Tim Hitchcock
Digital History
University of Sussex

Visualising the ‘Infinite Archive’

In an age of hyper-abundance, to search is to find. The most obscure keyword search on Google will deliver a page of results that appear to be ‘good enough. The long research journey downwards through a catalogue and into an archive has been replaced by an algorithm. This lecture argues that this is simply not ‘good enough.  While current systems of search and discovery effectively hide and distort the context of research data, good scholarship demands a dialogue between data and its source.  By demonstrating how a ‘macroscope’ can be used to practise distant and close readings of large datasets such as the Old Bailey Online, and library and archival catalogues, it suggests that we can re-imagine search, discovery and research, to provide a new form of ‘radical contextualisation’.  It argues that digital history requires more than a different set of tools; it also requires a different approach to representing the evolving infrastructure upon which we rely.

Helle Strandgaard Jensen
School of Culture and Society
Aarhus University (Denmark)

Money, Moral and Representation: The day Stuart Hall joined my Archives 101 class

In recent decades, digitization has been high on the agenda in cultural heritage institutions in affluent parts of the world. Prompted by the easy availability of millions of new sources online, scholars in the humanities are beginning to consider what new digital possibilities mean to their research. However, most discussions have focused on the changing research practices rather than the digital archives themselves and the wider cyberinfrastructure in which they are embedded. The focus on end-users downplays the influence economic, technical and political factors have on changing research practices as well as representations of the past. This is why researching the funding, production, content and distribution of digital archives is just as important as considering how scholars make use of what is available. In my talk I argue why being able to question the economies, policies and systems design of digital archives will benefit the (digital) humanities in terms of research, teaching and outreach. I will offer a framework for supporting a professional reflection on the “everyday use” of digital archives and the powerful forces that shape what content they make available. The framework draws on ideas developed within the British Cultural Studies tradition, particularly media literacy and Stuart Hall’s encoding/decoding model. Hall’s model has renewed importance in the era of digital humanities because it sets up a basis for a critical exploration of how media (digital archives) influence signifying practices and interpretation (research in the humanities).

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