O’Gorman thinks “it’s time to take a harder look at how disciplines rooted in the study and preservation of printed texts can remain relevant and viable in a digital, picture-oriented culture” (xiv).  Upon reading this assertion in his introduction, I found myself thinking about all the effort put into preserving books and other textual artifacts through scanning digital images (e.g., McGann’s “World Library” or the Google Books project).  Therefore I think that these disciplines, instead of becoming obsolete, are more viable than ever before.  The need and (at least some of) the means exist for humanities to embrace the digital, which seems a major motivating force behind our own T&T program as well as the E-Crit one that O’Gorman discusses.

As I recently mentioned in class, just a few weeks ago, Dr. Kamrath visited the University of Virginia, the library of which maintains one of the largest collections of unpublished work by the author Charles Brockden Brown.  It turns out, though, that in order to make room for other things, several of these manuscripts were shredded.  Not stored or archived in boxes, or even tossed into the trash; they were physically destroyed.  So now, the text of those several dozen works exists solely in the photocopies that Dr. Kamrath made of them over 15 years ago.  He and I have thus begun the painstaking process of organizing, scanning, and digitally archiving those remaining photocopies as the closest artifacts possible to the original written work.

This work is certainly giving me a new appreciation for the necessity of digital media in the humanities.  What happens when old manuscripts like Brown’s get shredded to make room in the library for the Twilight series?  When the materiality is lost, so is a good deal of our history.  Of course, in a hundred years or more, the Twilight series will have its own place in history, no matter what I think of it now, but that’s no excuse for the destruction of older work.  I know in class we talked about the fact that not everyone sees the loss of materiality as a downfall, but in this case, I disagree.  The manuscripts show(ed) Brown’s handwriting, and allow us to compare it to others to help determine if he indeed wrote them; they can also be used to assess changes in his writing style.  Regardless of how we use them, though, the information in them ceases to exist when they are destroyed.  I feel preservation is vital, and digital technology in addition to physical archiving helps us do that; each by themselves should not be the sole means of preservation.  As O’Gorman states and re-addressing continually, “There is a vast discrepancy between conventional scholarly procedures and contemporary modes of storage, recall, and representation” (9), and until that discrepancy is resolved, so-called “print-centricity” will inevitably be assigned more worth.

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