800 Posts Later: Reflections on teaching digital history with a public course blog

This is a draft that has been kicking around for a while in a few different forms, wanted to see it out in the world so I’m putting it up here on the blog. 

Now that the novelty of academic blogging has worn off, what are we left with? A decade ago, it seemed blogging was emerging as a core practice of scholarly writing. I speak specifically about history and the humanities, but the trend seems true for a range of other fields too. In 2005 the History News Network began recognizing the best history blogs with a series of awards shared out at the American Historical Association’s annual meetings. In 2006, Dan Cohen’s made the case for academic blogging in “Professors, Start Your Blogs.” A year later, academic blogging itself would be explored and extolled as a new literacy in scholarly communications. By 2015, academic blogging itself had become a subject of in depth analysis as part of the infrastructure of scholarly communications.

In the resulting decade, blogging appears to have stabilized into a persistent form of public writing. However, it does not seem to be poised for substantial further growth. Some scholars, librarians, and archivists blog. Most do not. Of those that do blog, they largely seem to do so a lot less. Analysis of the growth of blogging in the digital humanities suggests that the peak moment of growth in the field was in fact in 2008.  Indicative of this change, In 2011, the History News Network made the seventh and last set of history blog awards. The lack of growth of blogging has been largely attributed to the mainstreaming of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.

Using Blogs for Graduate Seminars 

When academic blogging was emerging as a new literacy and scholarly form in academia, it made a lot of sense for digital history, humanities and library and archives inclined educators to explore introducing blogging as a part of digital humanities pedagogy. In that context, in 2012, I offered a perspective on these issues in The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends. Notably, that contribution, like many of the original contributions to the first Debates in the Digital Humanities, began as an entry in a series of blog posts. In that blog-post-turned-essay, I reported on the results of teaching my first graduate seminar, a digital history course, through a public course blog. Now 8 years, 9 seminars, 818 student blog posts, and 2057 blog comments later, after the hype of academic blogging has faded, I thought it might be good to circle back and interrogate the extent to which the potential of this form of open public writing has lived up to its potential.

While blog boosterism has faltered, the practices around course blogging in the humanities in particular, seem to steadily continue. In this context of the stabilization of blogging as a form of public writing how do we understand the value of public blogging as a pedagogical practice in the humanities and social sciences? I’ve gone back and looked at some of my students reactions over time to my use of course blogging and thought it might be interesting to share them here. It seems somewhat natural to post about them here on my blog.

Functions of a Public Course Blog

In The Public Course Blog: The Required Reading We Write Ourselves for the Course That Never Ends.  I made three primary claims about what I saw as the central value of the public course blog as a teaching mode. As a starting point, it is worth fully articulating each of these concepts.

  • Blogging enabled a shift from teaching as knowledge dissemination to teaching as knowledge production: Where classes generally require students to produce writing read by the instructor, by implementing a public course blog students were instead writing for each other and also for others outside and beyond the course.
  • Blogging enabled extending courses through time and space:  Where courses function as discrete classrooms that persist for a fixed semester of time, a public course blog could both spatially and temporarily extend the reach of a course. Teaching using the same course blog allowed for students to encounter and engage with previous writing for the course and could enable students from prior classes to engage with current students.
  • Blogging enabled students to write for and connect with broader audiences:  Students participating in the course were not only writing for each other, but they could also interact with the broader digital history community. That is, through the blog students could interact with the creators of tools and scholarship via the public blog.

Positive but somewhat mixed reactions from students

Overall, all ten of the graduate seminars I have thought through the course blogging platform have been well received in student course reviews. Most of these courses have been a digital public history methods seminar (see the syllabus from 2011, 2012, 2015, Summer 2015 , 2018, 2019, and 2020 versions of the course.) I also used the same approach to teach a Digital Art Curation seminar in 2016, and a Digital Preservation seminar in 2016 and 2018. I decided not to use the same approach for an online Digital Curation Policy and Ethics seminar I taught in 2019 (I had internal course discussion boards for that in part to facilitate more candid discussions). I also decided not to use that approach for the online course I taught on organizational leadership for libraries and archives last semester, in fall of 2020.

For context, this blogging assignment has been part of work with face-to-face classes. That is until spring 2020 when my digital history methods course shifted rapidly into an online course. Of note, I’m about to start teaching the spring 2021 version of that course which will be all online.

The numerical scores from student reviews  for each of those courses rank them higher than the median values for both the departments and colleagues that the courses are taught in. That offers, at least preliminary support for the idea that the public course blog, a central component of each of these courses, can be part of an effective approach to teaching and learning. That noted, delving into anonymous comments from students offer a chance to explore some of the varied ways that students have responded to this as a teaching too.

Blogging kept it interesting

Over the last decade writing as part of online discussions in course management systems has become an increasingly routine part of teaching for college courses. To this end, one of the students reflected that they found, “blogging was an enjoyable way to get to know the class over the semester and the less formal tone kept it from being a chore.”

This student went on to observe that they “have come to loath the mandatory discussion board participation in all my classes over the semester” and that they were “surprised with how much I enjoyed writing for the public course blog.” In this context, the goal of writing for broader audiences identified in my original objectives for course blogging appears to have indeed made this form of class writing more engaging.

This kind of general positive response to course blogging largely fits with additional feedback I have received on course design. With that noted, those aspects of writing for a broader audience have also resulted in specific related negative feedback from some students.

Finding the right rhythm for blogging and reading

One student explained that they were “too time-crunched and overwhelmed trying to read and understand the material to try to engage in a public intellectual discussion about my own or others posts.” This observation is an important one that I have been working to reflect on and refine my approach to. On some level, asking students to process readings and then engage in discussion of the readings in advance of a class session in which we then further engage in discussion  can create  significant opportunities for redundancy.

This sentiment was shared by another student who noted that they found the requirement to “write/comment/discuss ad nauseam” made it “impossible to keep up.” Throughout both of these students comments it becomes clear that it is challenging to establish and manage a rhythm for the course between the function of the blog as a place for discussion and the function of the face to face situation of the class. Resolving this issue is challenging. Many of the graduate students in the courses I teach are taking multiple graduate seminars while also often working full time jobs. To that end, I’ve worked over time to try and pace the volume of reading better and to lower the total number of times I ask students to blog for the course.

Notably, I have consistently observed over the course of teaching various instances of these classes through the blog that different students participate to varying degrees in the online discussions and the face-to-face discussions. To that end, it does appear that providing the two, potentially complementary, spaces for discussion to occur are creating opportunities for students to engage in discussion in ways they find most comfortable. Still, the comments from students also clearly suggest that the multiplicity of places for discussion also promote a kind of anxiety about a course being always on.

