Roy Rosenzweig begins his article with a discussion of the Bert is Evil website. He uses this story as an example of the changing landscape for preservation because of the expansion of the digital world. In this introduction he poses two quandaries to the reader; first, how are historians and archivists to deal with the fragility of born digital records and second, if all of these digital materials are preserved, how do historians interact with a complete historical record?
Rosenzweig weaves his discussion of these two issues together throughout the body of the article. One important discussion is that there is not a uniform way of archiving digital materials. Many of the examples he provides, such as the Internet Archive, are projects taken on by private individuals to maintain this media. This is a serious problem because the collection of these valuable resources are entirely dependent on one person. There is no back up system if they move on from the project. He adds that historians as a community need to take on the responsibility of this preservation. They need to adapt the way that they convey historical information to specific audiences in the light of the digital age.
Other issues addressed in this article revolve on the difficulty of preserving digital media. a major issue is that the rate of technological evolution makes many media forms obsolete in a short number of years. Where a piece of paper can last for a hundred years with proper preservation, born digital files are often saved on formats that are obsolete within five years. Rosenzweig points out that converting all of this information to new formats to keep up with hardware and software innovations is the equivalent in time and energy of photocopying an entire library every five years.
Beyond these logistical difficulties, born digital materials interact with each other in very different ways than other objects. In making physical copies of these records, one loses the ability to mine these connections for important contextual information. In a similar vein, the anonymity of digital media makes it difficult to ensure the authenticity and ownership of such documents.
Rosenzweig emphasizes that the inherent problems in preserving digital media are compounded by those who are most affected by its preservation. Historians and archivists have traditionally disagreed on what should be preserved. Digital resources are no exception. Further, historians typically do not take an active role in collecting resources for preservation. With the abundance of materials that are created each day, it is important for as many people as possible to take responsibility for preserving these document for future generations.
In this article, Rosenzweig raises a number of important points about preservation in the advent of digital media. What do you see as the most relevant issues for historians and archivists in this age? How do historians deal with the new challenges of interpreting digital media for the historical narrative? How will historical narratives be affected by the abundance of potential sources available?