Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Shāhnāmah of Ibrāhīm Sulṭān – Available Online from Digital.Bodleian

The Shāhnāmah – Book of Kings (or King of Books) – is an epic poem written in Persian by Abū l-Qāsim Firdawsī of Ṭūs. Completed in about 1010 CE, the book is composed of some 60,000 verses which narrate the history of Greater Persia from mythical beginnings until the Arab conquests of the 7th century.

Said to be the longest poem ever to have been written by a single person, the significance of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah to the Persian-speaking world can be compared to that of the works of Homer to Greece.

No manuscript copies of the Shāhnāmah survive from the 11th or 12th centuries, and only two from the 13th century are still extant, but many copies from the Timurid and Safavid periods are preserved in Library collections today.

Three of the grandsons of Tīmūr (Tamerlane) are known to have had lavish copies of Firdawsī’s Shāhnāmah or Persian Book of Kings made for them. The Shāhnāmahs of Bāysunghur, Muḥammad Jūkī, and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān are preserved in the Golestan Palace, Tehran, the Royal Asiatic Society, London, and the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, respectively.

Left: Shamsah showing inscription dedicated to Ibrāhīm Sulṭān. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 12a). Right: Ibrāhīm Sulṭān holding court outdoors. (MS. Ouseley Add. 176, fol. 1b).

Thought to have been made in Shiraz sometime between 1430 and Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s death in 1435, this copy of the Shāhnāmah is known for its exceptional miniature paintings and exquisite illuminated panels.

The manuscript was acquired by Sir Gore Ouseley, a Diplomat and Linguist, during travels in the East in the early 19th century, and came into the Bodleian in the 1850s along with many other of Sir Gore’s collections. It is now preserved as MS. Ouseley Add. 176.

Ibrāhīm Sulṭān’s Shāhnāmah is now digitally available online via Digital.Bodleian. Recently, its sibling Muḥammad Jūkī’s Shāhnāmah was published online by the Royal Asiatic Society; both in good time for Nawruz or Persian New Year on 20th March!


Abdullaeva, F., & Melville, C., The Persian book of kings : Ibrahim Sultan’s Shahnama (Treasures from the Bodleian Library). Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2008.

Beeston, A. F. L., Hermann Ethé, and Eduard Sachau. Catalogue of the Persian, Turkish, Hindûstânî, and Pushtû Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library . Oxford: At the Clarendon, 1889.

Robinson, B. W.,  A Descriptive Catalogue of the Persian Paintings in the Bodleian Library. Oxford: Clarendon, 1958.

The Bodleian Libraries would like to thank the Bahari Fund for helping to make this digitization project possible.

DPC Email Preservation: How Hard Can It Be? Part 2


In July last year my colleague Miten and I attended a DPC Briefing Day titled Email Preservation: How Hard Can It Be?  which introduced me to the work of the Task Force on Technical Approaches to Email Archives  and we were lucky enough to attend the second session last week.

Arranging a second session gave Chris Prom (@chrisprom), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Kate Murray (@fileformatology), Library of Congress, co-chair’s of the Task Force the opportunity to reflect upon and add the issues raised from the first session to the Task Force Report, and provided the event attendees with an update on their progress overall, in anticipation of their final report scheduled to be published some time in April.

“Using Email Archives in Research”

The first guest presentation was given by Dr. James Baker (@j_w_baker), University of Sussex, who was inspired to write about the use of email archives within research by two key texts; Born-digital archives at the Wellcome Library: appraisal and sensitivity review of two hard drives (2016), an article by Victoria Sloyan, and Dust (2001) a book by Carolyn Steedman.

These texts led Dr. Baker to think of the “imagination of the archive” as he put it, the mystique of archival research, stemming from the imagery of  19th century research processes. He expanded on this idea, stating “physically and ontologically unique; the manuscript, is no longer what we imagine to be an archive”.

However, despite this new platform for research, Dr. Baker stated that very few people outside of archive professionals know that born-digital archives exist, yet alone use them. This is an issue, as archives require evidence of use, therefore, we need to encourage use.

