Historians worried about disappearing digital archives





As digital archives have become more important and more popular, there are varying schools of thought among scholars about how best to guarantee that they will be around for good. Some think that the best possibility is for the creators of the archives -- people generally with some passion for the topic -- to keep control. Others favor acquisition, thinking that larger entities provide more security and resources for the long run.

The fate of"Paper of Record," a digital archive of early newspapers with a particularly strong collection of Mexican newspapers, may be cited in the years ahead as an example of the dangers of purchase by a large entity. Paper of Record was purchased (secretly) by Google in 2006, and shortly after Google took over management of the site, late last year, the archive disappeared from view. After weeks in which historians have complained to Google and others about the loss of their ability to work, the previous owner of the archive has received permission to bring the archive back for some period of time, and resumption of service could start as early next week.

While the imminent return of the site will please scholars, many are worried about what the incident says about the availability and accessibility of key resources. Writing on the blog of the American Historical Association, Robert B. Townsend quoted the late Roy Rosenzweig, a George Mason University professor who was a pioneer in digital history, on the"fragility of evidence in the digital era."



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