A number of you have contacted me in the course of the last fortnight, worried about being unable to use some or any of the features of The Correspondence of William Henry Fox Talbot. May I take this occasion to thank you for your patience and understanding (and for the generally temperate comments – those more spirited ones I assume must merely exhibit great passion for using the site). Although it is having temporary problems, the site is alive and well and should be back online in the next week or two.
The immediate difficulty stems from routine software updates in De Montfort University’s main servers. These updates have left behind some legacy sites, not the least of which is the Correspondence. De Montfort hosts this site on a pro bono basis and thus resources to re-write the code are limited to the goodwill of interested parties. I have served as Volunteer Editor & Director since the project officially finished in 2003.
The Correspondence was one of the pioneers in the digital humanities and sadly many of its siblings have died along the way. Like residents of an assisted care facility, they do best when they have patient advocates. When I was constructing it in the late 1990s, I admired the approach of a little known start-up firm (I don’t think even that term existed then) and copied their thinking – not their technology – in the search mechanism. Today you will be familiar with them as Google. There were few standards back then for websites but more importantly little thought given to future sustainability. We were funded under an AHRB grant and published pretty much on time when the grant ended in 2003. Sir Graeme Davies, the Principal of Glasgow University, had been our protector but when he left the university there was a temporary lack of interest on the part of the then management. It only takes one bureaucratic cycle to kill such a project. Fortunately, De Montfort took it on and has been bravely using the chewing gum and sealing wax ever since.
Although the surrounding pages may seem dated, the actual transcriptions are updated constantly, thanks largely to suggestions from readers worldwide. Those of you who have made suggestions in the past few weeks may not immediately see the fruits of your labours, but they are safely stored awaiting the stabilisation of the platform. With student and other volunteer efforts we should be back online within the next few days. What it really needs is support for a project to update the underlying code to make it compatible with the present and future. Not a sexy project, but a necessary one to protect this resource that has aided so many people over the years. Can anyone get a request to Google to assist its crèche-mate? Any suggestions welcome.
In the meantime, the Catalogue Raisonné is being developed at a time when we have become fully aware of these future-proofing problems. The structure should be in place to maintain it over time and to migrate it
We should always return to Henry Talbot in these posts. His photographs are timeless and not subject to changing software and hardware platforms. Just use your eyes and enjoy.
Larry J Schaaf
Questions or Comments? Please feel encouraged to contact Prof Schaaf directly at email@example.com • WHFT, Foglia di Peonia, Photogenic drawing contact negative, 1839. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1936 (36.37 (9)). Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art; Schaaf 2262.