To address this, Dr. Baker set up a Born-Digital Access Workshop, at the Wellcome Library in collaboration with their Collections Information Team, where he gathered people who use born-digital archives and the archivists who make them, and provided them with a set of 4 varying case-studies. These 4 case-studies were designed to explore the following:

A) the “original” environment; hard drive files in a Windows OS
B) the view experience; using the Wellcome’s Viewer
C) levels of curation; comparing reformatted and renamed collections with unaltered ones
D) the physical media; asking does the media hold value?

Several interesting observations came out of this workshop, which Dr. Baker organised in to three areas:

  1. Levels of description; filenames are important, and are valuable data in themselves to researchers. Users need a balance between curation and an authentic representation of the original order.
  2. “Bog-standard” laptop as access point; using modern technology that is already used by many researchers as the mode of access to email and digital archives creates a sense of familiarity when engaging with the content.
  3. Getting the researcher from desk to archive; there is a substantial amount of work needed to make the researcher aware of the resources available to them and how – can they remote access, how much collection level description is necessary?

Dr. Baker concluded that even with outreach and awareness events such as the one we were all attending, born-digital archives are not yet accessible to researchers, and this has made me realise the digital preservation community must push for access solutions,  and get these out to users, to enable researchers to gain the insights they might from our digital collections.

“Email as a Corporate Record”

The third presentation of the day was given by James Lappin (@JamesLappin), Loughborough University, who discussed the issues involved in applying archival policies to emails in a governmental context.

His main point concerned the routine deletion of email that happens in governments around the world. He said there are no civil servants email accounts scheduled to be saved past the next 3 – 4 years – but, they may be available via a different structure; a kind of records management system. However, Lappin pointed out the crux in this scenario: government departments have no budget to move and save many individuals email accounts, and no real idea of the numerics: how much to save, how much can be saved?

“email is the record of our age” – James Lappin

Lappin suggested an alternative: keep the emails of the senior staff only, however, this begs the questions, how do we filter out sensitive and personal content?

Lappin posits that auto-deletion is the solution, aiming to spare institutions from unmanageable volumes of email and the consequential breach of data protection.
Autodeletion encourages:

  •  governments to kickstart email preservation action,
  • the integration of tech for records management solutions,
  • actively considering the value of emails for long-term preservation

But how do we transfer emails to a EDRMS, what structures do we use, how do we separate individuals, how do we enforce the transfer of emails? These issues are to be worked out, and can be, Lappin argues, if we implement auto-deletion as tool to make email preservation less daunting , as at the end of the day, the current goal is to retain the “important” emails, which will make both government departments and historians happy, and in turn, this makes archivists happy. This does indeed seem like a positive scenario for us all!

However, it was particularly interesting when Lappin made his next point: what if the very nature of email, as intimate and immediate, makes governments uncomfortable with the idea of saving and preserving governmental correspondence? Therefore, governments must be more active in their selection processes, and save something, rather than nothing – which is where the implementation of auto-deletion, could, again, prove useful!

To conclude, Lappin presented a list of characteristics which could justify the preservation of an individuals government email accounts, which included:

  • The role they play is of historic interest
  • They expect their account to be permanently preserved
  • They are given the chance to flag or remove personal correspondence
  • Access to personal correspondence is prevented except in case of overriding legal need

I, personally, feel this fair and thorough, but only time will tell what route various governments take.

On a side note: Lappin runs an excellent comic-based blog on Records Management which you can see here.

One of the key issues that stood out for me today was, maybe surprisingly, not to do with the technology used in email preservation, but how to address the myriad issues email preservation brings to light, namely the feasibility of data protection, sensitivity review and appraisal, particularly prevalent when dealing in such vast quantities of material.

Email can only be preserved once we have defined what constitutes ’email’ and how to proceed ethically, morally and legally. Then, we can move forward with the implementation of the technical frameworks, which have been designed to meet our pre-defined requirements, that will enable access to historically valuable, and information rich, email archives, that will yield much in the name of research.

