Using Digital Archives to Store and Create Knowledge About Colonial Print Cultures
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HARP 2009 – Toronto Using Digital Archives to Store and Create Knowledge About Colonial Print Cultures This paper describes a project that addresses problems in the reconstruction of print culture history in former exploitation colonies. Scholars and teachers in many new nations have limited access to key primary documents. Local archives are often non-existent, or poorly resourced. The best archives for colonial records are generally located so far away as to make study in them impossible to afford. This lack of access to historical records makes it difficult to understand the relationships between the colonial and independence eras. The problem is compounded by a corresponding lack of resources for the acquisition and study of printed texts produced after independence. As a means of trying to redress this situation in one nation, a consortium of archives, libraries and universities in Papua New Guinea, the United States, and Canada has established a website that is maintained by Athabasca University. The site houses thousands of pages of rare and out of print journals, literary anthologies, dissertations, reports, bibliographies and other documents for the study of colonial print culture in Papua New Guinea. The fully searchable site also contains interviews with writers and print culture sponsors from both the colonial and independence eras, conference papers, and essays outlining the establishment of print culture in the former colony. Through the auspices of AU Press, the site will also publish, with the University of Papua New Guinea, the nation's only literary journal and a series of "Working Papers" on contemporary print culture. As one librarian from Papua New Guinea has said: “We cannot afford to purchase or maintain collections of the books and journals we need to study our own literary history. But, on the days when the internet works, we can download what we need from the website.” The presentation will discuss how the website addresses issues of capacity. While digitizing such historical records serves a legitimate need, it also offers exciting possibilities for mapping and analyzing colonial networks of writers, educators, and publishers in a given print culture, and for searching across linked collections in order to understand regional print culture relations.