This paper addresses a particular domain within the sphere of activity that is coming to be known as personal digital papers or personal digital archives. We are concerned with contemporary writers of belles-lettres (fiction, poetry, and drama), and the implications of the shift toward word processing and other forms of electronic text production for the future of the cultural record, and in particular literary scholarship. The urgency of this topic is evidenced by the deaths of several high-profile authors, including David Foster Wallace and John Updike, both of whom have left behind electronic records containing unpublished and incomplete work alongside of more traditional manuscript materials.
We report outcomes from a planning grant funded by the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities which brought together scholars, archivists, information professionals, and other specialists for purposes of evaluating evolving practices in several institutions and planning for additional activity. We argue that literary and other creatively-minded end-users raise unique challenges for the preservation enterprise, since the complete digital context for individual records is often of paramount importance—what Richard Ovenden, in a useful phrase (in conversation) has termed "the digital materiality of digital culture." We will therefore discuss preservation and access scenarios that account the computer as a complete artifact and environment, drawing on examples from the born-digital literary collections at Emory University, the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, and the University of Maryland.
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