Digital transformations and the archival nature of surrogates


Large-scale digitization is generating extraordinary collections of visual and textual surrogates, potentially endowed with transcendent long-term cultural and research values. Understanding the nature of digital surrogacy is a substantial intellectual opportunity for archival science and the digital humanities, because of the increasing independence of surrogate collections from their archival sources. The paper presents an argument that one of the most significant requirements for the long-term access to collections of digital surrogates is to treat digital surrogates as archival records that embody traces of their fluid lifecycles and therefore are worthy of management and preservation as archives. It advances a theory of the archival nature of surrogacy founded on longstanding notions of archival quality, the traces of their source and the conditions of their creation, and the functional “work of the archive.” The paper presents evidence supporting a “secondary provenance” derived from re-digitization, re-ingestion of multiple versions, and de facto replacement of the original sources. The design of the underlying research that motivates the paper and summary findings are reported separately. The research has been supported generously by the US Institute of Museum and Library Services.

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The ideas in this article were presented initially at the 5th Conference on Archival Databases about Archival Information in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 4, 2013. A substantially revised version was delivered as the 2013 Hilary Jenkinson Memorial Lecture at University College London, September 25, 2013. The Institute for Museum and Library Services provided support for the underlying research represented in this article.

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Conway, P. Digital transformations and the archival nature of surrogates. Arch Sci 15, 51–69 (2015).

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  • Large-scale digitization
  • Preservation repositories
  • Archival quality
  • Surrogacy
  • Digitization