In the tweet below, Evil Archivist succinctly reminds us of the importance of maintaining and managing our digital records…

Significance & Authenticity: a Briefing

As an Ancient History graduate, significance and authenticity of source information characterised my university education. Transferring these principles to digital objects in an archival situation is a challenge I look forward to learning more about and embracing. Therefore I set off to Tate Britain on a cold Friday morning excited to explore the Digital Preservation Coalition’s briefing: Significance & Authenticity. Here are some of my reflections.

A dictionary definition is not enough

The morning started with a stimulating discussion led by Sharon McMeekin (DPC), on the definitions of these two concepts within the field of Digital Archives and the context of the varying institutions the delegates were from. Several key points were made, and further questions generated:


  • Authenticity clearly carries with it evidential value; if something is not what it purports to be then how can it (claim to) be authentic?
  • Chains of custody and tracking accidental/intended changes are extremely relevant to maintaining authenticity
  • Further measures such as increasing metadata fields – does this ensure authenticity?

For an archival record to retain authenticity there must be record of the original creation or experience of the digital object; otherwise we are looking at data without context. This also has a bearing on how significant an archival record is. A suggestion was also made that perhaps as a sector too much over-emphasis is placed on integrity checking procedures. Questions surfaced such as: is the digital preservation community too reliant on it? And in turn, is this practical process approach to ensuring authenticity too simplistic?


  • Records are not just static evidence, they are also for appreciation, education and to use
  • Should the users and re-users (the designated community) be considered more extensively when deciding the significance of a digital object?
  • Emulation as a digital preservation action prioritises the experience of using the data: is this the way to go regarding maintaining both the significant properties together with the authenticity?

There was no doubt left in my mind that the two principles are inextricably linked. However, not only are they increasingly subjective for both the record keeper and the end user, they must be distinguished from one another. For example, if a digital object can be interpreted as both a game and a book, yet the object was created and marketed as a book, does this make it any less significant or authentic? Or is the dispute part of what makes the object significant; the creation, characterisation and presentation of data in digital form is reflective of society today and what researchers may (or may not be) interested in in the future? We do not know and, as a fellow delegate reminded, cannot prejudice future research needs.

Building on the open mindedness that the  discussion encouraged, we were then fortunate enough to hear and learn from practitioners of differing backgrounds regarding how they ensure significance and authenticity of their collections. One particular example had me contemplating all weekend.

Significance & Authenticity of Digital Art by Patricia Falcao & Tom Ensom (Tate)

Patricia and Tom explained that they work with time-based media art and its creators. Working (mostly) with living artists ensures a short chain of provenance, however the nature of the digital art means that applying authenticity and significance is in no way straightforward. A principle which immediately affects the criteria of significance is the fact that it is very important that the Tate can exhibit the works, illustrating that differences in organisations will of course have a bearing on how significant a record is.

One example Tom analysed was the software based Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3 by Peruvian artist Jose Carlos Martinat Mendoza:

Brutalism: Stereo Reality Environment 3 2007 Jose Carlos Martinat Mendoza born 1974 Presented by Eduardo Leme 2007, accessioned 2011

The artwork comprises of a range of components: high speed printers, paper rolls,  a web search program and accompanying hardware, movement sensors and a model replica of the Peruvian government building ‘El Petagonito’ which is a symbol of brutalist architecture. The computer is programmed to search the web for references to ‘Brutalism’ and the different extracts of information it gathers are printed from mounted printers on the sculpture, left to fall to the floor around the replica.

Tom explained that retaining authenticity of the digital art was very much a case of the commitment to represent the artists work together with the arrangement and intention. One method of ensuring this is the transfer of a document from the creator called ‘Installation Parameters’. For this particular example, it contained details such as paper type and cabling needs. It also contained display specifications such as the hardware being  a very visible element of the art work.

