Digital Humanities (DH) is a discipline that is very concerned with making things – probably too much. It is when DH intersects with Library and Information Studies (LIS) that it is more likely to reflect on its source material and develop critical scholarship.
LIS and DH are closely related, maybe more so than it seems at first. Niels Brügger, in a recent publication, clearly lays out how closely information and storage are related even in seemingly ephemeral content:
digital media duality is that of digital media being simultaneously material artefacts and digital. Although the digital writing is 0 and 1 is never experienced by humans in its pure form, as power/no power, it is there and it is indispensable. What is experienced is the artefact, the machine. (Brügger 2018, 17)
Projects that involve both LIS and DH are ideally suited to cover both aspects of this duality. One example of how this cooperation might look is the 2017 Inside Dublin Castle digital edition of some 62 letters exchanged between Anglo-Irish government officials from August through December 1808. These letters are part of a much larger collection of more than 1800 letters from the Littlehales collection held at the Russell Library in Maynooth University:
The goal of the project was to create a digital edition based on a selection of correspondence from the Littlehales archive held by Maynooth University Library. The selection mainly consists of correspondence between Edward Baker Littlehales, Charles Kendal Bushe and John Beckett written from August through December in 1808. The letters were digitised, transcribed, encoded and contextualised in order to provide a better understanding of a turbulent yet often neglected period in Irish history. (Centre for Digital Humanities Maynooth n.d.)
This project shows how cooperation between DH and LIS can cover both the material and digital artefact while delivering an accurate representation of both. It is important to understand that the website and the transcribed letters do not exist independently from the archival and preservation work of the Russel library. Rather the only reason we still have access to those letters – and a robust system to describe and organize them – is due to the work of librarians and archivists. Any interaction with those letters then means to interact with the archival practices and infrastructure that surround them.
Digitizing objects does not mean to create something entirely new and detached from the source, if done right it means adding to the practices that surround the source. This further means that to do it right, a team working with the source needs to have a thorough understanding of the already existing range of practices. To do this, a project like Inside Dublin Castle is dependent on the knowledge of librarians and archivists that currently curate the collection, as well all previous work that allowed the collection to still be available today. If a project achieves this, it does not treat the library as a mere repository to randomly draw data from. What it does is it enhances the material, makes processes visible and gives users all the information they need to take their own steps towards a digital edition.
Brügger, Niels. 2018. The Archived Web: Doing History in the Digital Age. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Centre for Digital Humanities Maynooth. n.d. ‘Inside Dublin Castle’. Accessed 25 March 2019. http://dhprojects.maynoothuniversity.ie/2017/littlehales/.
About the Author
Michael Kurzmeier is a PhD candidate in Digital Humanities at Maynooth University. His thesis investigates questions of preservation and presentation of digital cultural heritage. The age of digital communication as also the age of massive data collection driven by very different intentions. As those archives serve as memory agents for current and future ways to remember and portrait the past, it is necessary to understand the challenges and opportunities that an increasing digitization of memory brings. Michael received his BA European Literature from Marburg and MA American Studies from Tübingen University. He has worked for DARIAH and has a strong interest in open source hard- and software as well as previous experience as an IT Manager.