I am writing this on my way to the second day of a digital humanities training course at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. Together with my colleague Ella Paremain, I will be giving a presentation about the digital archival resource that we are currently assembling as part of Unfinished Histories. We are presenting it as a case study in working with volunteers to create accessible web archives.
It has been apparent to me for a while that it is quite difficult for students and young researchers to get training in digital techniques. Given the emergent nature of the technology, it can be challenging for academic staff to keep apace and pass on innovation in their teaching. In my specialist area of performance scholarship, I have noticed a degree of ingrained bias against technological mediation of artistic work.
I am excited that Jen Morgan and her colleague Elinor Taylor, both final year students at Salford University have used an AHRC grant to set up this two-day session for post grads. For me personally it has already allowed me to access formal training in an area that I am currently having to learn ‘on the job’ in my work with Unfinished Histories.
Yesterday’s session was led by Ed Pinsent from University of London Computer Centre. Listening to him I came to understand that you have to be interested in the minutest details of data arrangement and file storage if you want to manage a large-scale digitization project. He demonstrated ways to save multiple copies of images in different file sizes and how to store your image metadata in a standardised database. Horror stories from big projects that have failed to link their digital files and record keeping databases properly, provided evidence of how time consuming and costly digitisation work can be rendered useless when appropriate processes are not implemented from the start. It was all a little bit mind blowing for someone like me who is accustomed to working with an A3 scanner and a USB drive!
Given my ongoing research interest in how the web might change the nature of archives, my highlight was hearing Ed talk about a crowd sourced online archive project recently launched by UCL. Transcribe Bentham invites users to view digital images of writer Jeremy Bentham’s manuscripts and to transcribe and upload a section of his erratic handwriting. The archivists eventually intend to have a text copy of the entire digital archive that will provide another useful resource to be used alongside the original materials.
As well as mine and Ella’s presentation, today we will also be listening to Jim Mussell from the University of Birmingham talking about the ‘theoretical implications of digitization and the problem of embedding critical digital skills in the curriculum.’ I’m also excited to hear Helen Rodgers from Liverpool John Moores talk about Writing Lives, her collaborative project with the BA English Degree.
Lets please see more research seminars like this one on digistisation for post-grad students. There is so much innovation to keep up with, we need all the help we can get!