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In my archives class tonight (LIS440: Archival Access and Use) were were getting the cliff notes version of digital preservation, the future of archives. Because even though we will continue for the foreseeable future to have and acquire traditional materials in, say, paper form (or am I seriously the only person who still keeps my journal long-hand? writes actual pen-and-ink letters?), we’ll also get an increasing proportion of “born digital” materials — say drafts of a novel preserved in Word format, or an Excel file detailing travel expenses for a conference, or a computer program modeling data sets from a science experiment.

One of the concepts for preserving this data and making it available to researchers is “emulation.” Basically, it’s creating–using newer technology–a way of accessing older data that will re-create as closely as possible the original experience of accessing the data. For example, making it possible to run an old computer game (Donkey Kong anyone?) on newer technology, but maintaining the look and feel of the original game.

Our professor, Susan Pyzynski, showed us this digital archive, the agrippa files dedicated to Agrippa (a book of the dead), a sort of performance art collaboration created in 1992 by artist Dennis Ashbaugh, author William Gibson, and publisher Kevin Begos, Jr. It was a limited-edition book meant to be read for a limited time only before its text faded packaged with a diskette containing a digital file of a poem meant to be opened and read only once before it self-destructed.

the agrippa files managed to capture and emulate the experience of reading this poem, a process which they detail on the website and have made available through Google video with the permission of the original creators. Check out this experiment in 21st century archival access!

(note: if you actually care about reading the poem, you can find a higher-resolution Quicktime video on the agrippa file website)