I have been thinking about digital archives in the humanities – specifically for historians – for a while now. I believe that certain technologies, under the web 2.0 rubric*, provide new and exciting ways for historians to completely rethink their notions of archive, access, and, perhaps, public knowledge itself.
Take, for instance, the Mughal India “virtual room” archive on Mughal India at The British Museum. It was launched in 2004 and geared towards high-school pedagogy with an object-based, click-through interface. If anyone remembers CD-ROM games/adventures/encyclopedias from mid-90s, one would be terribly at home here. I guess someone, somewhere, thought that kids-these-days like to endlessly click in virtual spaces to get information [no Second Life or WoW quips, please] but it boggles my mind. The information – the archive, if you will – is so hard to find, so piecemeal, and inaccessible that this exercise is useless. You cannot cut and paste any information. You cannot bookmark anything. You cannot even read something properly. Worst of all, there is no feedback – no community of any sort, created through this process. Not even a comment board. The organization is also hectic – there is scant reason to find things where you end up finding them. For example, would you expect to see a 3D model of the Taj Mahal in the section titled, A Day in the Life of…? A X-axis only spinning 3D model? Not me.
I do appreciate the fact that this is geared towards pedagogy with some lesson-plans etc. but the execution leaves much to be desired. Perhaps this could work as a downloaded, self-run flash program on the student machine. Perhaps. This certainly isn’t the way we need to think about digital archives aimed at pedagogy.