Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Saved from the black hole.

Tomorrow is British Columbia's 150th anniversary. As part of the commemoration of this anniversary the Globe and Mail featured an article outlining the history that BC's founding. The article also made mention of a particular digital resource, who's history is somewhat amazing on its own. The site of mention is The Colonial Despatches, which is a digital archive based on the correspondence between British Columbia, Vancouver, and the British Colonial Office. It is a great digital resource, but that's not the main reason I was drawn to the site.

The evolution of the site highlights some of the common problems which occur when digitizing sources. The transcription and digitization process was started by James Hendrickson of the University of Victoria in the 1980s, however all of his work was done in a now obsolete computer language. Thankfully someone realized the importance of these files and has managed to recover them and restore them in an accessible format. The fact that these files were so close to be lost, suggests to me the vulnerability of digitalized files. We often think of print documents of being susceptible to destruction through age but digital files are as vulnerable. This whole article reinforced the preaching of open source software and accessibility that we keep hearing about in digital history class.

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