Digital Archiving Resources

Acts of Translation: Digital Humanities and the Archive Interface


Acts of Translation: Digital Humanities and the Archive Interface


Web archiving


Elish and Trettien argue the interface of digital collections transfers meaning through its design and acts as a metonym for the sponsoring web site. They scrutinize the visual interface and usability of three web sites housing large digitized collections and focus on the ideologies associated with the representation and mission of each site. By applying what they refer to as “visual epistemology,” Elish and Trettien identify the tools and visual markers that facilitate access to and navigation through three digital archives: NINES (Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-century Electronic Scholarship), “Objects of History” (George Mason University), and SFMOMA Art Scope (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Both presentation of the items and navigation through the site work in tandem to produce meaning, with the preferred result being a minimizing of the interface and a maximizing of the content. In this article, the authors underscore the “expressive potential of digital form” and offer a method for designing and critiquing digital archives.


At this formative moment in the field of Digital Humanities, this paper seeks to intervene with the question: how does visual epistemology inform and influence the ways of accessing artifacts (broadly construed) in a digital space? As Research Assistants for MIT’s Hyperstudio, we have helped to design, plan and implement Digital Humanities projects; as scholars and students of art, literature and media, we have used digitalarchives in our own research. Drawing on these experiences, we explore the ways in which three recent web-based Digital Humanities projects draw on visual conventions and interface design to translate user interactions into archival access.


Elish, Madeleine Claire
Trettien, Whitney


MIT 6 Conference


April 2009


Polk, Victoria




Bibliographic Citation

Elish, Madeleine Claire and Whitney Trettien. "Acts of Translation: Digital Humanities and the Archive Interface." Paper presented at the MIT 6 Conference. Boston, MA, April 2009.




Elish, Madeleine Claire and Trettien, Whitney , “Acts of Translation: Digital Humanities and the Archive Interface,” Digital Archiving Resources, accessed May 27, 2018,