This site demonstrates a description scheme and model for preservation and use of computing devices. The key features here are navigation of a computer system through hierarchical component browsing (the items listed on the right side of an item's page) and navigation across computing devices through tag groupings ('video card', 'motherboard', etc.). Tags for an item are found near the bottom of the item's page. Every item is accompanied with some basic descriptive and technical metadata, and these fields can be refined and expanded upon by an administrator, as use requires. Where it is possible metadata on actual manufacture dates and companies has been given, and an emphasis on connections (external and internal) and the use capacity of the device (read/write abilities, OS affordances, etc.) is attempted.

Project Background and Applications

As the number of computing devices in special collections and archives increases, describing systems with a model name and a few key specifications will become less and less useful. If archives are collecting systems now, such as the Rushdie and Mailer laptops, and soon hundreds of systems from any number of digital media creators and artists, that basic metadata may not suffice.

Preservation and conservation efforts focused on works created on a system, as well as the system itself, will need a more detailed description of the system. What are the metals, plastics and board materials of the system? What chips and cards can be replaced by modern counterparts and keep the system behaving as it traditionally has? What was the microprocessor of the system, can it be emulated? What significant behaviors would emulation entail? What storage media was used, who manufactured it? Are there behavioral traits or liabilities we should be aware of?

A standard model could be geared toward the growing Linked Data and DCMI Abstract Model movements, and would facilitate regular expression of these systems such that components and properties are universally exchanged, indexed and searched. There could be numerous roles for that network: an aid to computer history, literacy and conservation, an emerging database of computer hardware configurations and behaviors, and a valuable resource for the digital humanist interested in the materiality of the tools and media of digital works. This would also help the researcher look beyond a single creator and his or her machine(s), but to many creators, across a wide time span, and all machines in that body of work.

This type of modeling may also parallel modular emulation projects, where component emulators (such as the sound card, microprocessor, video controller, etc.) are developed independently and mixed and matched to form a system. Finally, this modeling could sync well with the open source hardware movement and lower-cost 3D printing. Practicing accurate modeling and description of systems can help collecting institutes keep in touch with these developments.

It is generally acknowledged that migrating works in “legacy” formats (such as print and graphic works on paper, vellum, board, etc.) to the digital format is a time and labor-intensive process. However, computing machines are in a sort of legacy format themselves, and poorly represented in the digital realm. While digital surrogates are found as so many pictures and descriptions across the Internet, no cohesive model or schema exists for moving complex computing artifacts into accurate and comprehensive digital documents.

Walker Sampson

Site Credits

This site was initially developed over the summer by a team including Walker Sampson, who was in residence under the auspices of the IMLS-sponsored Digital Humanities Model Internship Program.

Matt Kirschenbaum

Concept and Direction

Walker Sampson

Project and Site Functionality

Dave Lester

Project Management

Elisabeth Kvernen

Site Design and Art

Charles Pinnix

Site Design and Art