Digital Web Archiving: From Practice to Theory

AHA Session 202
Saturday, January 9, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Regency Ballroom V (Hyatt Regency Atlanta, Lower Level 1)
Micki Kaufman, Modern Language Association

Session Abstract

With the advent of the Web, the notion of a historical record is undergoing a slow, steady and decisive change. As historians begin to examine topics from the 1990s onward, or to engage with questions of historical memory or knowing during this period, Web archives become increasingly important. The growing importance of Web archives is not just of concern for those studying the Web itself, but for historians who study any form of political, economic, social, or cultural phenomenon. The Web is intertwined into modern day history, and Web archives will become an ever more important tool for scholars. In a pivotal 2003 American Historical Review article, Roy Rosenzweig explored the shift from scarcity to abundance of information in the digital age, and illustrated the fragility of abundant digital information. Working with Web archives, scholars are beginning to understand what fragile but abundant information means for historians practicing in a digital era. Fruitful application of digital humanities theory and methodologies means that historians are beginning to engage with scholars of the "live Web," as well as applying textual analysis, network theory, and visualization to address research questions.

The need for new research tools, skills, and theory to explore Web archive repositories raises several questions around which this panel revolves. Specifically, we address what can be learned from exploring millions of web pages as sources. Further, we will explore how archival theory has evolved to meet new challenges associated with large scale research. Panelists will also discuss the skills that are needed in order for historical studies to better adapt to research in this context: it is important that we properly equip the next generation of historians. Finally, the panelists will discuss how the need for larger-scale approaches, exploring tens of thousands of pages, can be balanced against focused case studies.

"Web Archives: From Practice to Theory," a topical roundtable, brings together speakers who will draw on their diverse backgrounds to tackle these questions. We will begin with case studies and finish with a reflection on their theoretical implications. Ian Milligan uses to explore how from thirty-eight million webpages, we can excavate evidence pointing towards GeoCities as a vibrant, interconected place where members derived a real sense of community. Federico Nanni uses specific case studies of Italian universities for describing how to study the recent past of academic institutions in a digital environment that lacks a National web archive. Matthew Weber leverages data from the Internet Archives to explore the evolution of online news and social movements, and utilizes an evolutionary framework to study community growth over time. Finishing up our presentations, Meghan Dougherty explores the evolution of archival practice in light of the rise of digital cultural heritage; she argues that as research methods develop, we have the opportunity for further experimentation both in archiving and in research methods. Finally, the chair, Micki Kaufman, will provide connective tissue and mediate on the technological, methodological and interpretive issues that connect these scholars’ work and confront historians of this digital age.

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