Archival Science

, Volume 10, Issue 2, pp 85–116 | Cite as

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

  • Geoffrey YeoEmail author
Original paper


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.


Significant properties Identity Originality Value 



I am grateful to Laura Millar and to Elizabeth Shepherd, Andrew Flinn and other members of the ICARUS research seminar group at University College London, who kindly commented on an earlier draft of this paper. I am also grateful to Elaine Penn for drawing my attention to the references to ‘value’ in the works of Margaret Cross Norton.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University College LondonLondonUK

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