Despite the thousands of digital projects launched during the past 20 years, experts warn of a new “digital dark age” as our ability to produce digital information continues to outpace our capacity to preserve and access that knowledge for the long haul.
These challenges extend across many domains, but they are particularly pressing for digital humanities (DH) projects. The challenge of preserving and future-proofing these projects—many based on boutique technologies and customized code—jeopardizes their future. To continue to reap the benefits of these projects, we must invest in workable processes and technologies so we can collect, preserve and provide user-friendly access for longer than the estimated 10-year lifespan of most current formats.
While a growing body of research on the closure and preservation of digital projects identifies the urgency and scale of these challenges, few practical solutions have been offered.
The University of Victoria’s extensive experience with a broad variety of SSHRC and CFI-funded DH projects over the past 15 years gives our team a unique perspective to consider these questions. Each of our funded DH projects has well-developed scholarly content useful to the scholarly community for the foreseeable future, and each poses different, representative problems for sustained digital conservation and usability.
Our multidisciplinary team, including research faculty from several disciplines, programmers, and digital librarians, has collective theoretical and practical experience in geohumanities, multimedia markup, endangered language documentation, textual editing, digital publishing, and text encoding.
Using case studies that address the following research questions, we plan to develop practical strategies for concluding and preserving scholarly digital projects, and for maintaining long-term usability across a representative range of disciplines and DH methodologies.
To learn more about our individual projects, visit our projects page.
- How do and how should DH projects conclude? The dynamic nature of digital data lends itself to new and promising possibilities, and the protean digital environment makes publication a moving target. Despite these temptations, while our research and scholarship go on, projects—even digital ones—need to end. We plan to investigate strategies and landmarks to bring DH projects to closure.
- How should we preserve projects to retain their dynamic features? By extrapolating from existing theoretical models and experimenting with our own projects, we are developing programming strategies to maintain site usability, readability, and tools.
- Where should projects be archived? While university libraries are reliable repositories for static digital material, we need multiple repositories that can preserve the dynamic features of projects. However, such distributed archiving will also magnify the technological, economic, and political challenges of preservation including intellectual property concerns along with maintenance strategies, long-term stability, and access issues.