Historical Source Criticism

• files
• information in general
• social websites

• authenticity
• identity
• digital signature; original or copy
• Files from the web are manuscripts (!= originals)
• historical misinterpretation

Discussion points:
• the context in which the document was established is important – this is the same for digital documents. Traceability (dt. Nachvollziehbarkeit) is necessary.

• Emulation of documents changes their “original status”, maybe it also changes the document

• how get websites stored, what background information is necessary and accessible for historians?

• archivists do have to migrate/change documents to preserve them
-> most files and informations you get from archives, so it is important to know about the “history”, storage about the document
• there are hidden information (metadata, meta-information) in documents which add to source criticism and which are lost if you convert the document into a pdf (for example) and metadata gets lost in almost every conversion.
• archives work with check-sums in order to be independent of the document type

• information about the digital sources depend on the questions you ask
-> can speed (in emulations) be part of the source criticism?

• Emulation: In order to make old digital data work it is sometimes necessary to apply changes to the data (for example a picture, colors may be interpreted slightly different than the author originally thought of). Is this still an original?

• Discussion between archivists and researchers are important
-> archives are institutions who guarantee the authenticity and traceability of a document (they document both the content and the metadata of a document, which s in reality quite difficult achieve)
-> only 10% of the files of an administration are being kept – maybe the wrong part of the material is being kept? what information should be kept for the future? The amount of information is increasing fast!

Recreating digital context as tomorrow’s historians’ role.
-> historians must know about the context of the creation of a document (hardware, software)

maybe historians have to find new ways to work with anonymous sources? (because the context of e.g. pictures in the internet sometimes just can’t be ascertained)

How can pictures be compared automatically? (isn’t facebook working on/with that already?)

Can we use social media as sources for historical research? What would the methods be? Is a screenshot a historical source?

Is archive.org a valid source? What about non-static websites?

how can non-registered information (e.g. decisions which are made on the telephone) be approached? storage of dynamic sources (e.g. twitter?)

Do we need a credited institution that archives for example tweets to be able to use them as historical sources?

metadata of social media platforms? historians of the future will have to have some kind of new literacy
-> to read books about how digital sources and social media are being used now.

We only have fragments of today’s conversation, no serious analyze.

2060: What will be the source of our time? 2010 conference in Turin

Get all the information that Facebook stores on you! (Click “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” on the bottom.)

Summing up:
– changing of files, e.g pictures
– emulating, criteria, technical terms
– new methods for archives and historians
– culture of usage, dynamic sources 7(e.g. twitter, facebook)
– digital literacy around the source
– stability of digital sources?
– “does history disappear”? whats will be “historical” in the future?

European History Primary Sources (EHPS)

Contact Details:
Pascal Föhr, University of Basel, Switzerland
please get in contact with me for any suggestions, comments, inputs etc.

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