Digital Archives and Digital Histories

First I would like to start off by saying that Alfred Kazin, the gentleman mentioned at the beginning of the article in the New Yorker, taught at Black Mountain College. No matter where I go, what I read, where I turn, BMC follows me everywhere. I can no longer seem to get away.

The readings definitely gave me plenty to think about, especially in regards to how I am representing the collection I am using, especially in terms of digital images. Some of the pros that I saw in digital archives is the expansion of knowledge. Even though computer and internet access does not reach every individual equally, it most certainly expands the reach of knowledge that was previously unattainable for some. For instance, I have the ability to look at documents housed in Europe although I may find myself unable to leave the country. Sure the quality of these documents may suffer from poorer quality images, but if I am looking to include the contents of a specific document in my research I don’t really need to know how the document looks or feels. Yes Optical Character Recognition programs may make mistakes but it can be equally hard to decipher words if you are holding the physical document in your hands. One of the greatest cons of digital archiving, as I see it, is the breakdown of important structures, procedures, and practices that go into archiving. As an aspiring archivist it can be somewhat painful to see my (hopefully) future field of work misrepresented, to see something called a “digital archive” created by an amateur influence the way others think about archives. Despite this I still feel that the good outweighs the bad. It is more important, in the end, to get as much information as possible out to as many people as possible.

In looking at the various websites provided, I felt that my project differed greatly from most of the websites—such as the Internet Archive—but most closely resembles the Famous Trials website in how it was set up (or rather how the subjects were broken down). My project is most definitely less of an archive and more of an educational experience that makes use of as many primary sources as I can squeeze in. At most it is a very small digital archive for people who are interested specifically in documents relating BMC to WWII. It doesn’t even contain a large percentage of the BMC documents that deal with the college and the war. Of course I wish I could include and archive in my project… I have come across so many wonderful documents of people talking about the war, of the college sending and receiving letters to various government institutions like the War Production Board, of the countless community bulletins, newsletters, and catalogs talking about the school’s reaction to the war and the faculty and students who were away fighting and the many speeches given by professors stressing the importance of protecting democracy and through democracy educational institutions like BMC. I would dearly love to have all of these as I feel they are one of the most important parts of interpreting history. Since I cannot have a digital archive, I do feel like my digital history is as complimentary to the primary sources as I can possibly make it in the short span of a semester. Although I cannot include the entirety of Robert Wunsch’s speech on supporting the war, I can pull excerpts out of it to strengthen and support my digital history. The proper use of digital archives, be they proper archives or simply a gathering of information made available to the public, in a digital history project not only strengthens the history, it brings attention to the existence of the archive so that others may use it for more digital histories. As a history major and an aspiring MLS major I feel like it’s really hard to have one without the other.


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