Jeffrey Schnapp about reinventing the archives

Jeffrey Schnapp from Harvard started by recalling the long history of digital humanities, before it was called “digital humanities” and the first project he conducted on Dante. In particular, he recalled how he used a Kurzweil machine to do early OCR attempt. He then explained that in “Digital Humanities”, he doesn’t like the term “Digital” (because interesting aspects are the frontiers between analog and digital) and he doesn’t like the term “Humanities” (because many interesting works in DH are not really part of humanities)


Product-oriented media / process-oriented media. How many of the books in the Harvard Library have never been checked out ? 2/3 … Print is a very “product-oriented” media. With the digital we are moving toward a world which is more “process-oriented”. What counts in not the final object but the iterative process.

Jeffrey Schnapp then presented several of projects exploring different dimensions of Digital Humanities / Knowledge design, illustrating well that “Every research question is a design question”.

Weaving media together. Zeega works only in the cloud. You never download anything. You use Sound files from soundcloud, Video from Youtube. Images on Flickr, Tweets, etc. Grabing is not copying. No copyright issues apply. You are not using these items, not publishing anything. You process collections and are weaving media together.

The new archives are inverted. What are archives? The word derives from archeos. It is typically a pyramidal structure. In a traditional archive, the first layer is made of data, document and collections. The second layer is information. The third layer is knowledge and the fourth is wisdom. Jeffrey Schnapp argued that new archives are inverted pyramids. On the first layer are activities of communities, on the second interaction forms from copying to remixing, on the third interaction collections and finally on the top: archives.

An archive that nobody owns. Jeffrey Schnapp gave the example on how to save the documents connected to an earthquake and presented the project Japan 2011 disasters ( He explained that this project is an archive that nobody owns, the data being saved by many different partners. For instance, Tweets are saved by the Internet Archive.

A collection of collections. He presented Curarium, a collection of collections. It is also teaching environment. You take a fragment and save it as note. You can create a “spotlight”, micro-stories about the collections.

The question of the future of libraries needs not be answered by librarians. Jeffrey Schnapp discussed several ideas for the future of libraries : Coldspot (where you don’t have wireless internet access), pop-up libraries (recreating library space on the go), etc.  See more at here.

Searching huge collection differently. Jeffrey Schnapp finished by discussing the work his lab has been doing with DPLA and presented several synthetic animations about the history of the book (for instance During the questions, he gave a demo of the hierarchical search interface for DPLA organized by providers / collection / format / objects / record.

One thought on “Jeffrey Schnapp about reinventing the archives

  1. Pingback: Digital Humanities Venice Fall School 2013 | Mostly DH and networks

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