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Thus far, Indiana University has been generous with its storage capacity. The high storage requirements of video have always been provided at no cost to the project and we have been assured that this will continue for some time. The Mass Data Storage System at Indiana University currently has a capacity of 4.2 petabytes and the EVIA Project, with holdings of 30 terabytes, is among the top twenty largest users of its storage capabilities.

Conceptual dilemmas

The EVIA Project’s unique combination of preservation, access, and scholarly publishing has positioned us to address important needs and functions but it has not fit well into existing models and conventions. In addition to the challenges of sustaining the project, we currently face several key questions that get at the heart of what we are and what we are trying to do. How we answer these questions will have an important impact on the continued success of the project.


The materials in the EVIA Digital Archive Project are perfect candidates for the kind of online interaction that so-called “Web 2.0” technologies enable. The video and accompanying scholarly annotations can be enhanced with thoughtful perspectives from other scholars, students, and the subjects of the video themselves. As time goes by, updates that speak to changes in the subject or contexts of the recordings will also be valuable for both research and instruction. However, if we look to such popular models of user commentary as YouTube or Flickr, they show practices of commentary or “meta-annotation” that range from the expert to the idiotic and worse. At present, our site does not allow this kind of interaction but we have discussed it frequently. Any archive of ethnographic material must act as a steward and work to protect the subjects of their recordings from misuse and abuse. While the subjects may have agreed to allow recordings of them to be accessed online, they may not have sought out this opportunity and also may not appreciate the kind of thoughtless ridicule that such websites facilitate. We have postponed such discussions because of more basic concerns with guiding collections to completion and publication and ensuring the website functionality, but it is a question we must address—how open can we be and how might such a dialog be moderated?

Control versus dynamism

We have opted for a particular path in web publishing. Online publishing offers relatively easy updatability. Unlike the printed book or journal with words and images fixed to the page, online print does not require a new print run and new editions. However, the process of peer review implies that a piece of writing is fixed in time and that revisions void the validity of the peer review. We have the kind of material that the depositing scholars could spend the rest of their lives describing and analyzing and this has indeed presented challenges to the completion of annotations, as an individual’s ethnographic understanding usually continues to evolve. By choosing the weight of peer review and the functionality of persistent URLs, however, we cement our written content and create a static object that cannot fully utilize the dynamic capabilities of online publishing. We think that meta-annotation is perhaps the best solution, so this is an avenue we continue to explore.

Archival process turned upside down

One of the key issues the EVIA Project has attempted to address is the work of preparing materials for archival and library ingest. It is still common for an archive to receive recordings and notes from a scholar or his/her survivors decades after the research was conducted. The state of the documentation is highly variable; not only does it require a great deal of detective work to put the pieces together, but it is always clear that much is lost because too much time has gone by. Especially worrisome today is that much of the documentation now resides in electronic form that may not be getting migrated to new file formats and new media, so much may be lost to digital obsolescence. Our goal has been for the EVIA Digital Archive Project to provide tools that would enable scholars to more easily describe their recordings in a form that is archive and library-friendly. It has been our hope that this solution offers many benefits all around—the scholars have tools to describe and organize their recordings in a form that they know will not become obsolete in a few years; the archive acquires richer descriptive information; and users get the benefit of rich and more readily accessible content. The challenge has been that this scenario requires preservation work prior to the accessioning of the recordings and documentation into the archive, and this is completely backwards from standard media archive practice. Archivists don’t want to accept collections without documentation, but proper annotation requires working with derivatives from preservation masters. Preservation production does not fit well into a standard workflow if the recordings have not been accessioned. This dilemma has turned out to be a vexing problem between the EVIA Digital Archive Project and the Archives of Traditional Music. Ultimately, this issue has two components: first, is it worth investing in a scholar to develop collection documentation and trust that you will receive benefits from that investment, and second, can we rethink the way archival ingestion and scholar-archive relationships work?


The EVIA Project has built a software platform and a suite of services that have addressed pressing needs within a core group of ethnographic disciplines. It has also always been our intention that this platform and accompanying services can serve a wide range of disciplinary needs, and so we are moving into the future by using the EVIA Project as a base from within our Digital Arts and Humanities Institute to improve our core features and to expand into new areas of scholarship. Some of our basic choices about media preservation and open access have been made with careful consideration about what is the right and necessary thing to do. In the coming years we will determine how we can sustain this particular vision and become a more widespread solution to a range of scholarly and educational needs.


Bradley, Kevin, ed. 2009. Guidelines on the Production and Preservation of Digital Audio Objects: IASA TC04 . 2nd edition. International Association for Sound and Audiovisual Archives.

Casey, Mike and Bruce Gordon. 2007. Sound Directions: Best Practices for Audio Preservation. Indiana University and Harvard University. (External Link) .

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Source:  OpenStax, Online humanities scholarship: the shape of things to come. OpenStax CNX. May 08, 2010 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11199/1.1
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