International Conference
April 24-26, 2009 MIT

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history and archives

Definitions: Oxford English Dictionary definition of “Archive:”

(from French, late Latin, for "magisterial residence, public office.")

1. A place in which public records or other important historical documents are kept.

2. A historical record or document so preserved.Excerpt from Wikipedia entry for “Archive:”In general, archives consist of records which have been selected for permanent or long-term preservation, due to their enduring research value. Archival records are normally unpublished and almost always unique, unlike books or magazines, in which many identical copies exist. This means that archives (the places) are quite distinct from libraries with regard to their functions and organization, although archival collections can often be found within library buildings.

Throughout thousands of years of history and the extinction of many written literatures, the oral tradition has survived and prospered. How has oral composition survived so many changes? Are there parallels between the ancient oral traditions and the emerging internet culture?

Whether they are recorded on stone, clay, paper, recording tape, or film, physical archival records have, since ancient times, been a primary source material for recorded history. How might the switch to widely distributed, digital media change not just archives but history itself?

In the past, archives have primarily served small audiences of professional historians and private enthusiasts. As digitization forces archives from the cultural margins towards the center and onto the internet, what must archive managers do to serve new, vastly expanded audiences?

An archive once meant physical documents kept in a specific place, often protected and managed by government or institutional officials. Given that 21st century digital documents can not be handled or authenticated by scholars, can easily be altered, forged, or erased, are recorded in media controlled by corporate planned obsolescence, and are not located in physical space, is an archive of digital documents still an archive?