Further documentation is created and stored to preserve the original authenticity and thus unique significance of the artwork and the integrity of its ‘performance’.  Provenance information such as diagrams, process metadata and the original source code is stored separately to the work itself. However, Tom acknowledged there is no doubt the work will need to change and in turn will be reinterpreted. Interestingly, the point was made that the text itself on the paper itself is time sensitive; live search results related to Brutalism will evolve and change.

Looking ahead, what will happen when the hardware fails? And even, what will happen when nobody uses printers anymore? Stockpiling is only a short term plan for maintaining authenticity and significance. Furthermore, even if hardware can be guaranteed then the program software itself generates different issues. Software emulation, code-change tracking systems and a binary analysis are all to be explored as a means to enable authenticity but there will always be a risk and need for alternative solutions.

Would these changes reduce the authenticity or significance? I believe authenticity is associated with intention and so perhaps if changes are communicated to the user with justifications this could be one way of maintaining this principle. Significance, on the other hand, is more tricky. Without the significant and notable properties of the work, is significance automatically lost?

This case study reinforced that there is much to explore and consider when approaching the principles of authenticity and significance of digital objects. To conclude, Tom and Patricia reinforced that within the artistic context, decisions around authenticity and significance are made through collaborative dialogues with the artist/creator which does indeed provide direction.


After 3 more talks and a panel session the briefing ended with a workshop requiring us to evaluate the significance and authenticity of a digital object provided. As a trainee digital archivist I can be guilty of shying away from group discussions/exercises within the community of practice, so I was really pleased to jump in and contribute during the group workshop exercise.

Thank you to the DPC and all involved for a brilliant day.

PASIG 2017: Ageing of Digital – Towards Managed Services for Digital Continuity

PASIG 2017 (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) was hosted in Oxford this year at the Natural History Museum by Bodleian Libraries & Digital Preservation at Oxford and Cambridge (DPOC). I attended on all three days (11th -13th September), when I wasn’t working I had the opportunity to listen to some thought provoking talks centered around the issue of digital preservation.

One of the highlights of the conference for me, was a talk given by Natasa Milic-Frayling, the founder of Intact Digital. The presentation entitled  ‘Ageing of Digital: Towards Managed Services for Digital Continuity’ demonstrated the innovative ways in which digital preservation issues are being approached.

Digital technology has a short lifespan; hardware and software become redundant and obsolete in a very short time, essentially outdated. This is  known as ‘Legacy Software’, outdated software that no longer receives vendor support or updates.

This poses the problem – How can we manage the life-cycle of digital in the face of a dynamic and changing computing ecosystem?                                        

Technologies are routinely changed, updated (sometimes at a cost), made redundant and retired. The value of digital assets needs to be protected. In the current climate there is an imbalance of power between the technology producers and providers and the content producers, owners and curators. The providers and producers can move on without the opinion or input of those who use the software.

How do we enable prolonged use of software to protect value of digital assets?

A case study was presented that contextualised the problem and the solution. The vendor Tamal vista Insights provided Cut&Search, a software for automated and semi automated  indexing of digitised manuscripts and digital artefacts that standard OCR can not handle.
The software was supplied to Fo Guang Shan, an International Chinese Buddhist Monastic Order with over 200 branch temples worldwide for use with their digitised manuscript collection. This project is made up of thousands of volunteers and spans years, beyond the providers expected life-cycle for their product, its primary market life-time.
 Intact Digital provide a managed service that allows for digital continuity. There are several steps in the process which then provide a  number of options to software providers and the content producers:
  • Deposit
  • Hosting
  • Remote Access
  • Digital Continuity Assurance Plans

The software can be hosted in a virtual machine and accessed remotely via a browser. The implications of this are far reaching for projects like the ones undertaken by the Fo Guang Shan. They don’t need to worry about the Cut&Search software becoming redundant and their digital assets remain protected. For smaller organisations operating on ever decreasing budgets this is an important step both for asset protection and digital preservation.

