, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 85-116
Date: 10 Jun 2010

‘Nothing is the same as something else’: significant properties and notions of identity and originality

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Abstract

What does it mean to claim that one record, one archival object, is identical to another? Questions of identity (or ‘sameness’) often arise in the fields of digital preservation, imaging, transcription and editing. Experts in these fields sometimes assert that success in their mission depends on the ability to define the ‘significant’ or ‘essential’ properties of records and that, if these can be protected, the identity of records will be preserved across episodes of migration or conversion. However, the determination of ‘significant properties’ is no less problematical than the debate about notions of ‘value’ in appraisal theory, not least because different user communities will bring different perceptions of what constitutes significance. The sameness of discrete entities, the concept of significance and the methods by which sameness or significance might be assessed are all open to dispute; opinions will inevitably depend on the contexts in which judgements are made. Originality is also a frequently contested notion, especially in the digital world, but must not be dismissed as meaningless. The copies that emerge from acts of migration, conversion or transcription are neither incontrovertibly identical to their originals nor carriers of properties that are objectively significant.