Does the process of “Digitizing History” lose its context?

One similar pattern arises in both Sheila A. Brennan, “Getting to the Stuff: Digital Cultural Heritage Collections, Absence, and Memory” and Martha Sandweiss, “Artifacts as Pixels, Pixels as Artifacts: Working with Photographs in the Digital Age,” both post mention. That while many benefits arise from digitizing photographs and museum’s collections other issues arise. Categorization is one of these big issues that separate a digital archive from that of a messy drawer of old photographs. As digital archivist it is up to us to carefully tag as much information to the potential historian who wants to dig into the archive. Another issue is that arises when digitizing a collection one must for the purposes of historical context look into the history of medium. If you can at least know what era of photography the original analog photograph was taken so that the user of the archive can know the source material when they want to use it for historical analysis. This is the same process one would use for a bibliography in a paper. Sometimes altercations could be made to the photograph during the digitalization process and in these instances of historical analysis it is important for the person digging to know before providing misinformation. For both digitizing museum collections and archival photographs the more information you gain from the source whether biographical, subject matter in tagging, or era of which it comes from can all be helpful resources during the digitization process. A good example of museum digitization on a small scale while is still useful for increasing museum traffic is that of the American History Museum’s Facebook page. I enjoy it because it allows users who follow the page to ask questions about a featured piece and the staff is usually quick in replying which users can participate and comment in creating context for the piece.

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One thought on “Does the process of “Digitizing History” lose its context?

  1. rachelrettaliata

    I think it is true that digitizing content does sometimes create a loss of context. There is something about holding an old photograph with frayed edges and handwritten captions on the backside that is difficult (and time consuming) to duplicate digitally. Additionally, clicking through an online collection of artifact images does not have the same effect as walking through a museum of experiencing the curator’s interpretation (not only from exhibit labels, but also from the selection and arrangement of objects). At the same time, digitization, although time consuming and costly, provides a greater amount of access to the public. Obviously, every item in a museum’s collection cannot be displayed at once and in cases such as this, digital exhibits can show objects that cannot be displayed to the public as well. In Brennan’s article she provides the example of Tim Sheratt’s “Invisible Australian’s” project. Technology has allowed Sheratt to explore a subject he is passionate about while giving agency to a group that was previously voiceless. In projects like this, digitization of content is paramount in the production of historical work that may have been impossible before the use of digital tools.

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