Key areas to develop

Although this is an important step, there is still much work to do and some key areas that need to be developed were highlighted. This will result in a sustained use of digital.

  • Economy around “retired” software
  • Legal frameworks and sustainable business models
  • New practices to create demand
  • New services to make it efficient, economical and sustainable

Changes to the Ecosystem

In taking these steps and creating a dialogue between the technology producers/providers and the content producers it changes the dynamic of the ecosystem, readdressing the imbalance in control.


The talk ended with two very pertinent statements;

Together we can create new practices and
new models of extending the life of digital”
“Without digital continuity our digital content,
information and knowledge has no future”
As a trainee I still have lots to learn but a major theme running throughout digital archiving and digital preservation is the need for communication, collaboration and dialogue. Working together, sharing ideas and the challenges is key to securing the future of digital content.


A complete collection of the slides relating to this topic can be found here;  Milic-Frayling, Natasa (2017): Aging of digital: Towards managed services for digital continuity. figshare.

PASIG 2017: “Sharing my loss to protect your data” University of the Balearic Islands


Last week I was lucky enough to be able to attend the PASIG 2017 (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) conference, held at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, where over the course of three days the  digital preservation community connected to share, experiences, tools, successes and mishaps.

The story of one such mishap came from Eduardo del Valle, Head of the Digitization and Open Access Unit at the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB), in his presentation titled Sharing my loss to protect your data: A story of unexpected data loss and how to do real preservation”. In 2013 the digitisation and digital preservation workflow pictured below was set up by the IT team at UIB.

2013 Digitisation and Digital Preservation Workflow (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

Del Valle was told this was a reliable system, with fast retrieval. However, he found this was not the case, with slow retrieval and the only means of organisation consisting of an excel spreadsheet used to contain the storage locations of the data.

In order to assess their situation they used the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation, a tiered set of recommendations on how organisations should build their digital preservation activities, developed by the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NDSA) in 2012. The guidelines are organised into five functional areas that lie at the centre of digital preservation:

  1. Storage and geographic location
  2. File fixity and data integrity
  3. Information security
  4. Metadata
  5. File formats

These five areas then have four columns (Levels 1-4) which set tiered recommendations of action, from Level 1 being the least an organisation should do, to Level 4 being the most an organisation can do. You can read the original paper on the NDSA Levels here.

The slide below shows the extent to which the University met the NDSA Levels. They found there was an urgent need for improvement.

NDSA Levels of Preservation UIB compliance (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

“Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” – Eduardo del Valle

In 2014 the IT team decided to implement a new back up system. While the installation and configuration of the new backup system (B) was completed, the old system (A) remained operative.

On the 14th and 15th November 2014, a backup was created for the digital material generated during the digitisation of 9 rare books from the 14th century in the Tape Backup System (A) and notably, two confirmation emails were received, verifying the success of the backup.  By October 2015, all digital data had been migrated from System (A) to the new System (B), spanning UIB projects from 2008-2014.

However, on 4th November 2014, a loss of data was detected…

The files corresponding to the 9 digitised rare books were lost. This loss was detected a year after the initial back up of the 9 books in System A, and therefore the contract for technical assistance had finished. This meant there was no possibility of obtaining financial compensation, if the loss was due to a hardware or software problem.  The loss of these files, unofficially dubbed “the X-files”, meant the loss of three months of work and it’s corresponding economic loss. Furthermore, the rare books were in poor condition, and to digitise them again could cause serious damage. Despite a number of theories, the University is yet to receive an explanation for the loss of data.

The digitised 14th century rare book from UIB collection (Eduardo del Valle, 2017)

To combat issues like this, and to enforce best practice in their digital preservation efforts, the University acquired Libsafe, a digital preservation solution offered by Libnova. Libsafe is OAIS and ISO 14.721:2012 compliant, and encompasses advanced metadata management with a built-in ISAD(g) filter, with the possibility to import any custom metadata schema. Furthermore, Libsafe offers fast delivery, format control, storage of two copies in disparate locations, and a built-in catalogue. With the implementation of a standards compliant workflow, the UIB proceeded to meet all four levels of the 5 areas of the NDSA Levels of Digital Preservation.

