Monday, November 23, 2009


Finally, the genesis of my project has been achieved. This prematurely born web project can be accessed in its permanent revision and modularity at this address. I am open to all kinds of criticism, since this is going to be a long project.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

sunday thoughts on open access

The Access Principle by John Willinsky argues in favor of a fairer and broader distribution of knowledge across disciplines and social categories. In fact, it is in line with Moretti's book, which among other claims also argues that there are no more genius writers in the world literature. In fact, as I understand Moretti's argument, the concept of "genius" has been constructed by the literary scholars, who based their value assumptions on readings of a small sample of literature. In this sense, a research model which would embrace more texts could be more representative of a literary age. Moreover, due to the fact that there are no geniuses, literature is read in stages. As soon as one stage fades, it is quickly replaced by other stage. On average, one stage endures around three decades.

Willinsky claims that the access principle, will profoundly affect the distribution of knowledge in a world where the scholarly journals have lost their initial dialogue with the whole society, and have instead being isolated according to disciplinary principles and to the wishes of the big journal publishers. Furthermore, he refers to the fact that the access principle is not a continuation of the Wittenberg's revolution. It is something more, which is yet to be discovered in the future. I would certainly agree with him in reference to his opinion on the benefits for poor countries. It is true that there are a lot of underfunded educational systems in the world where access to journal subscription is reduced to a minimum. In this sense, open access can be an amazing opportunity for these countries and people to participate in the global community of knowledge.

With all the benefits, I still see some problems with this model. First of all, like any other change, the transition from the subscription model to the open access is not a smooth process and it will not be so in the near future. One important issue is the attractiveness of the principle "what costs more is more valuable" and the still dominant idea that "there is no free stuff in this world." Secondly, is the issue of the inter-generational debate: as soon as we don't have a generation of scholars, who were raised in the digital environment, there is unlikely to be witnessed a radical change in the distribution of knowledge.

Still, there is a chance that there will be nobody to witness this change, because all of the researchers will be blind due many hours spent in front of the computer. On the other hand, if digital environment is the one which will determine blindness, then maybe the same digital environment with its open access principle will provide a necessary cure for the blindness, in the form of any revolution in eye care. Finally, one problem might be the fact that if there will be found an attribution model for the digital scholarship, then scholars will rush to get everything online, hoping to get the feedback from other scholars, who will be also busy in uploading their own content online. In this situation, my question will be: who would comment on the uploaded content?

P.S. Disclaimer, All the similarities with the motives from Jose Saramago's Blindness is purely accidental.

social incentives

Beyond any particular differences in the perception of the Web by different social categories, there is a particular feature on which all of them seem to agree. This feature is the social component of the Web 2.0. It has already become a cliche to argue that Web 1.0 was only about passivity and text absorption, while Web 2.0 is a new qualitative phenomenon, which resurfaces the social component of human activity and revive the social instincts of the New Social Man. In other words, if Web 1.0 was somehow similar to the prehistoric age, when isolated human communities scribbled on the walls of the caves different symbols, then Web 2.0 is the age of archeological excavations or reinterpretation, when different communities discover the caves and start to discuss the meaning of the symbols.

In this spirit, I decided to divide my project into two parts, which, if everything will go according to my plans, would entail two stages. To a certain extent, these two stages will evolve chronologically in a consecutive manner. Thus, first part of the project and the first stage will follow the pattern of Web 1.0, while the second part and the second stage will fortunately develop according to the ethos of Web 2.0. Now, let's turn from this esoteric discussion to the more practical issues. What do I mean by these two stages and their particular components?

So, the first stage of my project or my Web 1.0 will be basically constructed from my uploading certain content on the Web: maps, newspapers and official documents. In this sense, it will be like the interpretation of history from above. Since I have some materials in this sense, I can go into this stage very soon.

The second stage or what I am calling my Web 2.0 will follow after or with the first stage. In this sense, I can engage in some activities on the ground, hoping to get some contribution from local communities. By referring to the local communities, I have in mind not only the two different communities from the towns, which I am looking at, but also the innumerable local networks, which have developed according to different lines of interest involving people from both towns.

Firstly, there are local museums or historical enthusiasts, who are somehow neglected not only by the outsiders but also by the people from these communities. In this sense, I hope that the prospect of getting them into the digital formats and being connected to other communities in the world will bring some positive results as to their participation in my project. In this way, I can get at least some materials, which I can then upload to the website.

Secondly, my research into the project will entail several visits to local archives, where I will be able to follow some examples of the families which moved from one town to other town, because of different circumstances, either economic incentives, family purposes or political views. In this sense, an interesting thing will be to follow these families or individuals and to see if there are some of their relatives or friends still residing there. While I am sure that not all of them will be open to getting their family members on the web, I could at least get some stories around these people and compile some official documents into my web collection.

