Curating Science, Software and Strides in Digital Stewardship: A Personal 2013 Year in Review

It’s that time of year. Time to take stock and provide an accounting. Looking back, all the themes I noted from 2012 carried through in 2013. That kind of continuity is itself exciting, it makes me think I’ve got a career/body of work emerging from what at times can feel like a flurry of activity and projects.

What follows is a quick run down of things I’ve been working on. This includes work from the office, from school, and those moments stolen away to write while on the commuter train spent working on a range of independent projects. In looking back I think I’ve spent a good bit of time focusing on the future of primary sources and scholarship in history, infrastructure and strategy for digital stewardship and on interpreting and presenting the history of science on the web.

Showing Bill Nye Carl Sagan's Papers, a personal highlight of the year.
Showing Bill Nye Carl Sagan’s Papers, a personal highlight of the year.

Future History

Orchestrating the Preserving.exe Software Preservation Summit: I’m very proud of the software preservation summit I played a role in this year. It was great to be able to take an idea from it’s inception about a year and a half ago through to it’s completion. There was great lead up to the meeting on the Signal blog, including this interview with Henry Lowood on video game preservation at scale. Discussions and presentations at the summit were well received, I know everybody left with a lot of excitement about some of the collections being developed and the role that emulation and virtualization is likely to play in the future of access for these collections. I’m thrilled with how well the Preserving.exe report for the meeting came out.

Meditations on Digital Objects as Primary Sources: Continuing some of my work from last year, I wrote a bit about the future of significance and equivalence, about the recursive nature of items and collections, about traces, significance and preservation, about connections between archival theory, stratigraphy and disk images,  and learned a ton doing this interview about historicizing digital preservation with perspectives from media studies and science and technology studies.

Three books essays of mine appeared in this year; Writing History in the Digital Age, Playing with the Past, and Rethoric, Composition, Play
Three books essays of mine appeared in this year; Writing History in the Digital Age, Playing with the Past, and Rethoric, Composition, Play

Digital History and the Future of Historical Scholarship: I started this year remotely offering my perspectives on the of an early career digital historian at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. I ended up throwing down a bit on the American Historical Association’s dissertation embargo statement was asked to comment on the recent Organization of American Historians similar statement. In short, I’m becoming increasingly interested in working on the modes historians access and work with primary sources and the kinds of scholarly communication products they create as a result.

Closing in on the Dissertation: Earlier this year I defended my dissertation proposal. If you are at all interested in the history of the design and rhetoric of online communities consider reading my proposal. I’m looking forward to carrying some of that thesis work forward into some of my job next year further exploring preserving online communities and the vernacular web. I’m thrilled to report that I have a full draft of my thesis in hand and that it has already gone through one round of review by my thesis committee. I’m looking at defending the thesis in the early spring. I won’t be embargoing it, so you can expect to be able to download it in full from GMU’s open access dissertation repository and here on my website as soon as it’s done.

Some scratches from my notebook where I was figuring out some themes for my dissertation conclusions.
Some scratches from my notebook where I was figuring out some themes for my dissertation conclusions.

Exhibition in and of the Digital Age: Alongside the Digital Preservation 2013 meeting, I had the chance to coordinate CURATEcamp Exhibition: Exhibition in and of the Digital Age. Together with my un-conference-chairs Michael Edson from the Smithsonian Institution and Sharon Leon from the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media I kept the plates spinning on a great and far ranging set of discussions on the future of exhibition. There were sessions on the future of online exhibits, on visualization as a mode of exhibition, on exhibition of born digital works, and a range of other issues. You can read notes from many of the sessions up on the CURATEcamp wiki. I’m still processing and digesting some of the ideas shaken loose from the camp, so expect more from me next year on some if the ideas and implications of those discussions. Some of this percolated up in thinking through a museum’s acquisition of an historic iPhone. 

From Past Player to Past Editor: This year I took on the role of co-editor of Play the Past, alongside Shawn Graham. It’s been a lot of work, I appreciate everything Ethan Watrall did to get the blog up an running and keep it running. When I started my primary goal was to get more activity through guest posts and getting new bloggers into the fold. I’m thrilled to have Angela Cox and David Hussey join the blog and contribute a lot of amazing work alongside a range of great guest posters. In short, I think we have seen a lot of great and diverse work on the blog and I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes into the future.

