When Stanford Digital Repository staff found out someone was depositing research data about using x-ray lasers to explode jets of liquid, I have to admit there was a bit of excitement. Researching explosions (even on a small scale) sounds like an immense amount of fun. But Stanford researcher Claudiu Stan and his colleagues were doing way more important things out at SLAC than just having fun. They were performing serious research into fluid dynamics.
Inquiry from a hot zone
In late March of 2016, Frederic Ham, a geospatial analyst for Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF, also know as Doctors Without Borders) contacted Stanford University Libraries (SUL) looking for information. He needed data to help him create maps so that MSF could better plan their response to a current cholera outbreak in Zambia. He’d found what he wanted via SUL’s geospatial data portal, Earthworks, but wasn’t able to access it due to licensing restrictions. Was there any way we could help?
It's one thing to talk about an area of land under dispute, and it's another thing entirely to see it on a map. Professor of Political Science Kenneth Schultz demonstrates the validity of this statement with his recent work, "Mapping Interstate Territorial Conflict," which was published in December in the Journal of Conflict Resolution.
On September 2nd, 2015, I had the great privilege of conducting an oral history interview with John Chowning, Professor Emeritus at Stanford’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA). Chowning, a pioneer in the world of computer music, is perhaps best known as the inventor of Frequency Modulation (FM) synthesis. His discovery was eventually licensed to Yamaha who integrated it into a number of instruments, most importantly, the DX7, the world’s first mass-produced digital synthesizer, released in 1983. The DX7 is generally regarded as one of the most important musical instrument inventions of the past 50 years, and was widely adopted by artists across multiple genres in the 1980s. My interview with Chowning is now available via the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR). Chowning and I principally sat down to discuss Leon Theremin’s visit to Stanford in 1991, which Chowning organized and oversaw. Stanford University Libraries recently digitize video footage of this visit which included a day long symposium at CCRMA and an evening concert in Frost Amphiteatre at which Theremin, Max Mathews, and many other notable figures from the world of electronic and computer music at the time performed. However, Professor Chowning and I also discussed additional topics including Chowning's background in computer music, his history at Stanford and the inception of CCRMA, and his close personal and professional relationship with Max Mathews.
Our maps continued to be used in publications - today, another article featuring a map of California as an Island, was published in the The Atlantic's Citylab edition.
In today's mail, the newspaper arrived. It wasn't the San Francisco Chronicle on the San Jose Mercury News though. It was a copy of the Finnish newspaper Turun Sanomat, published in Turku, Finland. It wasn't until I turned to page 15 that I recognized something - a reproduction of the 1815 William Smith Map that we had scanned. William Smith published a map of Geology of what is now a good part of the UK, and earlier this year, we, along with the British Geological Society, celebrated 200 years since its publication. The map and article, all in Finnish of course, presumeably talks about the story of the man and how William Smith single-handedly authored and published this map. The newspaper used our scan both in the paper version and also in their online version.
Faculty retire, projects end, and the outputs of important research languish on forgotten hard drives and servers. It happens all the time. But retiring Professors Atilla Aydin and David Pollard wanted to be sure it didn't happen to them. For 25 years they co-directed the Stanford Rock Fracture Project (RFP) in the Geology and Environmental Sciences Department, but they were concerned about the long-term availability of the research outputs of that project once they retired.
Until they found out about the Stanford Digital Repository (SDR).
There are countless challenges in preserving obsolete media from breadth of formats to lack of documentation at the time of creation. With the history of recorded sound now spanning over one hundred years wide range of technologies utilized in this span, challenges abound for any individual working to capture the range of media in need of preservation. To accomplish this feat constant engagement is required to further understand the media, the way media is degrading, and best practices for preserving historic recordings that range from cylinders to digital multi-track recording sessions.