Matt Kirschenbaum has published an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education titled, Hamlet.doc? Literature in a Digital Age (From the issue of August 17, 2007.) The article nicely summarizes teases us with the question of what we scholars could learn about the writing of Hamlet if Shakespeare had left us his hard-drive. Kirschenbaum has nicely described and theorized the digital archival work humanists will need to learn to do in his forthcoming book from MIT Press, Mechanisms. Here is the conclusion of the Chronicle article,
Literary scholars are going to need to play a role in decisions about what kind of data survive and in what form, much as bibliographers and editors have long been advocates in traditional library settings, where they have opposed policies that tamper with bindings, dust jackets, and other important kinds of material evidence. To this end, the Electronic Literature Organization, based at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities, is beginning work on a preservation standard known as X-Lit, where the “X-” prefix serves to mark a tripartite relationship among electronic literature’s risk of extinction or obsolescence, the experimental or extreme nature of the material, and the family of Extensible Markup Language technologies that are the technical underpinning of the project. While our focus is on avant-garde literary productions, such literature has essentially been a test bed for a future in which an increasing proportion of documents will be born digital and will take fuller advantage of networked, digital environments. We may no longer have the equivalent of Shakespeare’s hard drive, but we do know that we wish we did, and it is therefore not too late ‚Äî or too early ‚Äî to begin taking steps to make sure we save the born-digital records of the literature of today.