The ISO 14.721:2012 Space Data and Information Transfer Systems – Open Archival Information System – Reference Model (OAIS)  provides a framework for implementing the archival concepts needed for long-term digital preservation and access, and for describing and comparing architectures and operations of existing and future archives, as well as describing roles, processes and methods for long-term preservation.

The use of these standards facilitates the easy access, discovery and sharing of digital material, as well as their long-term preservation. Del Valle’s story of data loss reminds us of the importance of implementing standards-based practices in our own institutions, to minimise risk and maximise interoperability and access, in order to undertake true digital preservation.


With thanks to Eduardo del Valle, University of the Balearic Islands.

PASIG2017: Preserving Memory


The Oxford University Natural History Museum (photo by Roxana Popistasu, twitter)

This year’s PASIG conference, (Preservation and Archiving Special Interest Group) bought together an eclectic mix of individuals from around the world to discuss the very exciting and constantly evolving topic of digital preservation. Held at the Oxford University Natural History Museum, the conference aimed to connect practitioners from a variety of industries with a view to promoting conversation surrounding various digital preservation experiences, designs and best practices. The presentations given comprised a series of lightning talks, speeches and demos on a variety of themes including: the importance of standards, sustainability and copyright within digital preservation.

UNHCR: Archiving on the Edge

UNHCR Fieldworkers digitally preserving refugee records (photo by Natalie Harrower, twitter)

I was particularly moved by a talk given on the third day by Patricia Sleeman, an Archivist working for the UNHCR, a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

Entitled “Keep your Eyes on the Information” Sleeman’s poignant and thought-provoking presentation discussed the challenges and difficulties faced when undertaking digital preservation in countries devastated by the violence and conflicts of war. Whilst recognising that digital preservation doesn’t immediately save lives in the way that food, water and aid can, Sleeman identified the place of digital preservation as having significant importance in the effort to retain, record and preserve the memory, identity and voice of a people which would otherwise be lost through the destruction and devastation of displacement, war and violence.

About the Archive

Sleeman and her team seek to capture a wide range of digital media including: you tube, websites and social media, each forming a precious snapshot of history, an antidote to the violent acts of mnemnocide- or the destruction of memory.

The digital preservation being undertaken is still in its early stages with focus being given to the creation of good quality captures and metadata. It is hoped in time however that detailed policies and formats will be developed to aid Sleeman in her digital preservation work.

One of the core challenges of this project has been handling highly sensitive material including refugee case files. The preservation of such delicate material has required Sleeman and her team to act slowly and with integrity, respecting the content of information at each stage.

For more information on the UNHCR  please click here.


The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available

“to call a woman ‘hysterical’ because you have not the knowledge necessary to deny her facts is the last refuge of the unmanly and the coward…I always felt when termed hysterical that I had triumphed because it meant my arguments cannot be met nor my statements denied…” [MS. Hobhouse 25].

A strong-willed, compassionate and at times controversial figure, Emily Hobhouse is best known for her work publicising the conditions in the concentration camps which were set up by the British government to detain predominantly women and children during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Report on the conditions in the camps for the Committee of the Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, MS. Hobhouse 4

Hobhouse’s influential report, MS. Hobhouse 4.

Travelling to South Africa in December 1900, Hobhouse reported on the widespread hunger, death and disease that she encountered there, distributing aid gathered by her Distress Fund for South African Women and Children, and putting pressure on the British government to improve conditions. This led the government to send out a Ladies’ Commission led by Millicent Fawcett, a contemporary but by no means friend of Emily Hobhouse.

Although Hobhouse was not permitted to join the commission, they would confirm her initial reports and make similar recommendations. In 1901 Hobhouse would attempt another visit of the camps, only to be refused permission to disembark, and be deported back to England. In 1905 she returned to South Africa to establish a Home Industries scheme to support rehabilitation, opening schools for spinning, weaving and lace making for local girls.

