Digital History
15 November 2011 
David Thomas and Valerie Johnson (TNA)
Does the Digital change anything?

Digital preservation is a hot topic in the world of archiving – just how do you preserve the digital record?  What do you keep?  What do you ignore?  These issues have always been crucial for archivists attempting to judge what will be useful for future researchers.  However, the digital poses specific problems as well.  For born-digital records when do you consider them complete?  A website (for example) can change regularly but still be considered complete – how do you archive something like that?  These are issues that David Thomas and Valerie Johnson from the National Archives tackle head-on.  David Thomas notes the American National Archives attempt to preserve US digital material on a scale beyond anything achievable in Britain.  However, does the scale necessarily matter?  Thomas believes that the concern over digital materials becoming unusable due to format changes  have, for the most part, proved unfounded.  Most projects, for instance, can still be accessible.  The issue is one more of survivability.  Of JISC and AHRC funded projects, Thomas believes around 10% have vanished entirely since the beginning of the boom. 

Valerie Johnson looks at the archive itself in more detail.  What should be kept and in what way?  How should archived digital materials be searchable?  What is the way forward?  There are hurdles still to overcome, and a recognition in the archive industry that digital materials will be scaling up over the coming decade and that means to catalogue and organise those materials are still required if those preserved materials are to be of any use to future researchers.  So does the digital change anything?  The answer here appears to be yes, but also no.


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