Archivo Humanidades Digitales

Digital curation in the Digital Humanities

Preserving and promoting archival and special collections

Arjun Sabharwal (2015)


  • The paradigm shifts spanning especially the past two centuries—from the French Revolution to the present (Cook, 2013)—have ushered in new and more exciting (as well as challenging) times for archives, bringing greater visibility and interaction with the profession. The third and fourth paradigms in the past century alone placed archi- vists in public role as mediators, interpreters, and even as activists who shape pub- lic memory and community identity through dedication to history, cultural heritage, and public knowledge.
  • The emergence of the public and digital humanities along with timely concerns about preserving the digital record naturally places archivists and digital curators in the middle of the emerging digital landscape.
  • The analog and digital worlds cannot be mutually exclusive.


  • Digital curation presents an important framework for the continued preservation of digitized and born-digital collections, given the ephemeral and device-dependent nature of digital content.
  • Researchers in the digital humanities have extensively applied computing to research; for them, continued access to primary data and cultural heritage means both the continuation of humanities scholarship and new methodologies not possible without digital technology. Digital curation and digital humanities, therefore, comprise a joint framework for preserving, promoting, and accessing digital collections.
  • This ecosystem holds together a knowledge architecture—a concept that brings together people, contents, and technologies (Applehans, Globe, & Laugero, 1999) into meaningful strategic relationships throughout the digital content lifecycle.
  • The Digital Curation Center at the University of Edinburgh has produced a digital curation lifecycle mode.
  • Another critical aspect of archival theory is related to provenance, which lends credibility to the archival record, and is crucial to the contextualization of manuscript collections for historiographical purposes: provenancial properties present evidence to historians placing records into historical, social, cultural, political, and organi- zational contexts (Bearman & Lytle, 2000; Sternfeld, 2011).
  • Others (Ramsey & Rockwell, 2012) point out that digital artifacts such as platforms, software, and digital collections are prototypes that use specific metadata fields to validate theories and explain observations. Digital artifacts, they argue, are hermeneutical instruments for purposes of interpreting events, phenomena, or answer humanistic questions and are suitable for hermeneutic activity since they present contextual data (that is, meta- data) for intersubjective reading, analysis, discussion, and interpretation. Thus, they become “theory frameworks” for interpreting. [¿Hay valor del artefacto digital por sí mismo y no como un instrumento para validar teorías?]

Chapter 1: Defining digital curation in the digital humanities context

  • Digital curation involves the preservation, promotion, and providing long-term access to born-digital and digitized collections of heritage material, data, and publications supporting research with surviving (albeit considered obsolete), current, and emerging digital technologies
  • Digital archivists focus on preserving digital con- tent in the context of archiving whereas some digital humanists, on creating thematic collections to create new interpretations, theoretical frameworks, and knowledge.
  • Social curation: involves community and public feedback using various social media platforms.
  • The author explains there are many ways to apply digital curation to enhance the related contexts between archivists, digital humanists and the public. “This chapter calls this collaborative framework the digital cura- tion workspace because it expands the meaning of “digital curation” to represent the works of collaborating archivists, librarians, digital humanists, technologists, infor- mation architects, and the public in different—perhaps intersubjective—contexts.”
  • The mutual relationship between digital humanities and digital curation is explained by the digital humanities’ role to provide an interdisciplinary framework to support collaboration amos scholars, archivists, librarians and technologists on the one hand and to promote the role of digital curation for the long term preservation of and access to resources needed in the digital humanities on the other.
  • This chapter focuses on digital curation as a practical framework for preserving and promoting cultural heritage collections, data, and other forms of digital content as well as discusing the various levels of curation aiming to preserve the quality and integrity of those collections and data.

Foundational definitions for curation

  • Guardianship
  • Activity of managing and promoting the use of data, from its point of creation, to ensure it is fit for the contemporary purpose, and available for discovery and re-use. Archiving: A curation activity which ensures that data is properly selected stored and can be accessed. Preservation: An activity within archiving which purpose is to mantain data over time.
  • Curator: an individual responsible for oversight of a collection or an exhibition.
  • Origins on the 14th century
  • Digital curation: digital is a modifier while “curation” is the head word that carries most of the weight in the term. // Actions needed to maintain digital research data and other digital materials over their entire lifecycle and over time for current and future generations of users.

Digital preservation

  • Digital information will not survive and remain accessible by accident: it requires ongoing active management from as early in the lifecycle as possible.
  • Moore (2008) presents what preservation may directly offer to digital humanists as a channel of “communication with the future” which “corresponds to moving records onto new choices of technology and as the validation of communication from the past”
  • With respect to the long-term preservation of digital content, Hedstrom (2001) addresses temporal interoperability as an important issue related to accessing heterogeneous content over time. She writes, “By temporal interoperability, I mean the ability of current systems or legacy systems to interoperate with future systems that may use new formats, data models, languages, communication protocols, and hardware” (para. 1). This is an escalating problem especially since digital curation aims to ensure long-term access to digital content, during which file types, software, hardware, operating systems, and metadata standards undergo successive revisions, changes, not to mention the effects of commercial actions such as mergers, failures, and other compatibility issues affecting accessibility to legacy files.