The University of Virginia’s Scholars’ Lab has recently published a series of posts on the issues involved in archiving digital humanities on their blog. “Archiving DH Part 1: The Problem,” by Ammon Shepard (Scholars’ Lab) focuses on laying out the issue of maintaining digital humanities projects over time. Shepard bemoans the current state of planning for the afterlife of DH projects – mainly, in his view, that there isn’t any planning:
And there-in lies the crux of the problem. For all the good intentions and the great resources created by DH projects, they won’t last. Let’s just get it out there right now. That wonderful new project you just spent years and thousands on, will be out of date, obsolete, and unavailable in 2, 3, or 10 years. Whereas that book you published will be in the hands of learners for the next 100 years.
Shepard goes on to state that the importance of preserving DH projects is dependent on how they’re viewed: “If it is scholarship, then it should be maintained and kept accessible just as much as the dominant information vessel, the book.” He closes his post by stating that libraries will need to expand their roles beyond “maintainers and repositories of scholarship that has reached book form” to fully take on maintaining DH projects.
“Archiving DH Part 2: The Problem in Detail,” by Brandon Butler (University of Virginia Libraries), Ammon Shepard, Amanda Visconti (Scholars’ Lab), and Lauren Work (University of Virginia Libraries), takes Shepard’s original post and expands its scope. The authors note that the problems they describe are ones “we have seen in the wild'” as “programmers, IT people, Library people, and project leads.”
The authors discuss that the quickly changing nature of technology complicates DH project preservation – not only does technology constantly change, updates to existing portions of a project can potentially break the older version so that it can no longer be used. In addition to changing technology, security concerns, and trends in technology that impact how projects are created and maintained, the authors explain that DH preservation is a human labor as well:
It should be noted here that the technological problems with planning and preserving DH projects are also closely bound to issues around human labor and sustainability, precarity of funding and capital as well as understanding and implementation of what “preservation” or “access” may mean to different groups across varying contexts and across the life of a project. It also concerns changes in scholarship and publication, as well as the implications of copyright, ownership, digital preservation, and fair use.
How a project is preserved is also very dependent on institutional structures and policies, as Lauren Work explains: “technical and administrative digital preservation pathways” depend on how each institution determines “what an ‘active’ versus ‘finished’ or ‘archival’ project looks like,” policies on who is considered the author or creator of a project, and “how we frame discussions and expectations of authentic access and use over time for digital scholarship.” These issues mean that it can be difficult to create guidelines and best practices for use across DH, as these ideas, as well as the labor to support them, will vary across institutions.