Blog Post

Preserving Digital Texts

I ran across this great article in the New York Times today that I thought would be of interest to other HASTACers: Fending Off Digital Decay Bit by Bit

The article discusses Salman Rushdie's archival material currently on display at Emory University, including not only handwritten journals, but also digital data: 18GB on 4 Apple computers. The main subject of the article, of course, is about the complications of archiving born-digital data. But as someone interested in writing practices as connected to technology, the secondary focus was much more interesting to me:

"Because of Emory’s particular interest in the impact of technology on the creative process, Naomi Nelson, the university’s interim director of Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, said that the archivists decided to try to recreate Mr. Rushdie’s writing experience and the original computer environment."

The story discusses the technology Rushdie wrote with, but also his own reflections on how his switch to computers changed his approach to his writing overall. The concept of reproducing a writer's computer environment was compelling to me as well, from the tools they found productive, to the look of the text as they worked.

Researchers in my field are always interested in these questions, and we research them in process: observing writers, gathering texts and other artifacts, and tracing the threads of influence in one's writing practice, what Prior and Shipka call "chronotopic laminations." What is interesting to me are the curators' jobs reproducing these practices years later by mining old technologies like floppy disks. But it brings up new questions about the practice of visiting an author's home if you not only have to produce the writer's physical space but their virtual one as well.


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