Relying on the Physical Archive to Thrive Digitally

Like Leigh, I realized it was too late to order the book and had to read it on my computer. I hate reading on a screen but in a pinch, I had no other option but to read it on iBooks and the screen of my phone. However, reading it on this digital platform made me think about the novel in the context of the digital world and what we have been studying about digital curation of a physical space (something that probably wouldn’t have happened had I read it in paperback form).

In middle school, I loved Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline. Much like The Graveyard Book, Coraline offered a wonderful blend of relatable, endearing, and adventurous characters within a totally unrelatable world. In many ways, The Graveyard Book follows a similar motif—an orphaned boy growing in up in a graveyard? In a deeper read, the novel says a lot about how we understand physical data, how it can be completely localized to its physical location, and in doing so, risks being forgotten. That is, risks being forgotten unless something or someone new comes along, sparks interest, and we are forced to find a way to bridge the gap in data information and knowledge to disperse this history to the rest of the world. Within this particular novel, Bob represents new data and the Owens couple and other graveyard characters are the old. Silas and Miss Lupescu offer new ways of understanding Bob’s surroundings that the older generations do not understand and cannot offer to the young boy. In a way, our class will dabble in this bridging of data when we “resurrect” someone from Davidson’s past. We will be the ones deciding how to bridge the gap between the life of the deceased and the present, offering him or her a digital presence that extends all over the web and outside the local Davidson community.

However, the novel does not discount the old ways of understanding and reading data–we shouldn’t either. It was interesting that instead of segregating the living from the dead, Gaiman depicts that Bob is able to develop and thrive in this space occupied by the dead. He learns by studying the past. He learns the alphabet by studying gravestones and learns about history through these spirits in the graveyard. Bob becomes friends with Scarlett, teaching her a history that she would not have learned otherwise. His education clearly suggests that there is something beneficial about history and about studying people from the past. More importantly, Bob uses the graveyard as the basis for all his knowledge of the world, allowing Silas and Miss Lupescu to extend that knowledge outside of the graveyard.

While the graveyard is clearly organized under its haphazard description, like Bob, we will have to dig around through archives and Davidson’s past to better understand their significance in the present. Like Michael Ding’s excellent post suggests, The Graveyard Book suggests that, “data sets require the proper lens to unpack and to comprehend” the world around us. Unknowingly, Bob tries on several of these lenses to unpack his world. Following this model, we too might benefit from looking at physical, localized artifacts first. By using the physical archive or artifact as a jumping off point, we can better understanding the importance of giving these to a digital presence and understanding their place in a broader historical context.

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