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Documentary Provenance and Digitized Collections
University of Borås, Sweden.
Linnaeus University, Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Department of Cultural Sciences.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0576-036x
2019 (English)In: The Document Academy (DOCAM) Annual meeting 2019 of Documents and Data: Ingémédia Department, University of Toulon, France, June 12–14, 2019, 2019Conference paper, Oral presentation only (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

For decades, memory institutions such as libraries and archives have been engaged in digitizing cultural heritage materials in their holdings (also in the form of large private-public partnerships such as Google Books). The collections usually take on the form of image reproductions (scans, digital photographs), text transcriptions (OCR’d or manually keyed) and varying degrees and types of metadata (usually legal and rudimentary bibliographic metadata). Although there are signs that public funding for large-scale digitization is decreasing in the US and many European countries, significant resources are still being invested in digitization. A whole range of humanities research depends on having these digitized collections available. Further, in humanities research such as digital scholarly editing, digital reproductions produced by memory institutions are not only referred to but incorporated as building blocks in the editions themselves. In such cases, they are not only used as mere illustrations accompanying a scholarly text transcription, but can also serve as research tools and as instruments for accountability and accessibility. Nevertheless, the critical inquiry of scholarly editors is directed towards text transcriptions, whereas digital images are often uncritically taken at face value, as objective representations of the source documents. There seems to be room for an increased critical understanding of such images as interpretations based on scholarly informed deliberation, or a ’document criticism’ for digital image reproductions in the manner of how textual criticism has been established since centuries to establish the history, relation and provenance of texts and their versions. Partly, this face value approach is fostered by mass digitization, with projects such as Google Books as a paradigm, where there is little room for scholarly considerations during the image capture. As a result, image capture is portrayed as a fairly trivial and straightforward task that can be more or less automated. But there are in fact many types and levels of library digitization, suggesting a map of variety with mass digitization in one corner and what has been termed critical or slow  digitization in the other. The choices made in terms of preferred processes have been shown to matter to the way memory institutions such as museums, archives and libraries are conceived of (Dahlström, Hansson and Kjellman 2012).

A relatively small amount of research has explored the accuracy, usability and reusability of these digital representations to humanities scholars, the kind of research questions they open up for, and what degree of authenticity and trust we are able to ascribe to them. This paper explores the needs and potentials of such keys, instruments with which users can “investigate the road that documents have travelled”, to use the phrase from the CFP for this conference. What pieces of information (if any) do the digitizing institutions provide for users to ascertain the link between the digital representation on screen and the physical source document it purports to represent? The paper will:

  • address some of the critical considerations libraries and archives face when digitizing their holdings of text-based materials, with significant bearing on the value and (re)usability of the digital reproductions when placed within a scholarly context
  • discuss if and how scholarly inquiry is hindered by the way digitized collections are selected, formatted, made available and presented
  • discuss crucial concepts to understand the relation between digital image reproductions and represented sources, and
  • propose research avenues for exploring these concepts and questions in depth.

Key concepts discussed in the paper are:

  • mass/speedy digitization versus critical/slow digitization and their un/critical management of digital reproductions
  • relation between source and reproduction:
    • linearity
    • historical provenance (to a single object, to several objects, or to a series of historical anchor points) and the variety of potential trajectories
  • authenticity, faithfulness and exhaustiveness of digital reproductions vis-à-vis sources
  • transparency and keys:
    • metadata and paradata (paradata concerns the processes of collecting, digitizing and curating the materials)

The digital image reproduction invokes the virtual presence of the source, so the bond between reproduction and source is not only graphical and material but is also defined by a retrospective relationship between two points in history, the then and the now. A heightened awareness of this on the basis of a dedicated image criticism could serve as an incentive for digitizing institutions to increase the transparency of the production history of such images and to subject their degree of authenticity and (un)certainty to better scrutiny. Exhaustive paradata and metadata for the images, for instance, might be of paramount importance, providing information about states, production history, and digital provenance. What is missing for many current reproductions in digitized collections is the historical-bibliographical link between, on the one hand, what we see on the screen and, on the other, a particular identified artefact in a physical collection. In other words, which document was actually used when producing a given digital reproduction?

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019.
National Category
Information Studies
Research subject
Humanities, Library and Information Science
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:lnu:diva-85308OAI: oai:DiVA.org:lnu-85308DiVA, id: diva2:1324468
Conference
The Document Academy (DOCAM) Annual meeting 2019 of Documents and Data. Ingémédia Department, University of Toulon, France, June 12–14, 2019
Available from: 2019-06-13 Created: 2019-06-13 Last updated: 2019-08-28Bibliographically approved

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  • apa
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