A Unified Approach to Preserving Cultural Software Objects and Their Development Histories


Project Team

Eric Kaltman, Noah Wardrip-Fruin, Christy Caldwell (UCSC Library), Henry Lowood (Stanford Library)


This project addresses a pressing problem for digital humanities, computing, and archival preservation. How can culturally significant software produced today be archived so that it will be available for scholarly research in the future? We address a specific and significant aspect of this general problem: Software that is produced in universities and other non-commercial research institutions. In particular, we will focus on game software and its development. To date, little attention has been given to the problem of archiving academic software, and it is safe to say that virtually none has been given to academic game development. There are good reasons to address this problem. Academic data and software code is distinctive in many respects that we will illuminate in this study; these characteristics both enhance the value of academic software and explain much of the difficulty in its documentation and preservation, as we will show. At the same time, in some cases the issues raised by game software and academic software also exemplify larger issues in the field of software studies, as we will also discuss.
We believe that libraries and archives, the institutions that will be challenged by the task of preserving archives and collections of game software development for future scholars, have not yet fully grasped the nature of computer games either as a medium or as a created artifact, and thus, as a collection object.  An important reason for this knowledge gap is the lack of procedural guidance in handling, appraisal and retention of complex computational objects. Our primary goal is to present a preliminary framework for understanding the different facets of the processes that create games in terms that will translate into effective institutional archives of academic software development. Future scholars and designers will need well-organized and viable archives to understand the history of cultural software objects. This report lays the foundation for building software archives on a sound understanding of software development.
This report made possible by NEH Digital Start Up Grant HD-51719-13. For questions please email ekaltman@soe.ucsc.edu

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Posted: Jan.21.2015
Category: EIS