Wednesday, June 25, 2008

In Brief: Revisiting Digital Archiving and Lebanese Food Resistance

--Last August, I wrote about D.T. Max’s New Yorker article on Tom Staley and the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. As I indicated, Staley’s perspective on digital archiving remains one of the most notable aspects of the profile. By refusing to offer any material online, as well as referring to the Center’s materials as future “bastions,” he’s taking a firmly traditional position with regards to access and audience.

That’s all well and good—there’s a legitimate argument for having scholars and patrons experience valuable literary collections in person. But the more I think about library technology issues, the question that Ayanna Prevatt-Goldstein asks here seems more relevant: “…what will Staley’s successors collect when no one writes on manual typewriters…any more?” In other words, what happens to the Center’s collections when its collections material will consist of e-mails, Microsoft Word documents, and Web pages? Even if Staley’s successors will follow his course in concentrating upon the modernist period, one would think that collections from younger authors would eventually make the question more urgent.

Of course, digital storage presents its own problems, now least of which is how to provide secure storage for valuable virtual communication and documents that can disappear quite easily (as the White House has aptly demonstrated). But if we believe that digital methods provide “another powerful weapon to the armory of solutions,” then Staley and the Center are working with an incomplete arsenal. And it’s quite legitimate to wonder when that approach will ultimately be costly.

--Also from last year: in this post, I discussed how the Slow Food movement in Lebanon constituted a positive form of “public resistance in the war-torn region.” Another possible form of resistance is Buns and Guns restaurant in Beirut, which has caught the attention of the BBC. In offering dishes named after military weapons, owner Yousef Ibrahim argues that the theme “attracts customers in an unconventional way,” providing them with some humor.

Katie Hunter writes that “recent events in Lebanon are no laughing matter” in light of six deaths earlier in the week. She notes (as does the BBC) that Ibrahim is a Hezbollah supporter, and operates his restaurant in a neighborhood with strong Hezbollah sentiment. From an ideological standpoint, is there more to Buns and Guns than just humor? It’s hard to say, but perhaps offering “RPG” sandwiches is a small way of using food to reconcile the violence that Beirut has witnessed over the past couple of years.

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