One of my favorite parts of my current job is when I get to put my own work aside and consult on other people’s digital projects. I meet frequently with faculty and graduate students to learn about their research and to brainstorm how they could present their content as a digital publication. On several occasions I have consulted on projects with passionate authors who have accumulated large collections of objects that they want to share as an archival digital publication. They are not attempting to build a traditional archive so much as a publication that shares some of their findings. These projects tend to share a common struggle: the passion behind the collection of the objects can often impede the curation of those objects to tell a meaningful story or stake a claim. The authors attempt to tell a story or prove a point by creating an exhaustive collection, but one that ends up communicating its importance mainly through inundating readers with its size and thoroughness.
When an archival publication isn’t bound by the material limitations of print, it is easy to assume that it can (and should) share every object associated with it. The trouble is, an attempt to be exhaustive normally results in a publication with narrative opportunities missed due to a glut of information. To create an effective digital publication, we should be thinking about the stories our objects can create and the individual arguments they make, and how other people are going to read and experience them. We can’t overwhelm readers with information and hope they find a story or claim in it somewhere. Digital publications should entice readers, not exhaust them. They should tell the stories we’ve found in the objects, and create a space for readers to find (a few) related stories on their own.