Chapter 15: Web Historiography and the Emergence of New Archival Forms

Meghan Dougherty, and Steven Schneider

The Web is a distinctive mix of the ephemeral and the permanent: its content can be relied upon to last for only a relatively brief time, but it must exist in a stable form prior to its presentation in order for it to be experienced. The ephemerality of the Web requires that researchers take pro-active steps to enable future analysis, and the permanence of the Web makes this possible. Although archiving techniques have and continue to be developed to support scholarly research of Web-based phenomena, these techniques pose significant challenges for the historians of new media. The response to these challenges has changed the nature of archives in significant ways, facilitating the emergence of what we term “Archive 3.0.” Early archives of physical objects began as bureaucratic entities housed in closed spaces with limited access, which served the purpose of preserving artifacts. Archive 2.0 is a recent instantiation of archives that relies on the mechanization and digitization of archive records. Archive 2.0 enables easy access, and fast linear search and retrieval. Archive 3.0 is motivated by access and enrichment. Enrichment is facilitated by the supporting architecture that allows once static databases can be extensible, engaging, and social. Extensibility and enrichment underlines the “complex series of authored stages” of the Web archiving process as well as the historiography that develops from those archives. These stages, evident in the selective and iterative nature of Web archiving, hold significant implications for historians and their interpretations of archived artifacts, as the process of archiving, and the nature of the archival interface, are themselves an interpretative model that requires exploration and inquiry. This chapter will explore the ways in which scholarly web archiving responds to the tensions between the ephemeral and the permanent nature of Web artifacts, and examine the implications of Web archiving techniques on the interpretative models employed by historians and other scholars of the Web. We will trace the evolution of Web archives in scholarly practice, and suggest that emerging techniques of archiving require a new interpretation of the archive itself as an authored and social medium.