Three chapters I wrote ended up in dead tree volumes. The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical Writing, Modeling Indigenous Peoples, and Mr. Moo’s First RPG: Rules, Discussion and the Instructional Implications of Collective Intelligence on the Open Web
Three chapters I wrote ended up in dead tree volumes. The Hermeneutics of Data and Historical WritingModeling Indigenous Peoples, and Mr. Moo’s First RPG: Rules, Discussion and the Instructional Implications of Collective
Intelligence on the Open Web.

Infrastructures and Strategy for Digital Stewardship

Crowds & Roles for Public in Digital Library, Archives and Museum Projects: The year started off with the publication of a lot of my ideas on public participation in cultural heritage in Digital Cultural Heritage and the Crowd, in Curator: The Museum Journal. I interviewed Arfon Smith of Galaxy Zoo and the Adler Planetarium about the role of citizen science projects in digital stewardship and cultural heritage. I also wrote a bit about the role that citizen science projects can play in informing science education. My conversation with Mary Flanagan about her Metadata Games crowdsourcing platform ended up being one of the top Signal posts for the year. This year at THATcamp prime, a group of us thought through how crowdsourcing might be applied to explore images from inside the wealth of digitized books out there, and then actually stood up an instance of Metadata Games to run against images we stripped out of some Project Guttenberg books. I tried to spark some conversation about how cultural heritage orgs could shift their workflows to better anticipate activity of the crowd but it didn’t really go anywhere. Yet.

Dominic McDevitt-Parks talking about partnerships between wikipedia and the National Archives at #DCHDC.
Dominic McDevitt-Parks talking about partnerships between wikipedia and the National Archives at #DCHDC.

Open Source and Digital Stewardship: I had a nice set of interviews on the role of open source in digital preservation and stewardship come out. I talked with Peter Murray on when OSS is the right choice for cultural heritage orgs. Tom Cramer and I discussed the approach that Hydra is taking. I talked with Don Mennerich from NYPL about his work on born digital manuscript materials and got some of Cal Lee’s perspective on the same issue in this interview on BitCurator.

Pushing Out the Levels of Digital Preservation: Earlier this year saw the publication of the first version of the NDSA levels of digital preservation and a paper on them. It’s the result of a great little sub group of folks from NDSA member organizations and I think we have a lot to be proud of in it. I’ve been thrilled to see all the ways this  guidance is being used to inform practice at organizations all over the place (ex. at USGS, ARTstor, TRC Canada, MetaArchive, and Mississippi’s Archives.

Contributing to the National Agenda for Digital Stewardship: I’m thrilled to have a part in shaping the first National Agenda for Digital Stewardship. I think the document is a real triumph for the NDSA, it outlines a lot of issues that matter and it’s unique in getting more than a hundred some organizations to speak with one voice about national priorities. As the co-chair of the NDSA Infrastructure working group, I had a hand in shaping a good bit of the infrastructure section.

Special Curator for a History of Science Project

This year I’ve been thrilled to have the chance to spend the bulk of my work time on a history of science project. The work is mostly finished, but it’s not out yet so I can’t talk about it much right now. But I can talk about a few pieces of that work that are public. 

The most important thing in the universe by L.M. Glackens. Cover from Puck, v. 60, November 7, 1906.

You can get a taste of some of the work I’ve been engaged in up on a two of the LC blogs. I’m rather happy with this piece I wrote about visions of earth from space before we went there, which was picked up by Smithsonian magazine and by Popular Science. I also wrote about the history of imaginary space ships.

I also wrote a series of pieces on how science teachers can use some historical astronomy items as teaching tools. I’m really happy with how each of these turned out.

Not officially a part of my work, but Marjee and I pitched a script for a Ted-Ed video called Is there a center of the universe? which I think turned out to be amazingly cool. 

Center of universe ted video

Display for the Carl Sagan Event: As part of my work I was thrilled to curate a presentation of items from the Carl Sagan papers alongside some rare astronomy books and comics and prints to illustrate how Sagan’s papers fit into both historical and fictional ideas about life on other worlds in the Library of Congress collections. A high point there for me was when I got to show Bill Nye through some of the Sagan papers.


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