Unlike the field of text encoding, analysis and textual criticism, where a longer tradition provides ascertained references to scholars and researchers, the field of long-term sound preservation is relatively new and lacks a similar background of knowledge and experience. Audio recordings have gained the status of documentary sources only recently, and it is not uncommon to find that texts and images are still considered "first class" sources while audio recordings are considered "second class" sources for scholarly studies.
Unless certain criteria to ensure that digital audio (and other multimedia) can be considered authoritative, accurate and reliable sources, this trend may be hard to get rid of in the future.
Besides the on-going multiplication of digitized documents, the number of born digital documents is also increasing, making the definition of procedures for storage and cataloguing even more urgent because a "physical original" is never available for comparison.
The creation of digital objects has to meet the standards of the various disciplines involved, and [...] is a crucial part of humanities research. It is more than just preparation for research.1
The advantages that computer science offers "traditional" philology (we could probably say non-digital philology) are twofold:
1. technological tools (for quantitative analyses and for sharing corpora through a network);
2. methods and concepts that stem from a theoretical reflection.
In postulating a typology of Electronic Philology, we must take into account the data, the procedures, and the results.2From the point of view of how deeply computer science modifies philology by contributing to it, two distinct steps can also be distinguished:
1. preparation of the working materials;
2. support to textual criticism (assisted or [semi]automated analyses).
The focus is on: methodological principles and analysis tools.
The digital representation of the data (encoding) and its presentation (the cultural interfaces theorized by Lev Manovich in 2000) are not neutral with respect to the final perception of the 'real' or 'original' object, which may often not be available for comparison.3
The knowledge required to effectively preserve cultural materials cuts across different areas and involves many different categories of people.
The development of successful preservation strategies will require the cooperation of computer scientists, data storage experts, data distribution experts, eldworkers, librarians, and folklorists.4
Despite the many international organizations that have invested time and money in the definition of guidelines, best practices, technical manuals and, last but not least, workshops and training sessions, still too often the core questions about a qualitative re-mediation seem to be of technical nature. Technical skills are indeed required, but technology evolves and the technical level of the preservation routines is expected to evolve accordingly. On a higher level lie the ethics of preservation and restoration, the cultural policies that determine which recordings will be digitized and accessed, and which will be discarded.
We strongly believe that the scientific community should take the time to focus on the methodological principles that guide the preservation practices today, regardless of the technical level of the available equipment. We do not necessarily have to do things just because technology allows us to. Capitals have been spent to digitize numberless books, images and audio recordings, but are we able to discern the quality of the digital products in comparison with the physical original? What are the tools in our hands to do that? Are scholars in the respective disciplines fully aware of them, and do they master them?
If you are a researcher or free-lance and think that these questions touch you, please join the discussion. We are working to organize this workshop with the belief that this discussion is timely and important, and we are supported by a genuine passion for what we do: customized preservation for historical audio recordings.
1 W. van Peursen, Text Comparison and Digital Creativity: An Introduction. In: Text Comparison and Digital Creativity - The Production of Presence and Meaning in Digital Text Scholarship. Volume 1 of Scholarly Communication. Brill, 2010, p. 1-28.
2 F. Marcos Marín, Where is electronic philology going? The present and future of a discipline. In: Proceedings of the 1st seminar on Computers, literature and philology, Edinburgh, 2001, pp.16-17
3 F. Bressan and S. Canazza, Digital philology in audio long-term preservation: A multidisciplinary project on experimental music. In Proceedings of the 10th Italian Research Conference on Digital Libraries (IRCDL 2014), pages 48-51, Elsevier, Procedia - Computer Sciences 38, 2014.