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Guest-Editorial: Digital Archiving in the 21st Century

By Md Intaj Ali

Archives are the repository of records and information, which can help various enthusiasts, cultural historians, oral historians, folklorists, artists, and the participating communities to look back into their past with ease. The Digital Repository is one of the challenging issues in the humanities and social sciences disciplines due to their ever-changing approaches towards digital preservation in respect of various and continuously evolving technological aspects. Cultural institutions, libraries, institutions of higher learning, national and private agencies are trying to curate and preserve different types of data in the form of digitized manuscripts, photographs, moving images, and audio-video material. Since most of the data has been created and preserved in the digital format, they are called ‘born digital’.

‘Archival Studies’ is in a state of rapid change, a transition where analogue materials are being gradually replaced by the digital material. The current innovative progress from simple to computerized cuts over every single present day medium from print to sound, from photography to video and film. There is a long debate on the “conceptual uncertainty and technological transition” from one media to another and its validity of the work. Tom Gunning’s words are potentially valid here. He says, “Every new technology has a utopian dimension that imagines a future radically transformed by the implications of the device or practice. The sinking of technology into a reified second nature indicates the relative failure of this transformation, its fitting back into the established grooves of power and exploitation. Herein lays the importance of the cultural archaeology of technology, the grasping again of the newness of old technologies” (2003-I: 56).[i]

In this age of the digital revolution, there are very few human activities that are not touched by digital tools. One of the Buzzwords in the humanities and social sciences is ‘Digital’ and with this word, so many associated phrases – Digital Library, Digital Curation, Digital Archives, and so on – are gaining popularity. We are living in an advanced society, where letter composing has transformed into email composing, reading and publishing books have metamorphosed into e-diary and eBooks distribution, shopping basic supply is accessible on the web, conventional classrooms have transformed into online classrooms, the physical museum has turned into a digital archive with the open access system.

The Internet has opened up new exclusive possibilities to make digital archives accessible to the worldwide audience. More materials on the common subjects of interest are produced digitally. One can store materials in the archive, as field recordings or as products of cultural expressions in the form of audio, audiovisual or image form. There is a crucial need for online storage in order to create vast databases of traditional expressions, which are in the path of decay or extinction. This is just an initial step for my ongoing work-in-progress with my limited resources. There is plenty of work to be done in this field of traditional knowledge and there are different issues that can be explored further. Here are some examples of future work that can be undertaken: rights of use for contents of digital archives, open access vs digital rights management and digital collaboration, use of Web 2.0 technologies to enhance metadata, etc.

The current issue of Café Dissensus aims to look at the digital aspects of the archive by questioning the ephemeral nature of the archive. There are questions that can be addressed further: Are there any possibilities to keep our information and cultural aspects intact without disturbing the physical materiality of the objects? How does technology play a significant role in creating a digital archive? What are the tools and forms of digitization that are being used in the twenty-first century? The process of archiving started its journey in the 5th century. Now it is comprehensively familiar with the digital platform (digital environment). Even such processes on the digital platform is questionable due to the temporary nature of the data storage. One may think that the data that we are storing might be available permanently, but this is not the case. The data might not exist due to its non-availability of hosting or cloud storage.

At this juncture, we need to start more dialogue for the state of the digital archive and initiate more projects. Moreover, we need to focus more on issues such as active management of digital materials, data migration, digital preservation, access, file formats, metadata, storage systems, software tools, and so on.

We hope the essays in this issue of Café Dissensus would further deepen the conversation in the domain of digital archiving.

[i] GUNNING, Tom. “Re-Newing Old Technologies: Astonishment, Second Nature, and the Uncanny in Technology, from the Previous Turn-of-the-Century.” In Rethinking Media Change: The Aesthetics of Transition, edited David Thorburn and Henry Jenkins, 39-60. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003.

Md Intaj Ali is a Ph.D. Research Scholar at the Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Hyderabad, India. He can be reached at


For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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