Paper Digital Humanities Australasia 2018

To be continued: Collections as collaborations (43)

Katherine Bode , Geoff Hinchcliffe

The digital collections of cultural institutions offer immense opportunities for digital humanities (DH) research and scholarship. However, the potential of such projects is contingent on the quality of the collection data upon which they are based, and because of this, DH projects often involve the repair and augmentation of institutional data. Example projects (Hinchcliffe) demonstrate some of the ways in which institutional collection data can be enriched but also highlight the fractured nature of this process, with modified collection data operating in isolation from the institutional source. There is little evidence of improved data being reincorporated into institutional collections. This means that users of those cultural collections do not benefit from the insights of those DH projects, and the results also have a less than optimal future with regards to sustainability: despite having their own funding difficulties, the collections of cultural institutions are almost inevitably more sustainable than those of individual DH projects. Reincorporating improved collection data is not a trivial concern, with significant technical and authorial considerations, but nor is it an impossibility.

Bode and Hetherington’s To be continued: The Australian Newspaper Fiction Database demonstrates how an independent DH project can facilitate reintegration of improved collection data via the National Library of Australia’s Trove collection aggregator. The To be continued project harvests records from Trove; supports audience editing and repair of data; and publishes the improved records back into Trove, closing the virtuous data circle. To be continued offers an inventive process for reincorporating improved collection data but also foregrounds the agency of audience in the curation and repair of collections. The paper considers ways to foster and respond to communities and connections that operate within this humanities data cycle in order to develop new models for participatory digital heritage. We argue that collaborative models are vital to addressing the overwhelming quantity (and sometimes dubious quality) of humanities data in the present and into the future, and instrumental to demonstrating the currency of the humanities in the public realm. Digital cultural collections (and digital humanities projects) should not be conceived as read-only broadcast systems, a digital facsimiles of analogue records. These systems need to be more attuned to the affordances - social and technical - of the settings in which they operate; to support a multidirectional model in which audiences (including DH researchers) can collaborate.