Problems with digital surrogates/textmining curiosity

For this week’s batch of readings I was most drawn to Collections and/of Data: Art History and the Art Museum in the DH Mode by Matthew Battles and Michael Maizels. Specifically the discussion of the S.M.S. NOs 1–6s project.  This project is a digital version of William Copeley’s editioned, snailmail multimedia project S.M.S which was started in 1968. Subscribers of the project received a batch of music, poetry books, and other art objects created by artists like John Cage, Dick Higgins, and La Monte Young. The project was meant to move art out of the art gallery, out of the hands of wealthy collectors, and to provide more access to contemporary art outside of the traditional art market. In that same spirit of accessibility, S.M.S NOs 1 – 6 aims to exist as a “digital translation” or “digital avatar” of the original items found within S.M.S packages. When discussing the user experience for S.M.S Nos 1 – 6 Battles and Maizels write, “Users are now able to interact with digital avatars of each S.M.S. object: flipping it over, turning its pages, listening to its audio, or activating its intended motion.” While I can appreciate the dedication to creating a haptic experience that mimics the experience of handling the actual objects, and I really love the entire spirit of both Copeley’s original S.M.S and this digital translation, it still feels off. In class I discussed all the different experiences and nuances that are lost when someone is only able to access a digital surrogate – this is definitely the visual material/special collections archivist in me coming forward. I’m someone who absolutely values and champions digitization of materials but as a means of more equitable access, not as a replacement or as a kind of surrogate, I don’t think that is ever fully possible. As for data I’d be interested in working with and how I may apply it: I was really interested in text mining and the work being done over on Mining the Dispatch. It was really interesting to think about how I may be able to incorporate that into my research and work for Rhiannon, which heavily relies on language, text, keywords, etc. I think that the Mining the Dispatch project could work as a kind of model for this – so instead of mining civil war era Richmond Times Dispatch issues I could tailor it to Rhiannon’s interests by mining North Carolina newspapers (and from the same era would work as that falls into her years of focus) for mentions of immigrants, race relations, music, railroad mentions, etc. I’d imagine that I could basically plug in the list of search terms I’ve amassed while researching for her to see what kind of hits I’d get, what kinds of trends show up over time, and in what specific areas of the state which could all be of interest to her.

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