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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Digital Materiality: Preserving Access to Computers as Complete Environments

  • Author(s): Kirschenbaum, Matthew
  • Farr, Erika L.
  • Kraus, Kari M.
  • Nelson, Naomi
  • Peters, Catherine Stollar
  • Redwine, Gabriela
  • Reside, Doug
  • et al.
Abstract

This paper addresses a particular domain within the sphere of activity that is coming to be known as personal digital papers or personal digital archives. We are concerned with contemporary writers of belles-lettres (fiction, poetry, and drama), and the implications of the shift toward word processing and other forms of electronic text production for the future of the cultural record, in particular literary scholarship. The urgency of this topic is evidenced by the recent deaths of several high-profile authors, including David Foster Wallace and John Updike, both of whom are known to have left behind electronic records containing unpublished and incomplete work alongside of their more traditional manuscript materials. We argue that literary and other creatively-oriented originators offer unique challenges for the preservation enterprise, since the complete digital context for individual records is often of paramount importance—what Richard Ovenden, in a helpful phrase (in conversation) has termed “the digital materiality of digital culture.” We will therefore discuss preservation and access scenarios that account for the computer as a complete artifact and digital environment, drawing on examples from the born-digital materials in literary collections at Emory University, the Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Maryland.

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