Born-Digital Archives A Digital Forensic Perspective on the Historicity of Born-digital Primary Records

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Thorsten Ries

    University of Sussex

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The proposed paper will scope the complexity of born-digital archives from a digital forensic, historical and philological perspective. Personal digital archives, institutional repositories, web archives, email archives and social media archives create(d) digital primary records that the historical humanities struggle to fully recognize as documents in their own right (Winters 2018, 2019, Kirschenbaum 2016b, Baker 2018). The historicity of the forensic materiality and structure of the born-digital record is a concept still to be methodologically and theoretically understood in the humanities and in archival science (Ries 2017, 2018). Digital forensic features of primary records shape digital evidence by virtue of historically specific undocumented or unintended software and operating system behaviour, hard­- or soft­wa­re bugs, physical damage, system crashes, malware or deliberate manipulation that leave born-digital traces or historically specific lacunae in the primary record that call for a historical understanding of distributed digital forensic materiality (Ries 2018, Ries, Palko 2019, Drucker 2013, Blanchette 2011, Kirschenbaum 2008).
Selected examples from forensic investigations into Friedrich Kittler‘s (Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach am Neckar), Michael Speier‘s (private archive), Marcel Beyer‘s (private archive), Hanif Kureishi‘s (British Library), Craig Taylor‘s (British Library, private archive) and Glyn Moody‘s (private, Science Museum) personal digital archives, born-digital records in the Mass Observation Archive (The Keep, University of Sussex) and digital art and web archives – which are all part of the ongoing research project based on Ries 2010, 2017, 2018 - will serve as examples of irreducible forensic complexity of born-digital archives that needs to be preserved in appropriate forensic formats, not only to ensure authenticity and chain of custody, but also to preserve historically specific computing artefacts and traces. These include recoverable drafts of writing projects, file and file system structure artefacts, error correction reports, recoverable temporary data, i/o-driver data and metdata, operating system traces, revealing fragmentation and lacunae that trace the history of digital events, based on historically specific forensic features and mechanisms. Born-digital forensic methods and tools themselves are subject to digital history, with their bugs and limitations that have to be methodologically and historically reflected.
The purpose of this paper is to argue that forensic materiality and analysis is methodologically relevant for critical appraisal and understanding of production processes of born-digital sources in the humanities as a whole, including history, social history, political and culture studies (including literature, art history etc).

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