Engaging with “the profession in the real world”

Accepting the challenges and issues that are presented by the integration of blogging as a form of public writing in the course, there are also notable strengths that come through in this form of teaching. One student’s explanation of the role of blogging in their learning experience underscores several of these points. In their words, “Trevor…was always looking for ways to engage us with the profession in the real world.”

As a specific example of how I supported their engagement with the “profession in the real world” they mention my “referring working professionals in the field to student posts on the class blog via social media.” In keeping with my objectives for using the public writing function of the blog as a means to connect students with professionals in the field I will regularly share out examples of particularly thoughtful student posts and connect them with others working on those issues over Twitter. This kind of direct interaction with the people behind the papers, the tools, or the platforms we are working with can have a really powerful effect in the classroom.

The student who wrote that comment ended by asserting that, “In Trevor’s class I felt that I was treated as a professional and expected to perform accordingly, a challenge that I very much appreciated.” Blogging wasn’t the only part of the course that they asserted supported that feeling, but they did directly connect the concept of public writing, writing for an audience and connecting with that audience beyond their classroom, as something that supported that.

A Future for the Public Course Blog

Dighist.org has come to present a significant collection of research and writing of students in public. While most student work in course discussion spaces is erased and overwritten shortly after it is created these posts, for the most part, persist. Given that the bulk of the courses taught on and through this platform are digital public history courses it makes sense that this platform functions as a way for students to engage in this for of public writing.

With that noted, part of my original concept for teaching through the public course blog was that blogging was an increasingly important form of academic public writing that it was significant for students to be learning. It appears now that even when I had started using blogging as a means for teaching in 2012 academic blogging had already reached its saturation point. Where at one point it appeared as if scholars of the future might each maintain and manage their own blogs as a kind of public research journal, it now appears to be the case that blogging has matured into a somewhat niche form of academic journaling.

In this context, and with these notes from students on the ups and downs of academic blogging, what do we make of the public course blog? I believe the strong positive reactions to the role of the public course blog suggest that students do indeed largely find value in this approach to teaching. With that noted, I am also sympathetic to the concept that an always on kind of course with considerable reading and writing isn’t particularly sustainable for all students.

Given all this, I’m still a believer in the value that public course blogs can offer to graduate seminar design. With that noted, I think a lot of my initial takes on why this would be useful don’t hold up. Blogging didn’t become a “new literacy” for scholarly communication. It’s a thing that some academics do but that most don’t. To that end there isn’t necessarily a general value for grad students to learn about blogging.

With that noted, if you want to do work in public history, or in libraries and archives, it turns out that blogging does persist as a valuable tool in the toolkit of social media communications. Organizations continue to use blogs alongside social media platforms to communicate with their audiences. In that context, learning how to use wordpress and thinking about audiences and public writing on history is inherently useful as a skill for folks that are interest in public history. I think that leaves me at the point where I’m going to continue to use public course blogging when it’s inherently relevant to the context and goals of the course.

To that end, in the last few years I’ve taught two courses that didn’t use the same public course blog platform. In one case,  the course is focused on digital curation policy and ethics, and I wanted to make sure that students felt comfortable discussing their own experiences with ethical and policy related challenges and dilemmas relating to digital curation and it struck me that this was not a great context for pushing students outward into public writing. Similarly, for the leadership and organizational theory course I taught, I wanted to make sure that students had a space where they could share candid reactions and reflections on their work experiences and on readings about workplaces. In both of those cases, I think setting up a more closed and temporary space for course discussions and student journaling worked a lot better then it would have if students were trying to filter things through what they would be comfortable saying in a more public forum.

Processing 2020: Going Inside, Supporting, and Learning

As the end of the year comes to a close, I generally make time organize and synthesize what I’ve been up to across different parts of my work each year. You can see my reflections at the end of 20192018, 20172015,  20142013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of metacognition, so I get a lot out of taking time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

Going Inside 

Looking back at those blog posts from years gone by just draws attention to how dramatically different the world feels now. I also don’t think I’m really at the point where I can process the year. Marjee and I rang in the last New Year with hikes in the Torres del Paine, at the literal end of the earth. Then… so much of the rest of the year feels like a blur.  As the Pandemic hit and we both shifted into being in and around our home and our very local community. On multiple levels this felt like “going inside”, which also makes me think about one of my favorite John Fursciante songs. We ‘re inside our home far more than we have been in any previous year and I think we were inside our heads and reflective in ways that we haven’t been in previous years.

Growing as a supporter and facilitator

As the team at work shifted to an all online mode, I’ve been consistently impressed with how much I’ve seen folks help to support each other and find ways to grow and learn and get things done together. I’ve been increasingly transitioning my efforts in my work to focus on how to be a better supporter and facilitator for a team that continues to grow.

I was excited to interview some folks who joined our team this year about their work and goals. You can find those interviews here:  Web Archiving Virtually In Residence: An Interview with Meghan LyonDiving into Digital Content Management: An Interview with Mark Lopez10 Weeks of Digital Content Management at a Distance: An Interview with Junior Fellow Randi Proescholdt.

I taught two grad seminars, my Digital History Methods Seminar started out face to face and shifted online in the spring as the pandemic hit. Students worked up some really fun and creative projects and I was impressed by how they rolled with transitioning into an online format for the second half of the semester. My library organization theory seminar ran entirely online. It was the first time that I taught the library org theory course, and I found it really rewarding to engage in that kind of meta level discussion about navigating and working to improve library, archives, and museum organizations. In working on that course, I also read a lot more scholarship and work in management, business, public policy, and related fields which has been helpful in my own development of ideas about how organizations can better need the needs of both their constituencies and the people that make them run.

Reading and Sharing

While the year has been challenging, i’ve gotten a lot from the introspective space of all of it. I read a lot more than I have in previous years, we rode our bikes around the extensive trails in our community. I had a lot of fun talking about my digital preservation book on the Archives in Context podcast. Even before the pandemic, I was reflecting on my relationship with the end of the THATcamp era. I got pretty into TikTok, which, at one point sharing out a bunch of links to how people play with history on TikTok and also reflecting a bit on how folks told the story of the election in maps on the platform. Along with that, a few essays I’d collaborated with others on over time made their way into publication in 2020, one on digital sources and digital archives and another on studying digital culture in web archives.

I decided not to start writing a book, which feels like growth for me.  I’ve got a tendency to just keep piling up projects and it felt good this time to really try on the idea of a project and then just deicide I’d rather spend that time cooking, organizing my closet, and reading.

