Archives: Physical and Digital

Looking at the new Sample Projects site, all of the featured projects have been separated and grouped based on what kind of data was collected, and form of digital media the raw data was translated into.  Categories such as Mapping, Visualization, and Network Analysis contain projects that are very visual-based, while others, such as the ones in the Archives section, deal with and create mostly text-based artifacts.  I looked in-depth at the Old Weather project in the Archives section.

 

Old Weather - Transcribe

The process of transcribing original documents into raw text data.

The aim of this project is to transcribe old ship’s logs from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The data contained in those logs are useful for researchers in many different fields, from naval historians to climate specialists.  One powerful benefit of choosing to digitize the archives is that all of these interested researchers are now able to access the data without trouble.

 

Old Weather - Our Weather's Past, the Climate's Future

An overview of the scale and progress of the Old Weather project.

It is important to note the scale of this project.  There are well over 100,000 pages of data from dozens of voyages to be transcribed.  A team of researchers with the original documents would never be able to get through everything in a reasonable amount of time, so the team behind the Old Weather project rely on another major benefit of their digital archives: crowd sourcing.  Just like the previous idea how anyone can access the final data, thousands of people can also help to interpret the raw data.

 

For all the virtues of digital archiving, however, it does have its flaws.  When transferring documents over into a digital format, you can only transfer what you think to look for.  Some information can be lost unless someone in the future wants, for some reason, to take another look at the originals.  Crowd sourcing also has some flaws.  While it is nice to have extra hands doing the work, unskilled hands can possibly do more harm than good, and create more work for the research team.

 

The most difficult part of our project will probably be interpreting the various documents we will come across.  This hurdle will just have to be overcome as we gain experience.

On Physical and Digital Archives

I primarily looked at the Indigenous Peoples of North America project and oldweather.org for reflection from the course’s archive. I was struck by the effect of good graphic design on the experience of digital humanities research, beyond the fundamental organization of the site, visual appeal comprises a surprisingly large compone

The search function is one of the most powerful tools in digital databases.

The search function is one of the most powerful tools in digital databases.

nt of digital humanities. The Indigenous Peoples of North America project was especially compelling in its visual layout. The search function was especially important, in the Indigenous Peoples project, the search results allow users to go through document pages and metadata within the thumbnail view. The ability to view full citations and search through tags and keywords are very well managed on the Indigenous People’s project. The project organizes thousands early 19 to 20th century documents and photographs, monographs and newspapers1 in a way where users can search by location, subject. Search functions represent one of the major advantages of digital artifacts. Databases containing millions of dates, people and subjects can be parsed within seconds. This ability was in the most-part unavailable before the information revolution. Multimedia is also one of the advantages of digital artifacts. Users can experience an artifact through detailed imagery and simultaneously listen to audio or narrated material. The Indigenous Peoples project especially contains a feature where selected text can be read by a computer generated voice. 

While most digital humanities projects are created by experts and researchers, some harness one of the Internet’s greatest powers, the wisdom of the crowd. Old Weather aims to help scientists determine mid-19th century Arctic and worldwide weather observation by having users transcribe ship logs. Users can pick vessels and journeys to transcribe logs and collaborate with other users across the globe. The project has completed 39% of logs and has transcribed 63,125 pages. The size of this project demonstrates the things that crowdsourced digital archives can do, transcribing thousands of pages without the need for hundreds of researches. 

Oldweather.org allows users to pick vessels to transcribe  logs.

Oldweather.org allows users to pick vessels to transcribe logs.

While there are many huge advantages to digital artifacts, some very key aspects are still better with physical artifacts. The presence of an on-call expert or curator is an improvement over a stagnant website. Physical objects are often hugely complex and details often unseen in digital documents can emerge.