What Falls Out: Preserving Our Digital Heritage with BitCurator

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Porter Olsen

Porter Olsen

University of Maryland
@pwolsen
MITH Conference Room
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
12:30 pm

Take a moment and open your bottom desk drawer, the one with your old files in it. Rummage around for a bit and push way back until you see the inevitable papers, notes and detritus that have slipped out of various file folder and now lay at the bottom of the drawer. You will undoubtedly find papers back there, but you may also have a floppy disk or two, maybe a CD-ROM from a project long since set aside, or perhaps a flash memory card that has slipped between the folders. However, unlike the paper that surrounds them, these digital media are increasingly inaccessible as the hardware and software needed to access the data they contain are lost to disrepair, obsolescence and bit rot. It is worth taking a moment, while it is still at least possible to recover the data on these legacy drives, to think about what they contain: drafts of work since published, data accumulated over the course of a project, images and design work once painstakingly pored over. Like the leavings at the bottom of a drawer, these digital objects are frequently “what falls out” as we create, research, record and publish our digital work.

Drawing on examples from a number of disciplines, this talk addresses both the necessity of preserving our digital heritage contained on legacy media and the means by which that preservation can be accomplished using the BitCurator environment, which is a customized Linux distribution designed to bring open source digital forensics tools to collecting institutions. The BitCurator environment is the product of the BitCurator project: a joint effort led by the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (SILS) and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) to develop a system for collecting professionals that incorporates the functionality of many digital forensics tools.

Porter Olsen currently serves as a research faculty member at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities (MITH) where he is the Community Lead on the BitCurator project, a Mellon funded project to bring digital forensics tools and techniques to collecting institutions working with born-digital material. Simultaneously, he is a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at the University of Maryland studying digital humanities and postcolonial literature.

His dissertation, titled “Hacking the Empire: Reading the Digital in Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Postcolonial Literature,” studies hacker culture in the global south and how the hacker ethos is represented in later 20th and early 21st century postcolonial fiction under the direction of Dr. Matthew Kirschenbaum. Porter teaches classes on electronic literature and globalization and has been recognized for his contributions to the growing online teaching program in the university’s English department.

Before returning to graduate school, Porter worked as product manager on the United Linux initiative, an effort to create a single Linux platform shared among distributors from Germany, Brazil, the U.S., and Japan.

A continuously updated schedule of talks is also available on the Digital Dialogues webpage.

Unable to attend the events in person? Archived podcasts can be found on the MITH website, and you can follow our Digital Dialogues Twitter account @digdialog as well as the Twitter hashtag #mithdd to keep up with live tweets from our sessions. Viewers can watch the live stream as well.

All talks free and open to the public. Attendees are welcome to bring their own lunches.

Contact: MITH (mith.umd.edu, mith@umd.edu, 301.405.8927).