Digital Preservation of early Christian Manuscripts

There’s a terrific article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today
about the work of a Benedictine monk, the Rev. Columba Stewart, who is
engaged on a project to digitize early Christian manuscripts held in
monasteries around the world. There’s much to be interested in in this
article, but I particularly noticed that the last paragraphs are about a
certain philosophy of digital preservation: that “Lots of Copies Keeps
Stuff Safe,” to use the acronym of a scholarly journal preservation
program. Here’s the link:

. . . and here’s the bit about digital preservation:

Whatever happens to the communities that created these
manuscripts—or to the manuscripts themselves—Father Stewart and the
Hill Museum & Manuscript Library intend to preserve images of them
in perpetuity, or as close as it is possible to get with current
technologies. Father Stewart invokes the archivist’s mantra:
“Multiple copies, multiple media, multiple locations.” He says, “The
missing link in the preservation scenario is what I call the
clay-tablet standard”—a medium you can read with nothing fancier
than a source of light. Short of that, the museum keeps copies not
just on the hard drives from each project but on its server, on tape
backups, and in remote storage—including “a tunnel dug into a
mountain in Utah next to where the Mormons have their stuff,”
Stewart says. “That’s kind of our ‘Mad Max’ scenario, which may be a
little silly.”

Still, as he points out, “nothing’s forever. If you scatter these
things widely enough, somebody will find them.”

I like the phrase “the clay-tablet standard.” Also, I didn’t realise
that “multiple copies” was the archivist’s mantra! Useful for yoga
class, perhaps?

Amanda L. French, Ph.D.
Assistant Research Scholar, Digital Curriculum Specialist
Archives and Public History
New York University
King Juan Carlos Center
53 Washington Square South #507
New York, NY 10012

TEL: 212-998-8638
FAX: 212-995-4017
AIM: habitrailgirl

Amanda French

About Amanda French

I have a Ph.D. in English literature; my 2004 dissertation was a history of the villanelle. During graduate school I gained a good bit of experience with building websites, with technology training, and with marking up texts in XML at the Rossetti Archive and the Electronic Text Center; since then I’ve continued to do work (often in university libraries) related to the two cultures of technology and the humanities.
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