L-65. Digitizing the Cultural Record

Bethany Nowviskie Andrew Stauffer

This course treats the scholarly, theoretical, institutional, and practical issues involved in the digitization of our various and shared cultural heritage—an activity we will consider at many levels of scale (from “boutique” editorial projects to efforts in mass digitization) and across many types of objects and collections (from literary and historical documents to scientific specimens, art objects, and material culture).

It is not, however, a training program in specific tools, standards, or workflows. Instead, we will consider what is at stake, both locally and systemically, for large institutions and for individual scholars or librarians who create, deliver, and use digital surrogates. We will divide our attention between close examination of physical texts and objects from the UVA Library, RBS, and cultural heritage institutions in Washington, DC on the one hand, and broadly-accessible digital libraries, archives, and data collections on the other. Students will consider topics like markup and metadata, user experience, accessibility and universal design, visualization and analysis, interoperability and linked data, aesthetics and sensory perception, and digital stewardship both from a conceptual standpoint and with specific examples brought to bear. Our attention will also be directed toward larger pragmatic concerns, including: inclusive, community ownership and engagement; the creation of institutional partnerships; the role of digitization in times of conflict, war, and environmental stress; and the sustainability of digital projects.

Students are asked to come with a specific digitization project or case study in mind, which they can use in workshops and design exercises throughout the week. Also central to the course will be visits and conversations with practicing curators, librarians, scholars, and digital stewards—drawing on people and projects connected with the University of Virginia (Book Traces, the Scholars’ Lab, NINES, UVA Library Digitization Services, and RBS) and with the Digital Library Federation and its partners and collaborators among library organizations and major cultural heritage institutions in Washington, DC. A one-day field trip to DC is planned, with transportation provided by RBS.

We welcome participation by anyone who would like to explore the implications of cultural heritage digitization and the stewardship of “born-analog” information from an academic and institutional perspective. Our goals are to help course participants advance their own, specific projects; become better informed about the impact of digitization on inquiry across the disciplines; and explore the broader roles they and their institutions might play in mitigating the risks and maximizing the social and scholarly benefits of digitization.

All readings for the course will be available online. Several exercises require that students be ready to describe, workshop, re-imagine, and present on a collection, library or museums interface, or scholarly digitization project with which they are familiar—preferably one in which they are currently or soon to be engaged. Prospective students should therefore offer brief descriptions of their proposed case studies when applying for the course.

N.B., The tuition for this course is $1,495 owing to the expenses associated with the scheduled field trip.


Course History

Bethany Nowviskie and Andrew Stauffer co-teach this course, as "Digitizing the Cultural Record."
Bethany Nowviskie and Andrew Stauffer co-teach this course.
Andrew Stauffer teaches this course for the first time, as "Digitizing the Historical Record."
This course is not currently being offered. Please do not list on any RBS fellowship or scholarship applications.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
  • Evaluations for this course:

Related Courses


  • Bethany Nowviskie
  • Andrew Stauffer

Bethany Nowviskie

In July of 2019, Bethany Nowviskie will become Dean of Libraries and Professor of English at James Madison University. Meanwhile, she is a Distinguished Presidential Fellow at CLIR, where she directed the Digital Library Federation (DLF) from 2015 to 2019. Nowviskie has also been a Research Associate Professor of Digital Humanities at the University of Virginia since 2015. She was the first director of the Scholars’ Lab at the University of Virginia Library, and has served as chair of UVA’s General Faculty Council and special advisor to the UVA provost for the advancement of digital humanities research. A past president of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and chair of the Modern Language Association’s committee on information technology, Nowviskie received her Ph.D. in Literature from the University of Virginia in 2004. She writes on liberatory and speculative digital library design at nowviskie.org.

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Andrew Stauffer

Andrew Stauffer is the Director of NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Studies), a hub for online discovery and scholarship, and a peer-reviewing organization for digital projects, and the founder of the Book Traces project, a crowd-sourced web project aimed at identifying unique copies of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century books on library shelves. He is an associate professor of English at the University of Virginia.

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