I enjoyed learning more about how to work with video editing and had a ton of fun helping Marjee work on her documentary film.

I was really thrilled to end up being a finalist for the Digital Preservation Teaching and Communication Award. I made this video about it for the review panel which I think underscores how meaningful that particular distinction is to me.

I was invited to contribute to the Biblioteca Nacional de México’s  Día Mundial de la Preservación Digital 2020 video series. Which will also ensure lasting documentation of my brief stint of having a goatee during quarantine.

Looking and Seeing

Thought I would leave off with some “How it started, How it’s going” run through photos. This is just a smattering of pictures from my phone in order.

MapTok: Watching the Election on TikTok

Collage of TikToks about the election

Over the last year I’ve come to really enjoy seeing the wide range of really creative things that folks are doing on TikTok. For example, I think it’s fun to see what folks do with history on the platform.

The platform is largely written off as something frivolous, but I’m routinely impressed by how people are using looping audio and video and green screen tools to create genuinely engaging stuff and thought provoking media.

As I was compulsively refreshing various online dashboard/election maps last week to see how the election was playing out, I was also switching over to TikTok a lot.

On TikTok, users were playing with those maps too, and I started thinking that by sequencing those videos you could see a bit of the emotional rollercoaster of the election playing out.

Below is the result of selecting and sequencing some of these. I included the text and hashtags that go along with each video to offer some context. I think it hangs together as a short documentary film about the election, data visualization, and storytelling on TikTok.

In these videos the states become characters with different personas. Memes like “I did it” and “what was the reason” become conversations between the states on the maps. A states teaches other states how to do a TikTok dance to a remix of a Russian Honey Nut Cheerios jingleLorde lyrics answer questions about why the map looks the way it does.

Looking at these reminds me a bit of some of the ideas that Dragan Espenschied was putting out in Big Data, Tiny Narration. That is, as we all kept refreshing these maps which pull together real time data, a whole cast of folks was sorting through what that data meant and doing creative storytelling about what it meant to them.

TikToks Included

  1. https://www.tiktok.com/@dancinchaz/video/6883907430225333510
  2. https://www.tiktok.com/@athanlau/video/6891198051642313989
  3. https://www.tiktok.com/@owenamooney/video/6891325484341234946
  4. https://www.tiktok.com/@conwilk/video/6891436701986606342
  5. https://www.tiktok.com/@n8yaz/video/6892560856945544453
  6. https://www.tiktok.com/@kaylabaumgardner2/video/6892147427181120773
  7. https://www.tiktok.com/@scoliosisth0t/video/6892141569374194950
  8. https://www.tiktok.com/@therealalisharai/video/6891947362978221318
  9. https://www.tiktok.com/@yasminghasiri/video/6891787644779433221
  10. https://www.tiktok.com/@lainabainaxo/video/6892197715942378758
  11. https://www.tiktok.com/@heyitsryanelise/video/6891987314487086342
  12. https://www.tiktok.com/@meliodas_jonn/video/6892427201053052165
  13. https://www.tiktok.com/@.devon.james/video/6892152160117591301
  14. https://www.tiktok.com/@marejonj/video/6892446640905440518

Achieving Organizational Excellence Course Syllabus

Achieving Organizational Excellence syllabus.

Over the summer I’ve been  developing a syllabus and plan for teaching LBSC 631, Achieving Organizational Excellence at the University of Maryland’s College of Information.  It is the leadership/management/organizational theory course, and it’s one of the three core courses for the UMD iSchool’s MILS program. I just sent the syllabus out to everyone in the class and I’m also posting the syllabus here for anyone who might be interested.

This is a new course for me. Over the last five years I’ve taught five other graduate seminars for the iSchool, but those were all digital curation, preservation, and policy courses.

My section of the course was originally intended to be a face to face course, so in transitioning it to an online course I ended up playing around with approaches to make sure that there is a lot of flexibility in the course design. I sent out a questionnaire  to students in advance of the semester which confirmed my sense that there would be some anxiety about both a desire for synchronous interactions from some students and concerns about how to make  synchronous  interactions work for everyones schedules during the ongoing pandemic. I’m hopeful that I’ve figured out some ways to build a lot of flexibility in on the course but it will be curious to see how it all plays out. I should note that a lot of my approach to the design of this course is anchored in a fantastic education leadership seminar I took in my Ph.D program with David Brazer.

Reading on How Orgs work and how to work Orgs

I’ve largely developed the course around Bolman and Deal’s Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership which I’ve written about before. I like how they approach work in organization in terms of competing frames; structural, human resources, political, and symbolic. I also really appreciate that their book is more about organizational theory than it is about leaders and leadership. In large part, I think the cult of leadership books on what leaders do misses out on how things really get done in the complex systems that are organizations. I’ve paired that book with some sections from Evans & Greenwell’s Management Basics for Information Professionals, which is great at being more directly focused on issues in libraries and archives but I think less strong as an overarching toolkit for understanding organizations.

Along with those two books, I’ve also assigned two other books that we will focus on for individual weeks in the semester. We will read Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, which I continue to find to be a really accessible point of entry into a lot of work in the psychology of motivation. We will also read Systems Thinking For Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, which is both a great point of entry into systems thinking and also a useful book in getting us to think beyond the boundaries of individual organizations to collectively enable social change.

I’ve tried to round out readings from those books with a mixture of articles. It ended up working out that I’ve got a lot of straightforward articles from Library Leadership & Management which I’ve tried to round out with much more critical work, largely from In the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Alongside the readings, I’ve built in a few situations where students need to go out explore some resources that I think everyone in library school needs to know about. Things like the Library Journal Placement and Salaries reports, the AFL-CIO“Library Professionals: Facts, Figures, and Union Membership” results from the IMLS annual  public library survey and both the ARL Salary data and general ARL library statistics. While all these reports are pretty dry, they are also amazingly useful resources for understanding how pay works in the field and how resources are located across and within library organizations.

Reflection, Introspection, and Engagement through Assignments

I spent a lot of time trying to think of what the right kinds of assignments are for a course like this. I think this kind of course really needs to support students in working to process and synthesize their own notions of how organizations work. To that end, I decided that a core part of the course would involve weekly journaling about course readings.

