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ColoradoGuy
04-19-2009, 09:31 PM
Texas State University recently paid $2,000,000 for the papers of Cormac McCarthy. Many other research libraries have collections of the papers -- original manuscripts, draft manuscripts, and letters -- of famous authors. Scholars burrow into these papers to discern more about both the famous authors and the books they wrote. They are priceless resources for literature.

But what happens in the dawning digital age? All of the editing of my last book was done electronically. My editor and I exchanged e-mails with attached documents (using the "show changes" function of MS Word) to hammer out the book. There was no hard copy of the final version, unless she printed one out. I didn't -- I just saved the file.

So how will these scholarly repositories change in the future? Will the next generation of famous authors donate their hard drives? And what about all the stacks of letters authors of previous generations wrote? Will they now donate their e-mail archive from gmail? Finally, all these electronic files can be easily changed. An old typescript of McCarthy that has marginal notes and scribbled changes is a permanent thing, there for the scholar to study. What will the future bring?

This issue was the topic of a recent commentary in the March 13 issue of the Times Literary Supplement (which you need a subscription to access, unfortunately). The author believed that the coming change will also affect the "magical value" of literary manuscripts. I agree, but I have no idea how things will work out eventually.

Medievalist
04-19-2009, 09:38 PM
I helped create a digital archive at UCLA for an author who can't be named.

We used a depository intended for use by programmers to allow them to store various versions of a file and compare the differences.

We stored everything in several file formats, and there's two archival quality prints of everything as well.

We also stored all the metadata separately, after getting permission to do that from Unnamed Author.

ColoradoGuy
04-20-2009, 12:01 AM
I helped create a digital archive at UCLA for an author who can't be named.

We used a depository intended for use by programmers to allow them to store various versions of a file and compare the differences.

We stored everything in several file formats, and there's two archival quality prints of everything as well.

We also stored all the metadata separately, after getting permission to do that from Unnamed Author.
Sounds like that would do the job, but I wonder about authors who don't become famous until late in their career or untill after they're dead. Unlike in the past, there won't be a trunk full of papers in the attic for their heirs to donate, or a stack of letters written to others. I think a lot will be lost as a result.

Medievalist
04-20-2009, 03:55 AM
Sounds like that would do the job, but I wonder about authors who don't become famous until late in their career or untill after they're dead. Unlike in the past, there won't be a trunk full of papers in the attic for their heirs to donate, or a stack of letters written to others. I think a lot will be lost as a result.

A lot is being lost. Ask yourself:

Do you keep recursive incremental backups?

Do you keep multiple versions with markup in hard copy?

K1P1
04-23-2009, 10:49 PM
A lot is being lost. Ask yourself:

Do you keep recursive incremental backups?

Do you keep multiple versions with markup in hard copy?

Actually, I do both. But I think that's more a reflection on my past experience in software development and support, and in my personal packrat tendencies, than any feeling that the scholarly world will gain something by looking at revisions to my knitting books.