Spring 2015 – UT iSchool Project: George Sanger Collection

This month we are excited to have a guest blog written by three University of Texas, School of Information students who had the chance to work with part of the George Sanger Collection. Their work focused on imaging a hard drive and outlining the process of their work.


Archiving George Sanger’s Workstation

By Heather Hughes, Ali Dzienkowski, and Graham Austin

Within archives, hybrid collections containing both paper and digital materials pose challenges in terms of preservation and providing access to researchers. This past spring semester, as ischool students in Dr. Galloway’s Digital Archiving and Preservation class, our group was assigned the task of retrieving data from George Sanger’s Macintosh 8600/300 workstation. George Sanger, a notable video game composer and local personality, has donated an extensive portion of his papers and artifacts used to compose music to the Briscoe Center.

Opening the computer revealed that we had two hard drives to work with: Sanger had added the second hard drive to increase storage capacity. Since the computer we were working with had probably not been turned on for the past ten years, we were uncertain as to whether the hard drives would boot up, or whether the data would be corrupted. Although we were very eager to image the drives, we initially spent a lot of time researching to learn more about Sanger and the technology we were working with. Our computer was part of a MIDI workstation, so we assumed that we would encounter a significant amount of MIDI files on these hard drives.(More information about these MIDI Files can be found here). We also needed to be certain that we had the right tools to ensure that we could take images from the disks without altering any data.

An image of the Sanger HD.
An image of the Sanger HD.

Taking images of the hard drives involved the use of digital forensic software on the Forensic Recovery Evidence Device (FRED), a laptop preconfigured with write-blocking devices,  in the UT School of Information’s Digital Archaeology Laboratory (DAL). The write-blockers ensured that no data was overwritten, and that no dates were changed. Once everything was connected, we were all relieved to hear the disks spin up. As soon as the software detected the drives, we were able to take full images of the two hard drives.

After successfully obtaining the disk images for both hard drives in the Power Macintosh 8600/300, we now had a lot of data that we needed to make sense of in order to think about how future researchers could explore these materials. Visualization software allowed us to get a sense of file distribution on the drives and the quantity of the different kinds of files. As we had predicted, a significant portion of the files were MIDI files. Probably the most exciting part of this project and the potential for future access was through our forays into emulation strategies. Using SheepShaver, an open source software, we were able to access Sanger’s desktop as he had last opened it. This offered insight into Sanger’s workspace and composition process.

SheepShaver emulation of George Sanger's workspace.
SheepShaver emulation of George Sanger’s workspace.

While all the materials we obtained and created were uploaded into the UT Digital Repository, ethical and privacy concerns lead us to take a cautious approach in considering future access. We decided to restrict access to the disk images of the hard drive, as well as the visualizations and textual representations of each hard drive, until a further analysis of the contents of the hard drives was conducted.

Although we were unsuccessful in our attempts to ask Sanger specific questions related to his use of the Power Macintosh 8600/300, it is crucial to begin a dialogue with him so that issues of privacy and accessibility of the files on the hard drives can be adequately addressed.

Although developing an emulated workstation for accessing these materials was not in the scope of our project, we believe that a Salman Rushdie style workstation is certainly a viable option for the Briscoe Center to pursue as a way to provide access for researchers interested in Sanger’s work processes. However, our group recommends that future archivists avoid tampering with the materials on the Sanger workstation to ensure that the original order is maintained. Another option that could be utilized to provide access to materials on the Sanger workstation is Emulation-as-a-Service, which would allow remote users to view these materials.

Based on what we discovered and learned during the course of our project, emulation should not be completely ruled out as a way to provide access to born-digital materials for researchers.


Our complete, final report can be found at: https://ford.ischool.utexas.edu/xmlui/handle/2081/32088.