Archiving: what we do (and don’t)

BEMA began with the discovery in the collection of the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham of some of the photographic archive of David Talbot-Rice. Among other things, these images and notes recorded his role in early excavations in Istanbul between the 1920s and 1950s. Though secure in the Barber Institute, lack of digital access meant that they were unknown and unused. At around the same time (2013-14) we were made aware of the efforts Anthony Bryer was going to to find a good home for his own archive of images taken over his long career in Byzantine studies. His archive ended up in the University of Birmingham Special Collections, but is likewise unlikely to be digitised for some time, owing to the huge pressure on all such repositories to manage vast and growing collections.

We were not, therefore, primarily seeking a project or a web resource when these two discoveries took place. We were looking to develop a solution and build on it as we went along. It is increasingly difficult to find funding for the digitisation of comparatively small archives, such as those of David Talbot-Rice in the Barber and Anthony Bryer, or multiple archives on a single theme. This is in part a result of general cuts in funding for projects in the arts and humanities and in part a result of reasonable concerns about the sustainability of small digitisation projects. We had looked into such funding and were getting nowhere, though we continue to develop new applications and, as this resource grows in size and demonstrable utility, we hope to prove its value to an ever widening audience.

Initially, however, we resolved that to do something was better than to do nothing, and so our first concrete step was to sit down and examine what we realistically could not do. This list remains the clearest statement of what BEMA is and seeks to achieve. It also allows us to remain flexible. Beyond what we don’t do (and a very few things we actually do) lies a realm of enormous possibility to grow, develop and improve the project.

This section is particularly important if you are thinking about whether a small archive you have might be suitable for digitisation by BEMA. Please read it carefully and if you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us.

We do

– We do all of the digitising for BEMA ourselves. This means that we digitise images on equipment available to us free of charge through out institutional libraries or privately. Changes in equipment availability may, therefore, result in differences in image type or resolution from one archive to another.

– We do hold the copyright for all of the digital images we create. See our copyright page.

– We do commit to maintaining this website and its associated image storage site and to update the archives and related material.

We do not

– We do not deal with images or documents relating to sites or material pre A.D. 200. This is because this archive grows out of the interests of the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies at the University of Birmingham. We are keen to focus on the Late Antique period (very broadly defined) and later. This is also an effort to limit the volume of material by excluding Hellenistic or early Roman material. In the case of archives which cover a broad period, we would consider archiving some earlier material in order to maintain the coherence of an archive with substantial later emphasis, and would assess this on a case-by-case basis.

– We do not hold, maintain or conserve physical archives. BEMA is an entirely electronic archiving project. We do not offer storage for, or conservation of, the physical objects we digitise. All objects digitised by the project will be returned to their owners in the condition in which they were sent to us following digitisation. Where possible we will maintain a record on the site of where each physical archive is located and its accessibility.

– We do not promise a fixed turn-around time for archiving. As this project is run in our free time we assess every job individually and negotiate a time for digitisation and the return of the archive with its owner. This is not an effort to get us off the hook, and we don’t want to keep hold of things for years any more than anybody else, but we do need to maintain some flexibility.

– We do not charge fees for non-commercial reproduction of our digitised images (see Copyright).

– We do not provide cataloguing or identification of images or documents. We will record and upload any information provided with an archive but will not research images.

– We do not make any financial gain from this project. Any income from commercial reproductions or raised through applications to research funds or councils is used to maintain and develop this archive. The costs of doing so are detailed on our Support page..


1 Response to Archiving: what we do (and don’t)

  1. Pingback: Introducing the Birmingham East Mediterranean Archive | A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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