Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Napoleonic Satires

Napoleonic Satires: A Brown University Production

Napoleonic Satires (NS) is one of many digitization efforts undertaken by Brown University. The digitized documents in NS are taken from donations given to the university by three twentieth-century donors: Anne S. K. Brown, Paul Revere Bullard, and William H. Hoffman. Brown University states that "these gifts were presented by the donors . . . in the hope that their collections would be accessible to members of the Brown academic community and to the community at large, for purposes of research and pleasure." Digitizing these collections makes this aim possible in ways that, according to Brown University, "perhaps neither the donors nor their families could have imagined." Thus, the collection principles at work here are, quite plainly, to digitize documents from these three specific collections of satires directed towards Napoleonic rule in order to "participate in a broad conversation that spans genres to suggest that the official French images of Napoleon are no more authentic or permanent than the satiric image" (Napoleonic Satires).

The metadata schema employed by Brown University for the creation of NS is, apparently, an amalgamation of a series of metadata schemas. In each metadata record accessed by this author, there exist approximately seven declared namespaces of which four - METS, METS rights, MODS, and Brown University's Brown Mix - appear to be, more or less, metadata schemas. The other three declared namespaces are a bit more vague or seemed so to this author. They appear to be either linking languages or structural standards for the description of documents in XML. It is also declared that "the scans were catalogued . . . using the VRA categories." Thus, Brown University seems to be using somewhat of an array of schema for different levels of the digitization process. It is, therefore, quite undeniable that they are aware of metadata concepts and active, if not also somewhat confusing, in their pursuit of a thorough use of metadata schemas.

One particular aspect of this effort that this author found refreshing was a blanket declaration (Technical Information) by Brown University of their scanning and versioning - if versioning is the correct word - process. One reads quite early on the following:

"The satires were scanned at 600 dpi, 24-bit color and saved as uncompressed TIFF images. The TIFFs were then migrated to JPEG (125, 750, 1500, 3000 pixel) and MrSid (3000 pixel) images for distribution via the web."

This author must attest that he was unable to discover which of the above JPEG images - save the thumbnail sized one - NS and Brown University made available. When this author viewed an image, it appeared to be a JPEG2000 image and of a high enough quality that it could be zoomed in upon four times from its default size. The only frustrating aspect regarding this was that with each successive zoom, the user has to wait for the image to reconstitute itself in a series of partitions or rectangles as opposed to the traditional image that loads from the top-down. In other words, if this author was not accustomed to something else, the frustration caused by how the images reload after zooming in upon them would, more than likely, not be a cause for frustration. One other interesting aspect of the images NS and Brown University offer here is the ability to rotate the image clockwise and counter-clockwise. This would, in all likelihood, have been a wonderfully prescient decision on their part had they any images that needed to be rotated in order to be understood. Yet, this author came across no such image in need of rotation for it to be read, viewed, and digested.

Brown University and NS state their intentions for this digitization effort with the following words: "In digitizing these images and making them available to the internet community, these prints are made being available to a wide audience for uses beyond traditional academic research." One also finds their aspiration to "enable exploration of the contextual and visual juxtapositions these images suggest in themselves." Al of this, however, still leaves it unclear quite how they anticipate these images being used. Yet, one can hazard a guess that their expected audience may include a host of communities: scholars of the Napoleonic epoch in Europe; scholars of subversive techniques; modern-day and aspiring political satirists searching for inpsiration; and just about any other individual who discovers within themselves an impulse to explore a man who is, to this day, still lauded and loathed in an almost equal proportion.

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