As part of a class on digital history, on several occasions I’ll be posting thoughts on a chapter of Digital History: A Guide to Gathering, Preserving, and Presenting the Past on the Web by Cohen and Rosenzweig and comments on one historical website featured in that chapter. You can read this whole book for free at http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/. For more information about this series, see the Intro.
Digital History Chapter 2: Getting Started
This chapter covers the basics of website technology and advises website-hopefuls to not be intimidated. Think about the features you want for your website, and then figure out how to provide them, don’t worry too much about learning all the technology up front. It covers types of media formats and their pros and cons, as well as types of domains and how to get funding.
I particularly noticed in the media format discussion that widely-usable presentation formats (like MP3 for audio or Quicktime/Windows Media/RealMedia for video) aren’t good enough quality for permanent archival materials. They’re condensed for faster playback, which is great for users, but the book advises also keeping originals. So, a website may not be the best place to archive things for posterity. On top of that there are potential conversion issues from old analog forms of recording, so trying to construct an archive of audio or video could be a big money/time sink.
This discussion interested me because just last week I mentioned to a coworker, a professional and degree-holding librarian, that I’m taking a digital history class, and her first question was, “Do you think libraries and archives will go digital soon and there won’t be any paper archives left? Are you digitizing things so you can throw the originals away?” Maybe paper is easier to digitize than audio and video, and I imagine fewer paper books will be printed in the future, but if other archivists are anything like me, they’re not going to want to throw stuff away. We might digitize things for public viewing and general research, but I think we’ll always want originals for seriously in-depth and detailed work, and it sounds like we’ll especially need archives for the new digital media we’re creating.
(If you’re interested in this topic, digitization is the main focus of chapter 3. It’s not on our blogging schedule, but again, you can read it for free on the book’s website.)
Website: The Theban Mapping Project
This site is a goldmine for anyone interested in ancient Egypt. They’ve put together a complete interactive map of the entire Valley of the Kings! You can click on individual tombs, and for each one you can watch a tour, look at a schematic, read about the people buried there, see lists of items recovered from the site, and more. This is great for enthusiasts who can’t afford a trip to Egypt, but I can also imagine how useful it might be for professionals. If I was trying to write something on Egypt, I’d be saying “Let me check something right quick” about every five seconds and running to this site to compare tomb angles and excavation dates. The site also has a detailed, zoomable aerial photo of the Theban Necropolis, a small directory of articles, a bibliography, a timeline, links, and other resources. If you’re writing about ancient Egypt, fiction or nonfiction, professional or especially amateur with limited resources, you’ll go nuts about this site.