At the same time, I wanted to make sure that there were opportunities for students to connect with each other. This was originally intended to be a face to face course. Beyond that, there are actually two sections of this course this semester and the other one was an online course from the start. So functionally this section of the course is all students that had explicitly opted to take a face to face version of the course. It’s great that the course can work well as an online course, but I fully realize that this isn’t what students had signed up for. Beyond that it’s a seminar with 30 students, which presents challenges for having everyone do anything together in any situation. In light of that, I worked out a process where students are going to have peer learning partners that they set up time to check in with each week and who they will read and comment on each others journals. Over the course of the semester the partners are going to rotate four times, so everyone will have a few weeks with a different partner. My hope is that this helps scaffold everyone into some rich discussions and explorations of the issues that we get into over the course of the semester.

The last major set of assignments are focused on having each student do an interview with someone working in a leadership/management role in a library or archives who they will then write an essay about that connects that persons ideas about leadership with readings from the course. My current concept is that for all the students that opt in, I will go ahead and put out an open access book of all these essays on LISSA. My hope with this assignment is that it provides a chance for everyone in the class to do some networking and meet folks working in the field while also giving us a chance to make something together that everyone can point to after the semester as an outcome from the course. I’ll be curious to see how it goes!

On Digital History: Audiences, Archives, Tools, and Sources

I’ve been kicking around the idea of working up a proposal for a book about digital history for a few years. At this point I’ve taught digital history grad seminars for a decade. Through teaching that course I think I’ve developed a particular take on the subject. That said, every time I’ve started to sketch out ideas about it I end up running out of steam.

When I went back to review a lot of work that I’ve published about digital history as part of my most recent attempt to explore this idea I ended up deciding that the set of articles and blog posts I’ve written really cover what I want to cover and say at this point. So instead of continuing  to think about developing a book proposal on this I thought I would instead just share something that works as an index to a lot of the writing I’ve done on the subject. 

Engaging Audiences and Users around Digital Collections

The web presents new ways for historians to engage with audiences and communities. I wrote Digital Cultural Heritage and the Crowd as a piece to work out a series of frames for thinking about inviting user participation with digital collections through crowdsourcing.

Many organizations produce online exhibits or narratives to go along with digital collections, but there is not much guidance on how to go about that kind of writing. While working on an online exhibit a number of years ago, I wrote up and shared a guide for writing text for online exhibits. That same project prompted me to write Curating in the Open: A Case for Iteratively and Openly Publishing Curatorial Research on the Web. That essay was largely about the way that the research and writing process for an online exhibit could become more public and open up points of entry for others to explore digital collections. 

Approaching and Understanding Digital Archives 

As historians get more involved with digital collections that work increasingly blurs boundaries between work historians do and the work of librarians and archivists. Thomas Padilla and I work to lay out a lot of foundational and definitional issues around digital archives and sources in Digital Sources & Digital Archives: The Evidentiary Basis of Digital History. I also explored some of the connections between work archivists are doing with Jesse Johnston in Archivists as Peers in Digital Public History. 

Connecting back to the points about engaging with audiences and participatory aspects of work with history, in Archives as a Service: From Archivist as Producer and Provider to Archivist as Facilitator and Enabler I made a case for revisiting notions around archives as a product and focused on a range of ways that community archives and other explorations of participatory ways of engaging with communities to organize, preserve and interpret the past. 

Digital History Tools and Computational Analysis

Toward the end of my time at the Center for History and New Media I was working on a project to explore various text mining and computational data analysis tools for historical research with Fred Gibbs. The results of that work turned into a series of essays that came out in 2012 and 2013. In Building Better Digital Humanities Tools: Toward Broader Audiences and User-Centered Designs Fred and I reported out on a range of issues that illustrated a lack of user centered design approaches to many digital humanities tools.

In parallel to that, we worked up The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing, which largely focuses on ways that historians can integrate computational data analysis into historical narrative writing. While working on both of those projects I spun Defining Data for Humanists: Text, Artifact, Information or Evidence? which is a shorter piece that attempts to work across the various ways that historians can approach data. 

Engaging With and Interpreting Born Digital Sources

Over time, I’ve worked on a number of projects that explore issues with interpretation of born digital sources and historical thinning and argumentation. One of my first explorations in this area was Modding the history of science: Values at play in modder discussions of Sid Meier’s Civilization an essay that focused on how a popular video game represented the history of science and the way that its user community was imaging and altering the game as documented in online discussion forums. Rebecca Mir and I took a somewhat similar approach in Modeling Indigenous Peoples: Unpacking Ideology in Sid Meier’s Colonization but in this case focusing on issues in the representation of indigenous peoples in video games.

In Tripadvisor rates Einstein: Using the social web to unpack the public meanings of a cultural heritage I used some of the same approaches to doing research grounded in discussion in online communities but instead of studying a video game I was studying online reviews of a memorial on Tripadvisor and Yelp. While working on those projects I was also working on  Lego, Handcraft, and Costumed Zombies: What Zombies do on Flickr which is more about the way that Flickr and it’s discovery system for photos was enabling new ways to explore and study trends in vernacular culture. In The invention and dissemination of the spacer gif: implications for the future of access and use of web archives Grace Thomas and I dove into the kinds of historical research one can get into on the history of web design through working with web archives. 

22 History TikToks

I’ve been surprised to see how often historical topics or themes come up in TikToks. So I went ahead and pulled together this listicle of 22 history TikToks. Some of them are pretty funny. Some of them have gotten quite a few views.  I think it’s interesting to see the way that young people are fitting historical info into the rhetorical forms that play out on TikTok.

The French Revolution

@rose_freya_And that’s on the reign of terror ##history ##foryou ##fyp♬ original sound – kasey.smo

Zimmerman telegram

@meme_kaiserHey Mexico you trynna invade the US? ##fyp ##greenscreen ##foryoupage ##tiktok ##PlayWithLife ##writethelyrics ##petparent ##ChilisBirthday ##history♬ Let’s go! – kevwithin

Martin Luther 

@baileyelizajust 1517 tings (shoutout to my art history zoom class for the inspo) ##foryou ##fyp ##history ##zoomuniversity ##apeuro♬ original sound – kasey.smo

The Plague

@zeauxiehas this been done before ? i sure hope not ##history ##fyp♬ Original Sound – yungtubesock

History of Psychology

@slaviccaesarSome AP Psych ##appsych ##psych ##foryou ##history ##historymemes♬ This Could Be Us – Rae Sremmurd

 

 

WWII 

@daddythanosschmeetThese alliance systems in Europe can date back to the Austrian-Prussian war of 1866. ##fyp ##foryoupage ##History ##historymemes ##WWI♬ roped me – nibbavids

Peppered moths

@slaviccaesarThe amount of times I’ve had to learn about these moths ##apbio ##historymemes ##history ##foryou ##fyp♬ original sound – chaser

