Chapter 17: Digital History and a Register of Websites: An Old Practice with New Implications

Niels Brügger

When writing the history of any media — old as well as new — it is important and necessary for a media historian to get a chronological and systematic overview of the detailed information, comprising that history. One way of doing this is to create a register of the media in question. Studies of newspapers, film, or radio and television programmes very often take as their point of departure a register where the basic information of the object of study is listed: when was the newspaper printed, where, and by whom? — what was the name of the television programme, who made it, and when was it aired?

However, when writing the history of one of our newest media — the website — such old practices are challenged since the website is a very different media type compared to newspapers, film, radio and television. When doing web history we normally have to rely on archived websites, but as opposed to the archives of old media the archived website has a number of specific characteristics, some of which are related to the problem of updating throughout the archiving process, others to the lack of temporal coherence, etc. (cf. Brügger 2009). We are therefore forced to reconsider a number of the theoretical and methodological approaches that normally go unquestioned in the practice of making a register of old media.

Following this line of thought — and in contrast to registers of old media — this chapter sets out to outline and discuss some of the general theoretical and methodological implications of making a register of websites. The impetus for this discussion is an ongoing research project about the history of the Danish national public service broadcaster DR’s website, and the practical work with establishing a register of the sub-sites on this website from 1996 to 2006 (eg. sub-sites such as The history of DR’s website will thus illustrate the general theoretical issues, which are inherent in the making of any register of websites (and not just sub-sites).