Session 9: Digital Preservation

Moderator: Matt Burton (University of Pittsburgh)
Break-up Letters and the Cold Shoulder from Blogademia / Carolyn Hank (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)

Just as we encounter orphaned works in the print realm, the growth of social media and lower barriers for publishing to the Web contribute to a new breed of “orphaned” works. Abandoned, in the specific context of blogs, is possibly more accurate, as authorship is known, whether published to under a real name or pseudonymously. This presentation reports on a longitudinal study, on-going since 2011, that examines such abandoned blogs, characterized as blogs that remain publicly discoverable and available after they are no longer actively published or updated. Applying a content analysis approach, reported are findings from a review of final posts published to approximately 400 inactive scholar blogs. It examines what, if any, message is left behind at the assumed end of the blog’s life cycle. Such messages may be seen as one indicator of creators’ intentions or assumptions for their blogs’ continued persistence. For a clear majority of these blogs, there is no farewell post or “note tacked to the door,” with the blogs simply ending abruptly. A minority do leave a message as to where the blog has gone. Themes that arose from this analysis of “farewell” posts include intentions for archiving or to come back to the blog at a later date. Additionally, findings will be shared that report on a sort of Lazarus effect observed between data collection periods, where blogs once dormant, and assumed “dead,” become active again. This presentation concludes with preliminary findings from a survey of bloggers’ attitudes and reactions as to the continued persistence of their respective “abandoned” blogs in respect to their own personal blog preservation, or “unpreservation,” preferences.

Of Parts and Wholes: Revisiting the Significant Properties of Digital Objects through the Lens of Design / Kari Kraus (University of Maryland)

The belief that the past can be faithfully recovered from historical fragments that survive in the present has had numerous literary champions: Rainer Maria Rilke’s headless statue of Apollo is made conceptually whole again through the power of synecdoche in “Torso of Archaic Apollo”; Wilhelm Jensen’s relic of a young woman in bas-relief becomes the means to reanimate the streets of ancient Pompeii in Gradiva; and William Blake’s miniscule grain of sand is a deep-time microcosm of the universe in “Auguries of Innocence.” Heritage stewardship practices likewise reflect this part-whole epistemology: a steeple might serve as the only surviving witness to a razed cathedral; a salvaged movie trailer the only testimony to an otherwise lost film; a peripheral device the only hardware component available to stand in for a retro game system. 

Adopting the archival terminology of “significant properties” to refer to those parts of a digital artifact with greatest cultural salience, I explore what it might mean to design with the identification, durability, preservation, and reuse of those fragments or components in mind. Drawing on interviews with video game developers and research into how individuals identify the constituent parts of objects—including broken, obsolete, and semantically ambiguous objects—I distill a set of design principles and discuss their potential application to computer hardware, software, and three-dimensional realia.