Francis Drake

@annemariehw##foryoupage ##history ##historymemes♬ original sound – annemariehw

Colonization 

@eboyavocadoThis deserves so much more love than it’s getting ##marchforsisterhood ##nativeamerican ##british ##spanish ##french ##apush ##history ##comedy ##fyp ##viral♬ original sound – jamesc_a

History of “Brah”

@reu3enbruh moment… hopefully this hasn’t been done yet ##getmefamous ##foryoupage ##fyp ##bruhmoment ##foryou ##inthecrowd♬ ear rape remix – ryleemgibson

German war debt 

@cavestripperMaking jokes about war reparations instead of lifting modern marks check mate buddy♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Treaty of Versailles

@toombraiderWTH tiktok took this down ##SpicySnap ##greenscreengaming ##SavingsShuffle♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Boston Tea Party 

@mattmoseleyOnly intellectuals will get this ##foryou ##foryoupage ##SpicySnap ##SavingsShuffle ##thatsrelatable ##tinymeatgang♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Louisiana purchase

@alana.luisaaI’m reposting this cause I think my APUSH TikTok was better than everyone else’s. ##APUSH ##louisianapurchase ##fyp♬ original sound – alana.luisaa

@jacksonnburnsGuys please come I need support ##foryou ##fyp ##foryoupage ##viral ##history ##louisianapurchase♬ original sound – jacksonnburns

Jefferson & States Debts 

@naayelydoes this count as studying for my APUSH test? ##APUSH ##history ##foryoupage ##hamilton ##SpicySnap ##SavingsShuffle ##thomasjefferson ##greenscreen♬ original sound – adamcoil74

Worst Presidents 

@mx_fannin##greenscreen part 3 (2/2) of 45 ##presidents ##usa ##history ##funfacts ##thomasjefferson ##xyzbca ##controvercy ##president ##fyp ##politics♬ Roses – Imanbek Remix – SAINt JHN

Andrew Jackson & the Trail of Tears

@empress_of_history##apushmemes ##apush ##andrewjackson ##trailoftears ##ushistory♬ original sound – jamesc_a

@basicallybillnye39Trail of tears:##fyp##foryou##history##historymeme##andrewjackson##school##morph##neverzero##nativeamerican##4♬ Back Up – DeJ Loaf feat. Big Sean

@aidenloya##greenscreen and that is on trail of tears ☹️##fyp ##apush♬ I HAVE MY OWN CHICKEN – aryamour_

The Civil War 

@_justindCivil war ##iykyk ##foryou ##peaceandlove ##southcarolina♬ Wait i have an idea – number_1_spongebob_fan

Protestant Reformation

@raguwuspaghettisauceHMU for addy ##fyp ##function ##martinluther ##reformation ##apeuro ##foryoupage ##protestant♬ Faneto – Chief Keef

Book.Files and the Inversion of Born Digital

Below are three images of my book, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation. The first is a picture I took of a print copy of the book. The second is the book cover on Amazon. The third is from Johns Hopkins University Press page for the book.

One of them is not like the other. Can you spot the difference?

The first one, the print copy, is the outlier. It has a completely different picture than the latter two. It’s almost the same but not quite. The picture on the cover of the print book was taken by Jermaine Taylor and posted to instagram shortly after I got my floppy disk tattoo in 2017. The second is a photo I took of my arm, when I couldn’t source a higher resolution file of Jermaine’s instagram photo. I emailed both of them to the press as an idea for the cover of the book. I took the second photo because I was concerned that the instagram photo might not be at a high enough resolution to use in print.

The photo I took is, in all the places where book covers appear, the cover of the book. It is also the cover of the eBook version. With that said, all the print copies of the book actually have Jermaine’s photo on their cover. Which in all honesty I think is an objectively better picture. As far as I can ascertain, at some point whoever was actually doing the layout for the print book ended up deciding to use the photo from instagram instead of the photo I took. I think it was a good call.

I proposed that picture of my tattoo as a cover for the book because I thought it spoke to some of the themes in the book. The floppy disk is a medium on which we write digital content. Beyond that it’s now the save icon. Jermaine encoded an instance of that icon with ink in my skin. Much of the book is about how messy and complicated the world of digital content is, in large part, because it’s the result of the accrual of the work of people kludging together things on-top of the work of other people. The fact that there are now these variances in the book cover out in the world itself helps to further demonstrate that point. Online, and in its eBook form there exists one cover based on a photo I took. But based on decisions made in the workflow and process that created the physical copies of my book, the print copies all have Jermaine’s instagram photo on them. The messiness of the digital plays out through the workflows and processes that create digital books. Some of those files get printed out. I interacted with a ton of digital files in getting the book to the publisher and then a range of digital files had lives I don’t know about that resulted in the production of the tangible book.

I offer this anecdote as my own personal point of entry and connection to the Matthew Kirschenbaum’s m recently published report Books.Files Preservation of Digital Assets in the Contemporary Publishing Industry

Book.Files and the Inversion of Born Digital 

If you’re work has any connections to book publishing and production or collections in libraries and archives related to creative production you are going to want to make time to download and read Books.Files Preservation of Digital Assets in the Contemporary Publishing Industry. The report does an excellent job in providing an overview of the shift to digital workflows in the publishing industry. In this respect, it makes for a great companion to the 2011 report from CRL on digital workflows in the news industry Preserving News in the Digital Environment: Mapping the Newspaper Industry in Transition. I’m always interested to see work like this that involves in-depth engagement with partners in the creative industries. 

From the Book.Files report you get a great sense of the handoffs that occur in the production, transmission, tracking and management of books as digital files. From all the handoffs of word files with track changes into processes with Adobe InDesign, through to XML files and or PDFs that become the basis of printing books or creating eBook files.

Below are some quotes I pulled out that I found particularly striking and relevant for thinking about collections for libraries and archives. 

  •  “As early as 1999, an article in Publishing Research Quarterly observed that publishing “is coming to mean producing digital content which can subsequently be delivered in different media, rather than producing books or journals””
  • “there is at least one simple, uncontestable fact that obtains for any book produced with commercial press processes in the last twenty years, and which will continue to obtain for the foreseeable future. That fact is this: a book is a file, which is to say it is a persistent digital asset stored in a digital repository somewhere.“
  • “A “book” is thus the born-digital potential for a file to become a book first, and a physical, tangible object in our hands only secondarily. Every new book on our shelves has its shadow in a digital file, or more precisely a set of digital files consisting of the various assets needed to bring the book into being. A physical book nowadays is a surrogate for a digital master.”
  • “Increasingly, this means that the EPUB file becomes the version of record for the book. If the publisher wishes to retain a separate format-independent rendition of the book, any changes or updates in the EPUB must then be back-propagated to the original XML in order to keep versions consistent.”

