videos can not only reveal all sides of an object, but capture audio and its weight to an extent. Utilizing more of one’s five senses, videos or having reference objects in frame can capture the experience, dimensions, and overall feel of an object.

Using an example such as a letter from the 1800s as another example, there are clear benefits to these methods. Digitizing the letter itself and transcribing the text into a digital format, it preserves the source material and can also make the text itself legible, depending on the handwriting. There is a push-and-pull effect in what gets preserved and lost along the way.

With this in mind, we must weigh these factors into research and preservation. While accessibility is crucial and I support this effort to digitize the world’s sources, we must do it correctly, and I believe the right conversations are taking place in order to ensure that to the best of our ability.

Political TV Ad Archive (archive.org)

Website: Political TV Ad Archive

URL: http://politicaladarchive.org/

Rights Statement: https://archive.org/about/terms.php

Available Materials: This archive has collected campaign ads from the 2016 election cycle for preservation and interpretation. With these ads, there is fact-checking, the simple display of these advertisements for historical record, and the frequency in which these ads were shown in “over 23 markets,” according to the archive. These ads were aired on social media and/or television, and only covers the campaign advertisements primarily between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. That being said, there are more advertisements from Super PACS, and other candidates during the Democratic and Republican Primaries respectively.

The Philadelphia Inquirer MOVE Bombing Archive

Website: The Philadelphia Inquirer

URL: https://www.inquirer.com/move-bombing/

Rights Statement: https://www.parsintl.com/permission-services/

Available Materials: This is a collection of Philadelphia Inquirer news coverage of the 1985 MOVE Bombing on Osage Street in Philadelphia. This archive compiles coverage on MOVE as an organization, its history, run-ins with police, the MOVE Bombing itself, and the events that took place over the next few decades all the way to the present day to rectify the damage it caused. There are stories from as recent as last year involving recently recovered remains from one of the victims, the legacy of MOVE, and where surviving members are at now. It is an archive that seeks to preserve the history for anyone that wants to learn more about Philadelphia’s more grim history.

Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA)

Website: Smithsonian Institution: Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives

URL: https://sova.si.edu/

Rights Statement: https://www.si.edu/termsofuse

Available Materials: The Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA) is the summation of digitized content in the Smithsonian Collection across all of its affiliated institutions. This includes many different prominent topics in American history; from Civil Rights/Social History, to culture (music, art, etc.), to posters. The website describes their collection as follows: “Access 26421 descriptions of personal papers, manuscripts, photographs, oral histories, films, works of art and organizational records.” There are featured collections that one can use to narrow down what they need, whether by topic or type of object in the collection.

Prelinger Archives (archive.org)

Website Name: Internet Archive (Prelinger Archives)

URL: https://archive.org/details/prelinger

Rights Statement (General): https://archive.org/about/terms.php

Rights Statement (Archive-Specific): https://archive.org/details/prelinger?tab=forum

Available Materials: The Prelinger Archives contains a vast collection of amateur, industrial and home movies “acquired since 2002.” In addition, this archives serves to upload higher-quality versions of submitted videos. It serves as a place for these films to be preserved, since its niche may not serve other archives as well. To me, this is an insight into American culture since home movie devices have increased in availability. There is a partnership present where certain select videos can be used as stock footage, facilitated by Getty Images as well.

Nasa on The Commons Site (Flickr)

Website Name: Flickr (Nasa on The Commons’ Profile)

URL: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasacommons

Rights Statement: https://www.flickr.com/help/guidelines/

Available Materials: In collaboration with the Internet Archive, NASA on The Commons’ Flickr page serves to make NASA’s history through imagery more publicly available. This includes thousands of photos encompassing many different areas of NASA; including but not limited to: different historical launches, technological advancement, commemorating POC astronauts and employees through the years, planets and other deep space studies, and leadership through the years. This page essentially serves as an archive of NASA that is now casually available for those interested in research or browsing out of one’s own interests.

J. Paul Getty Museum

Name: J. Paul Getty Museum

URL: https://www.getty.edu/museum/

Rights Statement: https://www.getty.edu/legal/copyright.html

Available Materials on Getty: This website mostly consists of collections from Getty.edu collections. This primarily consists of art work: that being sculptures, paintings, photographs, and other artifacts spanning from BCE-the present. According to the “Image Use” section of their grouping filters, Getty has 52% (most likely rounded up from somewhere in 51 percent) “free to use” imagery, while 49% requires permission to use in certain ways. These objects come from all across the world, and this resource seems to be the summation of different eras and places across human history.

A Definition of Digital Humanities

Definition: Digital Humanities encompasses both an academic discipline and digital representations of research that, when put together, seek to act as a mediator between the academic and the public. The current landscape of the field tends to focus on tackling difficult topics: representation, intersectional analysis, accessibility, and other areas that are discussed through digital mediums globally. This endeavor must be multidisciplinary in nature, while fostering an environment that encourages new types of research as digital tools only increase in effectiveness and capabilities. Digital Humanities is at its best when its foundation is based on expanding knowledge upon different cultures, structural issues, and the experiences of others with the explicit goal of better understanding the world around us.

Explanation: This original definition is guided by the current understanding of Digital Humanities and engaging with scholars writing about the field. More recent definitions emphasize ideologically-driven research that seeks to aid the public in understanding the world around them through digital means. Contributing to the field now tends to mean conducting and publishing research that is informed by the everchanging social landscape of any locality one is focusing on. Although not exclusive to these topics, there is a broad utility in educating the public on digital tools, media literacy, intersectional analysis, and interdisciplinary collaboration.

Just as museums have seen a shift from essentialist preservation techniques regarding its collections to a more collaborationist stance, Digital Humanities has seen a similar shift occur since the early 2000s; where serving the public is just as important as the research itself in a way. Since target audiences are overwhelmingly a factor in the creation of research, it is important to adapt to the needs of the public; just as a successful manufacturing company would strive to achieve.

Overall, research conducted under the umbrella of Digital Humanities will never perfectly achieve the goals it sets out to achieve. Therefore, the current focus of the field should be technological advancement in terms of accessibility and presentation, while also striving to represent as many voices as are desired in order to create richer and valuable research for a growing population.