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L-95. Born-Digital Materials: Theory & Practice

Matthew Kirschenbaum & Naomi Nelson

This course will introduce students to the challenges of acquiring, processing, managing and providing access to the class of cultural heritage materials known as “born-digital.” Born-digital materials are those that began life on a computer, rather than as digitized surrogates of real-world artifacts. Contemporary collections of “papers” are often therefore hybrid collections, with disks, CDs, tapes, and sometimes entire computers commingling with more traditional kinds of archival content. Archivists now also preserve records created and stored in the cloud—including blogs, tweets, avatars, Facebook pages, and Google Docs.  While this course will focus mainly on examples drawn from literature, popular culture, and the arts, the basic principles will be applicable to many other domains, including government, public policy, industry, science, and medicine.

The course is aimed primarily at archivists, manuscript curators, and others charged with managing this important new class of cultural record, as well as those scholars who might expect to make use of born-digital material in their research. Textual scholars and bibliographers are also a primary audience, as increasingly electronic books and electronic documents are critical elements of contemporary textual transmission. There will be significant emphasis on digital forensics, both its principles and application. Other topics to be covered include preservation metadata; data migration from obsolescent media; emulation; authenticating electronic records; appraisal; donor relationships; new challenges in scholarly communication; intellectual property and copyright law; the ethics of access to electronic records; Web archiving and the “cloud”; ebooks as archival objects; and case studies drawn from current work with electronic literary materials, computer games, and digital art. Above all, the class strives to make the case for the materiality of digital objects, and the richness and diversity of engagement they can inspire.

Participants are required to bring a laptop with them to class.

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Course Resources

Course History

2010

Matthew Kirschenbaum and Naomi Nelson teach this course for the first time.