I think these observations, along with the rest of the report, offer an opportunity for folks that work with collecting, preserving, and providing access to books and records of the history of the book. My sense is that the results this kind of study in nearly any other creative industry would produce similar results. So I think the results here are relevant to anyone interested in the production and circulation of creative works and their histories. 

Born Digital is the Norm, Born Analog is the Outlier

The report hits home that cultural heritage institutions interested in collecting and preserving contemporary cultural works need to be centering digital content in their approaches.  Increasingly the physical objects that come into collections are themselves the digital surrogates and it’s worth asking when the print surrogate for the digital asset is good enough given that the source for that object is increasingly a digital resource. 

History of Creative Industries is Increasingly Born Digital 

The report illustrates the ongoing major shifts relevant to the records of cultural production. This has huge implications for special collections work that involves acquiring the archives of creative industries. At this point books are a key case study in this shift, but the same is true for photography, film, the performing arts, music, etc. Creative production has become almost an entirely digital set of workflow process and the future of archives of industries and creators in these media will involve engaging with these increasingly born digital content streams. 

Variance Abounds Across Digital Instantiations of Works

The report includes a series of examples of how and where variances enter into the workflows and processes as various stakeholders “touch” book files over the course of their production and the varied output files that are produced. The example of my book cover is in this case not an outlier, it’s  another example of kinds of variances that enter into the management of books as digital assets. In that cloud of files, it becomes increasingly difficult to talk about a definitive or authoritative copy of a work. My sense is that this issue of variance is going to become increasingly important for libraries, archives, and museums to figure out. On that front, I think some of Cathy Marshal’s work and  Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito’s work is relevant for further exploring this issue.

In Digital Copies and a Distributed Notion of Reference in Personal Archives Cathy Marshal explores the various kinds of copies and derivatives that people produce in managing and sharing videos and photos. Below is a map of the kinds of variances she observes.

Ultimately, Marshal argues for the need to step back from thinking of their being a canonical instance of a work and to instead embrace that what we are going to end up with is varied copies that instantiate important differences as those copies take on lives of their own. Significantly, this means stepping bak from the notion of “derivatives” to instead see each copy of a work as contributing to a distributed notion of it.

I think Marshal’s observations are relevant for thinking forward about how we likely want to approach all kinds of digital creative workflows; “we will not only want to see copies, but we‘ll also want to harmonize them, to harvest their metadata, to select among them. Instead of relying on a simple notion—the truth is in the cloud, embodied as a single reference copy—we will want to expand our sense of what is entailed by the notion of a reference copy and turn to a distributed, social model.”

In Re-collection: Art, New Media, and Social Memory  Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito also take a run at the idea of a canonical master file for any given work. They suggest that with digital media, in many cases instead of thinking about a master file it’s more important to be looking for what they call “mother files;” the editable files that enable a wide range of outputs. You can see more on their thinking in the pull quote from the book below.

Altogether I think the report makes for a great read and I think it helps to draw out some major issues facing libraries and archives for the future. More and more of the material of culture is digital from the start. The issues faced by the proliferation of variance and copies still something that we have a long way to go to fully understand and integrate into how we think about our work.

I’m curious for thoughts any and all of you have about the questions the report brings out.

 

Growing up with THATcamp

The Humanities and Technology Camp (THATCamp) has announced the program is sunsetting and is hosting a retrospective on the site. I’m crossposting some quick reflections there and here. 

I think I’ve been to at least 9 THATCamps. I was at the the first one at CHNM in 2008. I missed 2009. But I was at the CHNM ones in 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013. I also went to THATCamp NCHP in 2012 and then that I went to THATCamp Leadership in 2013, THATCamp DC in 2014, and THATCamp AHA in 2014.

In piecing that together, I’m realizing that I think it’s been six years since I’ve been to a THATCamp. So I went to 9 of them in one six-year period and apparently haven’t gone to any of them in the subsequent six-year period. Time is strange. The first one in 2008 feels like forever ago and the more recent ones feel like things that happened not that long ago. But I realize and recognize that the strangeness of time is also connected to how the camps fit into my career.

Running the registration desk with Dave Lester at THATcamp 2012 https://20.rrchnm.org/items/show/388

My First Camps

In 2008 I was finishing a masters degree and working on Zotero at CHNM. We got a lot of work done and we had a lot of fun. I kept buying shirts on Shirt.woot.  I have fond memories of going out to lunch with the group, setting up websites, buying up domain names, going out on the road to push open source software for reference management. The first THATcamp was wild. People came from all over and it was invigorating.

The idea of the unconference felt really powerful. Reserve some space on campus, set up a wordpress instance, buy some coffee and donuts, and let people sign up to propose things they wanted to talk about and then all of a sudden there was a whole conference happening. It was a great conference too. Folks left with a whole bunch of new connections and awareness of a bunch of projects that related to work they were interested in.

That was very much my experience at least. At those first camps I found myself meeting all these new folks and connecting with new work and ideas. There were undergrads there that just figured out how to do some cool thing and they were teaching full professors about it. The ‘un’ ness of it was really strong. It felt like there was buy in that

There was just a lot of inversion of hierarchies. As I wrote about in 2011, it felt like there was this DIY spirit that animated many the work in the space and that was invigorating. It’s also funny looking back on that blog post and seeing that people left comments there. In a lot of ways the early days of blogging feel like part of the THATCamp heyday when we operated in some pretty fundamentally different conversation spaces.

My Later Camps

At THATcamp NCPH 2012 https://ncph.org/history-at-work/return-of-thatcamp-ncph/

I have less vivid memories of some of the later camps. That said, when I did that run of them in 2012, 2013 and 2014 it felt like the concept of the camps had become a rather well-functioning system. It also started to feel like a lot of the same conversations were playing out again at some of the camps.

It was fun to take part in that. It felt great to become more of a facilitator of some of that. That said, in some of the later camps there would also be times when someone would pitch “Shouldn’t there be a thing like X, what if we started making it right now!?” and then one of the folks who had been coming for a while would chime in with something like “That sounds a lot like A, B, C, D, or E and four out of five of those letters ended up being unsustainable for somewhat intractable reasons 1, 2, and 3.” In that context, I think I burned out a little from some of the can do attitude of just roll yourselves up and make a thing ideals that I feel like were so central to THATcamp. The hustle of that DIY world and impulse gets exausting. It’s also clear that the big, hard, challenging seemingly intractable things keep coming up and don’t lend themselves well to the format. It also feels like we’ve lost a lot of the optimism that surrounded those events, I think in part as it feels like the community became more aware and engaged with how problematic the values at play in digital technology ideologies are.

