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Teaching and Learning Multimodal Communications

Alyssa Arbuckle, Alison Hedley, Shaun Macpherson, Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, Daniel Powell, Jentery Sayers, Emily Smith, Michael Stevens, Authors

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Digital Objects as Objects: Objects Lost and Found

Jana Millar Usiskin addresses this problem of "lost" digital objects in her review of Woolf Online, an online genetic edition of an experimental passage from Virginia Woof's To the Lighthouse. This particular edition has four layers of HTML-encoded text, all based on stages in the novel’s composition: Woolf's initial manuscript of the book; the typescript sent to Charles Mauron, her editor; publishing proofs with Woolf's corrections; and the first printed editions in the United Kingdom and the United States. But, as Millar Usiskin rightly points out, the site’s other resources, including newspaper articles from the time of the passage's composition, excerpts from Woolf's diary, and personal letters, do not have metadata attached to them, and so prove difficult for researchers to find online.

Digital objects were "lost" in our original student edition of the Scalar book as well. We would frequently upload photos and other media types to Scalar without properly adding metadata or referring to the file within an argument, leaving multiple files floating around the book without identity or meaning. How many anonymous digital objects currently reside on servers, invisible because of their lack of identifiers? What does this imply about their relationships to the material object they represent, if any?

Powell and many more of us concluded that there should be more detailed standards of metadata to express the source-copy relationship between digital and material objects, especially when a digital object is a facsimile of another facsimile, such as Powell's image from a PDF from microfilm of an early printed play. Echoing Chun and Kirschenbaum, digital environments such as Scalar can make the ephemeral seem permanent and digital objects seem immaterial. Rigorously enforced standards of naming and metadata can help reveal the materiality of the digital.

Authors: Alyssa McLeod, Jana Millar Usiskin, and Emily Smith
Word Count: 289

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