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.



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:

Likenesses Within the Reach of All

I’m happy to announce that the project I’ve been working on for the last three months has finally launched! Likenesses Within the Reach of All is a digital project that maps the expansion of southern photography through the cartes-de-visite of The A.S. Williams III Americana Collection at The University of Alabama. Building on the work Christa Vogelius completed during her time as the CLIR Fellow at UA, I’ve worked to map the data and provide access to the photographs for researchers and archivists. Many others provided assistance and feedback on the project and you can find them on our About page.

Likenesses Within the Reach of All