Tim Sherratt

Sharing recent updates and work-in-progress

Jun 2021

Preprint! The limits and affordances of online collections

I’ve been working on an essay for publication in a forthcoming edited collection. I wanted to explore how the practice of history in Australia had been changed by GLAM organisations making their collections available online – both the new possibilities that had emerged, and the problems that remained. In the end I focused on three areas – discovery, digitisation, and research infrastructure. If you’re interested, I’ve shared a preprint on Zenodo.

Here’s a taste:

Just twenty years ago, historical research often entailed long hours spent at a microfilm reader, browsing newspaper after newspaper in the hope of finding something relevant. The changes wrought by Trove, and other digital collections, seem revolutionary, but as with all revolutions there have been gains and losses. Alongside the wonders wrought by digitisation, this chapter has tried to highlight some of the paths not taken. The online resources we now use daily are not simply the products of technology – priorities have been set, funding has been distributed, decisions made about what to include and what to leave out. Cultural heritage collections are not just put online, they are placed within specific contexts of discovery and use. Each object, each version, each interface comes with a set of limitations and affordances that together determine what is possible. We do not know yet how these decisions will shape the sorts of histories that we write.

I enjoyed reminding myself about some early digital initiatives in the GLAM sector, but as is usual with these sorts of projects, I had to leave a lot out. It’s made me think about developing a larger project documenting our gains and losses.