THATCamp Temporal Vertigo

Thinking back over the 12 years from the beginning of THATcamp makes me feel something a bit like a professional vertigo. When the first camp happened, I was 23 and half way through a master’s program and about two years into really working my first full-time job. It felt so exciting to be connecting with folks at all levels of their careers and getting positive feedback about ideas I had for projects. It’s hard for me to process through what parts of my feelings and thoughts about the camps are about the events themselves and what parts are really about my growth and development. So take all of my reflections on this with a grain of salt. I don’ t believe I can separate out what parts of this are about me and what parts of them are about the events.

Growing through and and from THATCamp

With that said, it does feel like things have substantively changed in the digital history and digital humanities spaces since those camps. As areas like digital history and the digital humanities went through a range of periods of growth and faced substantive criticism they changed. In many ways I think they changed for the better. It feels like a more critical set of approaches and thinking going on across these spaces these days. As the fields THATCamp helped to energize have grown up it feels OK that we may have outgrown it as a tool.

With that said, I also accept that I can’t extract my history and experience from this perspective. I grew up professionally in dialog with those THATCamp events and I know they were formative in shaping how I think about and approach things and many of the collaborations and relationships that my career is anchored in.

A told, I think I mainly am left with a lot of gratitude for the chance to be in the place and time where THATCamp came together. I owe so much to the people who I was able to learn from in those events and they are going to forever be a foundational part of my career.

Digital Preservation, Digital History, & Digital Curation: A 2019 Year in Review

As the end of the year comes to a close, I make time organize and synthesize what I’ve been up to across different parts of my work each year. You can see my reflections at the end of 2018, 2017, 20152014, 2013, and 2012. I’m a big fan of the value of metacognition, so I tend to feel like I get a lot out of taking a little time to round up, reflect, and try and synthesize things at least once a year.

This year I’ve organized things into work managing and coaching teams at the Library of Congress, work communicating about digital preservation, and broader engagements in teaching, learning, and scholarship in digital history and digital curation. 

From Start-Up to Highly Productive Teams

DCM team members developing shared values. More on this on The Signal

In 2018, I worked to bring on 10 new staff who joined the Web Archiving Team as part of the newly formed Digital Content Management Section at the Library of Congress.

This year I was continually impressed by how the team was able to deliver results,  continuously improve our approach to planning, tracking, and executing projects, and at the same time have a lot of fun. You can get some sense of the kinds of things folks have been up to on the team through posts from the group on The Signal

In 2019, the team refined and published a set of values that guide our work, provided a deep dive into how web archives data works and published a series of derivative file datasets from web archives, (images, tabular data, audio, PDFs, PowerPoints). We also were able to complete  a multi-year effort to define and publish policy and guidance on managing digital collections in the Digital Collections Management Compendium. We helped advance parts of the Library of Congress Digital Collecting Plan, in areas including acquiring, preserving, and making available open access children’s books and open-access Latin American monographs. We were able to make available a corpus of 1.7 million digitized images from more than a hundred years of U.S. Telephone directories. We also had a great time hosting ARL’s Digital and Inclusive Excellence Fellows for a day to share information about various areas of work at the Library of Congress. Beyond The Signal, the team also published analysis of file extensions in the Library of Congress digital collections. I should note that the highlight reel from The Signal and our publications is just the tip of the iceberg of the work our section is making happen. Most of our work is inwardly focused and it’s only a small portion of the work that we draw attention to online. 

As our section moved out from its start-up phase into highly productive teams this year, we also worked through a series of transitions. Over the course of the year, four of the original ten team members that came on board in the beginning 2018 ended up advancing their careers into other roles at the Library of Congress or other libraries. Since then, two new team members have come on to fill their shoes and are already making great contributions to the work, and we are in the process of bringing on additional team members as well. I’ve been thrilled to see how throughout those transitions the teams have done a great job of prioritizing, rebalancing, shifting, and supporting each other as we review what we are able to pull off. I’m personally very proud of the culture and values we have established which I think is working to ensure that we can respond to change and ramp up and put on hold work as needed. 

Continuing to get the word out on Digital Preservation

This year I continued to spread the word about digital preservation and digital collections management. My third book, the Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, came out at the end of 2018. I’ve been thrilled with the great response it received over the course of 2019. In 2019 the book won two major awards the Association for Library Collections & Technical Services 2019 Outstanding Publication Award and the Society of American Archivists 2019 Waldo Gifford Leland Award. I found it deeply rewarding to win this kind of recognition from both the librarians of the ALA and the archivists of the SAA. 

Alongside the awards, in 2019 the book was positively reviewed in at least eight different journals; Archivar,  Mid-Atlantic ArchivistLibrary Resources and Technical Services, the Journal of Archival OrganizationMetropolitan Archivist, The Journal of the Archives and Records Association,  College and Research Libraries, and Archivaria. Mid way through the year, Johns Hopkins University Press reached out about publishing a second printing. It’s rewarding to see such a great response to the book and to hear about how it is helping a range of working librarians, archivists, and curators to advance their craft in ensuring enduring access to digital content. 

Presenting on Digital Preservation at the United Nations in Geneva.

Over the course of the year I was gave a series of major talks about digital preservation. I gave opening keynotes on digital preservation at the Federal Depository Libraries Conference, the Lapidus Initiative Digital Collections Fellowship Symposium, and the Simposio Internacional de la Maestría en Conservación de Acervos Documentales in Mexico City.  As an opening keynote for the Project Muse Partner meeting, Sayeed Choudhury interviewed me about key issues for scholarly publishing relating to digital preservation. I also gave invited lectures on digital preservation at the United Nations  in Geneva and the Zentralbibliothek Zürich.

Beyond talks specifically drawing from the book, I participated on a panel on preserving eBooks with colleagues from the British Library, Library Archives Canada, and the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek at the International Digital Preservation Conference in Amsterdam. I was invited to present as an expert on modeling digital preservation risks to the NIH sponsored National Academy of Sciences workshop on Forecasting Costs for Preserving, Archiving, and Promoting Access to Biomedical Data. At the Digital Library Federation Conference, I was invited alongside Dan Cohen, and Chela Weber to be a respondent to Carol Mandel’s recent work exploring the state of digital collecting and preservation. All together it was a great year for continuing to share out about digital preservation. 