Thirdly, the local history teachers is another category, which would like to be listened to. In addition, my project could at least serve as a teaching instrument or why not a way to involve some of the local students into gathering the materials. One winning strategy will be to find two schools in these two towns and to assign them an analysis of the same sources. Then, I will post these document readings on the website. In this sense, there are several possibilities: to post a video material from their discussions and on the same page to upload photo images of their written thoughts on this document.

Monday, November 9, 2009

models to follow

For my future digital project, I would consider the following models:

Parallel Archive

A project developed by the Open Society Archives in Budapest, which according to the About section of the site, "is at once a personal scholarly workspace, a collaborative research environment, and a digital repository." The project started in 2008 and is still a beta version. As a matter of fact, the website is designed to be a gathering place of numerous documents hidden in the personal computers of the researchers or other professionals in the preservation and scholarship business. In order to gain access to the full functionality of the site, the visitor should register with the site. The site features two kinds of possibilities for the members to keep their collections: they can either place the documents in the public collection or they can keep them on 50 MB of a private collection for two years, after which if not deleted the private collections automatically turn into public documents. Any non-registered visitor to the site can browse through the narrow public collection. One of the positive aspect of the repository is the possibility to search through different collections of OCR-ed files. Among some weak features of the site, I would mention the limited number of documents available in English and the overwhelming dominance of documents in Hungarian, which as we know is not a easy language to speak or to learn. Another weakness of the website is their copyright policy. The contributors to the website cannot apply any type of Creative Commons licenses on their uploaded content, and instead all the documents are under the copyright laws. This also limits the possibility for contributors to make use of attribution as one of the main gains of the digital media.

The Valley of the Shadow

This is a well-known website, which represents a milestone in the first attempts to explore possibilities offered by the digital media in the research of the past. This web project started with the idea of Edward Ayers, a scholar from the University of Virginia, to write a book on the different experiences of the Civil War by the people of two communities from the US. In turn, this initiative has developed in a different direction, along with the new possibilities which the Web offers for the comparative study of two local communities. As the years passed, the once envisioned analogue, individualistic and static book has been transformed into a digital, collective and dynamic repository of numerous possibilities to research the history of the Civil War from different perspectives. The idea for the book came to Ayers in 1991, and the final version of the site has been released in 2009. So, it has been 18 years of experiments, but the work is not finished yet. Now, the library of the University of Virginia works on the preservation of the whole website in its digital collection. If the Parallel Archive provides some examples of preservation techniques, then the Valley of the Shadow is in line with my intention to shape a repository or, to what Roy Rosenzweig and Michael O'Malley refers to as "an invented archive," of two neighbor communities. Among the positive features are the ease of use and the clarity of the design, as well as the ability to capture a multiple audience for this site. In my view the main weakness of the website is the same concern with the copyright. All the content on the website is under the ordinary copyright law and does not allow for a diversification of the options provided by Creative Commons.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

in the process

The other day, I found this guy, who succeeded in his endeavor to backup the now extinguished I think this might be an interesting case study for tonight's class on digitization and preservation. It is a good example of how some enthusiasts can make a difference in this "professional area."

Monday, November 2, 2009

by the way

In this class we are talking much about different strategies of coping with "the digital revolution" in humanities. This semester we have a lot of online sources to read. At least for me this has been a revolutionary or revelatory experience: prior to this class, I have never had this much of reading experience online. I have become so used to reading online that I find it difficult now, to return to the traditional format of a printed book. So, maybe we should also talk about the readjustment to the print environment? What do you think?


After reading NINCH Guide to Good Practice, I can say that now I fully recognize the workload and responsibility of the people who try to deal with the Scarcity or Abundance of the future histories. In addition to this major achievement, these readings convinced me once more that simplicity is the recipe for any successful digital project.

When I am referring to the term "successful digital project," I have in mind not a one day short-term exercise in PR, but rather a durable project, which, if it will not last 200 years, at least will manage to entertain the life of the contributors to the project. I do not intend to make a distinction between the audience and contributors, because, as we already know, and if you didn't, then you'll know that: "the ideal digital project is the project when the distinction between the audience and the contributors is if not non-existent, then at least it is very blurred."

Referring to the value of digitization for my project, I can say that it plays a crucial role. At the same time, since it is not yet associated with any institutional framework, then I suppose all I need is to do some more or less qualitative job with cheap equipment and with almost zero funds. In this sense, I will proudly sacrifice my Sony Cybershot digital camera in order to transfer the material from analog to digital realm.

Nevertheless, apart from many other objective issues, such as natural or, not less natural, human-generated disasters, that can be solved with a good backup strategy, there is a one objective issue, which is totally independent of my control: since my web project will rely on a collaborative framework with the local communities, then I will have to choose either between a centralized digitization of the materials or to rely on the skills of the each contributor to renounce his bias and to capture his personal history in a professional manner.