Colonial Revivals: The Nineteenth-Century Lives of Early American Books

By Lindsay Dicuirci | Go to book overview

Epilogue
(Re)Born Digital

The idea is to build the Library of Alexandria Two.

—Brewster Kahle, Founder, Internet Archive

The archive, then, is home to the counternarrative, or at least to its
possibility.

—Jennifer L. Morgan, “Archives and Histories of Racial
Capitalism” (2015)

This book began with the lost manuscript of William Bradford, its fortuitous discovery and heralded homecoming to Massachusetts. Upon its restoration to the Massachusetts State House in 1897, it was quickly canonized. Senator Hoar proclaimed, “There is nothing like it in human annals since the story of Bethlehem,” his suggestion granting it almost biblical inerrancy.1 Bradford’s book was never “lost” again; indeed, it is ubiquitous in print and, more recently, in digital formats. Readers can view a PDF of the original manuscript through the Massachusetts State House archives just as easily as they can read a print edition of it on Google Books or an HTML edition on Project Gutenberg.2 In its four-hundred-year journey from composition to digitization, Bradford’s book embodies the repeated collision of dead and undead people and technologies: a (lost) manuscript, found and poorly transcribed, partially reprinted, photographed and retranscribed, revised and reprinted, scanned, digitized, and encoded. To read Of Plymouth Plantation online today is to encounter the work of a thousand hands making a thousand decisions. Bradford’s bibliographic saga requires that we trace the media history of old books and critically assess the processes of se lection, reproduction, and remediation by which they land in our hands or on our screens. Further, though, we must

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