Web Archives for Historians

A Heisenberg Principle of web archiving ?

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It’s been great to see the historical perspective being represented at this week’s General Assembly of the IIPC in Stanford. Following the Twitter hashtag at #iipcGA15, this older post came to mind. The comprehensive domain-wide archiving under UK Non-Print Legal Deposit that it refers to is now two years old; and 2015 has seen a significant upswing in attention being paid to web archiving in the press. So: do we yet know what the effect of widespread web archiving will be on the behaviour of those being archived? I don’t think we do; and historians of the future will need to know.

Webstory: Peter Webster's blog

Whatever it means to real scientists, the famous ‘uncertainty principle’ of Werner Heisenberg is sometime popularly taken to mean that it is impossible closely to observe something without in some way altering it. It’s also a conundrum that has faced anthropologists when observing cultures far removed from their own: how far does the consciousness of being observed alter the behaviour of the subject ?

I’ve been publishing in print in the traditional way for some years now, and everyone knows that books are (in theory) permanent, that they find their way into libraries; and so one writes conscious that the words cannot be unwritten. Writing for the web, however, has had a more transient aesthetic: I can write with the freedom that comes from knowing that (in a site I control) I can retrospectively edit at will, should I choose to. There are good scholarly reasons not to, to do…

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