Likenesses Within the Reach of All: A Lesson in Digital Preservation

IMG_2926In the planning phase of every digital humanities project, the individual or team has to grapple with the issue of digital sustainability and preservation. When the project is finished, who is going to maintain it? How long will it be updated? Will it be hosted by a library, university, or publisher? Will the project be hosted in perpetuity or is there a plan to transition it to a digital repository?

For one of my own projects, I recently discovered that the answers to “who is going to maintain it?” and “how long will it be updated?” are “no one” and “under four years,” respectively. Likenesses Within the Reach of All, a project I completed as part of my CLIR Postdoc at The University of Alabama, has effectively ceased to function. Users can still access the 3,356 cartes de visite that formed the basis of the site, but the database, map, and visualizations that highlighted the significant aspects of the collection have broken.

As far as I can tell, Likenesses started to break as a result of a WordPress upgrade. As a result, the banner that sat beneath the title on the homepage had moved to the bottom of the page and was stretched much too wide. More distressingly, I recently discovered that the underlying database and the embedded maps and visualizations were no longer connected. As a result, there are essays explaining nonexistent visulaizations and a map showing the spread of southern photography without points.

To say that I am disappointed with the current state of Likenesses would be an understatement. After I accepted my current position at Emory University in the spring of 2017, I suspect Likenesses fell between the cracks of two different departments. Ultimately, the project now testifies to the importance of digital sustainability. When designing a project, it’s crucial for all parties to understand when a project is “complete” and what that means in the long-term. Otherwise, your project might end up as a digital ruin.

 

Back to the Blog

Recently, I’ve been feeling like I should post more on my blog in order to explore what’s going on in my work and my various fields of interest. This feeling has only been reinforced by Dan Cohen’s recent entry on his own site entitled “Back to the Blog.” I’ve been very vocal on Twitter recently about Facebook’s business model, the harvesting of personal data, and the Cambridge Analytica debacle, and it makes sense to take greater control over my own content. Like Cohen, I worry that the “psychological gravity” of sites like Facebook and Twitter ensures that neither will be compelled to change their data policies, but I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t personally try to take another approach.

Online Writing Roundup, Fall 2017

I’ve been busy! Fall semester has proven to be extremely productive, both with my department’s spatial art history projects and with these short pieces I’ve written for various online outlets:

I’m happy to have had the opportunity to write these pieces, since each is a reflection of my disparate but interrelated interests. The first draws on my past research on Connecticut to argue that we need a reexamination of the colony’s relationship with slavery. The second connects the Battle of Atlanta app I helped create in graduate school with the potential of ATL Maps as a digital platform. Last but not least, my response to Lucas Coyne’s Destory History granted me an opportunity to discuss the intersection of games and historical memory. I hope you enjoy them!

 

Visual Resources Librarian

I’m very happy to share that today was my first day as the Visual Resources Librarian in the Art History Department at Emory University. The position is largely split between data curation and project management and I will be supporting some phenomenal projects going forward. This will include contributing to existing projects like Samothrace, Mapping Senufo, and Views of Rome, as well as establishing new and exciting digital art history projects.

As the Visual Resources Librarian, I’ll be able to more fully commit myself to digital scholarship, which I have realized is my real academic passion over the last few years. It is also a bit of a homecoming, as I get to return to Emory University and Atlanta. I will miss my friends and colleagues at The University of Alabama, but I’m very excited for this new chapter in my career.

Greetings from Alabama: A Pictorial History in Vintage Postcards

I am happy to announce that my book is finally available! Greetings from Alabama: A Pictorial History in Vintage Postcards, was released by NewSouth Books at the end of October. Nancy DuPree, my co-author and curator of the A.S. Williams III Americana Collection, and I worked for roughly a year and a half on the book. The postcards come from the Wade Hall Postcard Collection, which includes slightly under 2,000 prints from the first half of the twentieth century.

1588383202Nancy and I first selected 900 postcards from this collection based on their significance to the social, cultural, and economic history of Alabama. We then worked with NewSouth Books to choose approximately 400 postcards that would represent the entire state. Nancy and I proceeded to research each of these postcards and wrote captions that reflect how and why Alabamians represented themselves through these locations. The postcards capture the state as it embraced tourism, industrialization, and leisure.

Although he did not live to see its publication, we honored Wade Hall by listing him as an author. Dr. Hall was a fervent supporter of Special Collections at The University of Alabama and always wanted the postcards to be published. He understood that postcards capture sites at a specific moment in time and reveal what people found important within their community.

I am proud of my work on this project and I hope that people will have a chance to check it out. If you’d like to know more, Alabama Living interviewed Nancy and I about the project here: http://alabamaliving.coop/article/new-book-chronicles-alabamas-past-through-vintage-postcards/