Archiving digital narrative

Within her introduction to ‘Narrative Across Media: The Languages of Storytelling‘, Marie Laure-Ryan explores Philip Sturgess’ (via Kant) definition of aesthetic teleology, developing an approach that considers the consistency with which a text makes use of its constituent story platforms. Equally significant to scholars is the degree to which a culture preserves and curates significant texts within each specific platform – a concern made more immediate by the expansion and concurrent obsolescence of media environments within the broader digital ecology.

Whether digital stories exist as games, mechanistic story-engines, emergent narrative spaces or rigorously authored narrative arcs (the relatively shallow and brief nature of this list points inevitably toward the beginning of a laborious but necessary taxonomy), we have a choice – do we decide to preserve and archive those forms in order that our own brief history of digital storytelling can be understood, pored over and placed into context, or are we content to allow new forms of story to fade and disappear as their platforms are replaced by radical shifts in the digital playing field?

If we accept that the former is not simply a choice, but constitutes a key responsibility, then the manner, form and availability of that archive becomes as important as the choice and organisation of those items placed within it.

The British Library has, in recent months, begun an ambitious programme to archive the UK web domain. Working with academic partners and institutions including the UK Web Archive Consortium and the IIPC’s Digital Preservation Taskforce, the Library, drawing on the Legal Deposit Libraries Act (2003) has developed tools capable of domain harvesting and selective, deep archival of website content. The archive created will exist within the purview of the Library and be freely available for study and exploration by the public. The DCRC has begun to work with the Library to determine the scope of a Digital Storytelling Collection within the UK Web Archive. Reflecting the diverse nature of digital storytelling, and attempting to begin the taxonomic and curatorial process proposed above, Dr Tom Abba is gathering a collection of projects representative of the rapid evolution of digital story spaces. The collection will be held within the Library’s web archive and reciprocally linked from the DCRC’s site, where the development of an initial taxonomy of digital story will shortly be underway.

Websites, once nominated and access permissions granted, will be gathered and archived during 2011 by the Library’s archival team. The nature of this project – as an holistic catalogue that grows as the field matures – demands that the archival process continues beyond the initial scope of the Special Collection, and in light of this, proposals for digital story examples should be forwarded to Tom Abba.

This is a major aspect of DCRC’s Digital Narrative Archive project, but by no means the only output. A Special Debates collection was included in the May 2012 issue of Convergence (University of Bedfordshire Press/Sage), addressing the debate around the role and constitution of archives in a digital age.