Ongoing Digital History and Curation Teaching, Scholarship, & Service

Talking about design thinking at the University of Maryland.

Outside my digital preservation work, I continue to be engaged in a range of teaching, scholarship and service relating to digital history and digital curation more broadly.

I wrote a post on this blog asking some questions about the history of using the term archive as a verb. A chapter I wrote on service in archives, Archives as a Service: From Archivist as Producer and Provider to Archivist as Facilitator and Enabler, was published in Archival Values: Essays in Honor of Mark Greene. A review I wrote of Science in the Archives: Pasts, Presents, Futures was published in American Archivist. I also participated in a really fun panel on Documenting Online Cultures at the American Folklore Society’s Annual Meeting. I started working through some new material in an opening keynote I gave on The Centrality of Design Thinking and Scholarship for the Future of Library Practice at the University of Maryland’s Libraries Research and Innovative Practice Forum. 

In the spring taught my Digital Public History Methods graduate seminar for the 6th time at American University’s History Program. In recognition for ongoing work and teaching related to digital history, the program upgraded my title from lecturer to Public Historian in Residence. I continue to be impressed by the creativity and innovative thinking of students in the program.

In the Fall I taught a new course on Digital Curation Policy and Ethics for the University of Maryland’s iSchool. This was the first fully online course I’ve taught, so I was curious to see how it would go. Overall, I was consistently impressed by the quality of work students did. I hope many of those students go on to refine and revise some of the excellent papers they worked on for the course for publication. Students wrote about everything from ethical issues in algorithmic curation of news, to legal issues in digital reproductions of artworks, to ethical issues surrounding labor practices relating to digitization contracts. 

Teaching those two courses brings the total number of graduate seminars I’ve taught since 2011 to ten. I continue to enjoy the way that working in the classroom helps keep me sharp and offers me a chance to stay fresh on some of the fundamentals in both digital history and in digital curation. 

Along with  teaching and research,  I continued to participate as a board member for the Anacostia Trails Heritage Area, as a founding board member of Digital Cultural Heritage D.C., as a member of the CLIR Hidden Collections Digitization Program review panel, and as a member of the Digital Library Federation Advisory Committee. In short, I keep busy.

The book wall from readings this year.

I got a lot out of reading this year. I finally made time to read Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences and I can confirm it is indeed an outstanding resource for connecting work in science and technology studies with  work on knowledge infrastructure in library and information science. I read both The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex and Just Giving: Why Philanthropy Is Failing Democracy and How It Can Do BetterBoth offer powerful critiques on the effect of philanthropy on society. I’m thinking a lot about The Revolution Will Not be Funded. I think it opens up some really fundamental questions about how non-profits and philanthropy function in society. I got a lot out of readings on stoicism,  scrum, and re-reading Getting Things Done, and am still processing some of the ideas from the polemical It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work. 

Marjee and me as Kurt and Courtney.

Beyond all these aspects of work, Marjee and I had a lot of fun with other projects, friends, and family. She was the maid of honor and I was the best man at my Mom and Todd’s wedding outside Milwaukee. We both caught up with my family at an Owens’s family reunion in Holly, Michigan. I had a ton of fun backing up Marjee on two days of shooting footage at the Small Press Expo for what will be an amazing forthcoming documentary film. Last but not least, I think we made a pretty good Kurt and Courtney for Halloween.

Overall, this has been a great year. I very much enjoy the ability to work inside a huge cultural heritage organization and at the same time manage and develop teaching and scholarship along with that work. It seems like I’m hitting a good balance there. As far as goals for next year, the biggest thing I’ve been trying to focus on is being very deliberate about what kinds of projects I take on. I ultimately aspire to be able to spend more time focusing on fewer things.

 

When and how did “archive” become a verb?

Archives are places. They are institutions. But to archive is also an action. Web Archiving is a process that produces web archives and personal digital archiving is a set of practices for working to ensure longterm access to personal digital content.

When and how did archive become a verb? Webster’s dates the noun usage to 1603 and the verb usage to 1831, but I’m curious how obscure the verb usage was over time.

My sense/hunch has been that the verb form of archive, is tied up in the history of computing. A tape archive is a higher latency storage mechanism. There is a long standing use of “archiving” as a concept that involves writing to tape. The term tape is itself part of the name of .tar files. So, when did archive become a verb and to what extent is archiving related to the development of computing?

This kind of question is exactly the sort of thing that Google n-gram is useful for. Over time I’ve generated a few different graphs of trends around the verb usage of archive in Google books and posted them to twitter. It seemed like it would be worth taking a few minutes to explore that data a bit more. What follows is really just some initial notes on some searches. I’m curious to get other interpretations on what we learn from these charts and examples of usage.

When the archived and began archiving

The graph below, shows trends in usage of archive in the Google books corpus from 1920 to 2000. Overall, it would appear that the term archive has seen a good bit of growth in its relative frequency in appearing in the corpus over time.

If we take out the noun form of archive and extend this back to 1800, you can see that there are a tiny number of examples of the verb forms going back all the way to beginning of the chart in 1800, but that things don’t really start to take off until the late 1960s.

The Emergence of “Archiving” 

One of the best parts of Google n-gram is that it is a book search tool as much as it is a visualization tool. That means that we can poke around and see the examples where these different usages emerge.

Below is an example of one of the first instances of the term “archiving” connected to the term “data” in the google books corpus. It’s from a 1968 appropriations hearing for a climatological data center. That places it right at the inflection point for the verb form usage of archive.

From that point out, the term archiving seems to appear primarily in relationship to computing. All of the examples of the term archiving are references to data for usage of the term in google book results from the 1970s.

With that noted, there are two examples from 1969 that involve using the term archiving in relationship to folklore.

A longer past for archiving and archived

As noted in the beginning of this post, Webster’s suggests the verb form of archive came about in 1831. There are a range of examples of “archived” that show up, even earlier than 1831, for instance the example below from 1823 or this other example from 1816.

The snippet below is one of a series of documents from the turn of the 20th century in Texas that use the terms archiving and archived that appear to largely be related to usage of the term in the “Constitutions of Texas

There are even a few other earlier examples of “archiving” that show up, like in this 1913 report from the Nevada Historical Society reports a “need of better archiving” in a heading in the table of contents.

So when did archive become a verb? 

It would appear that archive has been a verb for more than two hundred years. With that noted, it does also largely appear to be the case that the verb usage didn’t really come into broader usage until the late 1960s when it was largely associated with data and computing.

I’m curious to see what other examples or perspectives others have though. I was a bit surprised to surface some of these earlier examples of uses of archiving and archived.