“a war is not only wrong in itself, but a crude mistake” [MS. Hobhouse 10]

A committed pacifist, Hobhouse travelled to Germany and Belgium during World War One to investigate conditions and meet with the German foreign minister, an act which to some put her on the wrong side of public opinion. Following the armistice, Hobhouse continued her commitment to relief work, and in 1919 set up a local relief fund in Leipzig, where she was honoured and awarded the German Red Cross decoration of second class.

The fascinating collection includes letters, diaries, and her own extensive writings, which reveal her unyielding dedication to her work. The collection also contains papers of her brother, Leonard Trelawny Hobhouse (1864-1929), a social philosopher and journalist.

While she is an often forgotten figure in British history, Emily Hobhouse is still remembered as a heroine in South Africa, where her ashes are buried in the Women’s Monument at Bloemfontein. On her death, Mahatma Gandhi wrote the following memorial:

On her death, Gandhi published the following memorial for Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23

Gandhi’s tribute to Emily Hobhouse, MS. Hobhouse 23.

The Archive of Emily Hobhouse is now available to readers in the Weston Library. The catalogue can be accessed here.

A selection of Emily Hobhouse’s own writings are now available to view online.


iPRES 2016

Last month, I attended the 13th International Conference on Digital Preservation, this year hosted in Bern, Switzerland. The four days of papers, panels, posters and workshops were an intensive and exciting opportunity to meet with colleagues working in digital preservation around the world, share ideas, and hear about innovative projects and approaches. The topics ranged widely from technical systems and practices, to quality and risk assessment, and stewardship and sustainability. What follows are just a couple of highlights from a really fascinating week.

Networking wall

The post-it note networking wall: What do you know? What do you want to know?

Net-based and digital art

As email, digital documents and social media replace traditional forms of communication, it is crucial to be able to preserve born-digital material and make it accessible. An area which I hadn’t previously considered was the realm of net-based art. Here, the internet is used as an artistic medium, which of course has implications (and complications) for digital preservation.

In her key-note speech, Sabine Himmelsbach from the House of Electronic Arts in Basel, introduced us to this exciting field, showing artwork such as Olia Lialina’s ‘Summer’, 2013, shown below.

Summer, by Olia Lialina

Screenshot of Summer, Olia Lialina, 2013. Available at

The artwork features an animated loop of Lialina swinging from the browser bar. Each frame is hosted by a different website, and the playback therefore depends on your connection speed. This creative use of technology creates enormous challenges for preservation. Here, rather than preserving artefacts, it is the preservation of behaviours which is crucial, and these behaviours are extremely vulnerable to obsolescence.

Marc Lee’s ‘TV Bot’ is another net-based artwork, which is automated to broadcast current news stories with live TV streams, radio streams and webcam images from around the world. Reliant on technical infrastructure in this way, the shift from Real Player to Adobe Flash Player was one such development which prevented ‘TV Bot’ from functioning. The artist then not only worked on technical migration, but re-interpreted the artwork, modernising the look and feel, resulting in ‘TV Bot 2.0’ in 2010. This process soon happened again, this time including a twitter stream, in ‘TV Bot 3.0’, 2016. In this way, the artist is working against cultural, as well as technical obsolescence.

Marc Lee, 'TV Bot 2.0', 2010. Image from

Marc Lee, ‘TV Bot 2.0’, 2010. Image from

The heavy involvement from the artist in this case has helped preserve the artwork, but this process cannot be sustained indefinitely. Himmelsbach ended her speech by stressing the need for collaboration and dialogue, which emerged as a central theme of the conference.

A new approach to web archiving

Another highlight was the workshop on Webrecorder lead by Dragan Espenschied from Rhizome. He introduced their new tool which departs from the usual crawling method to capture web content ‘symmetrically’, which results in incredibly high-fidelity captures. The demonstration of how the tool can capture dynamic and interactive content sparked gasps of amazement from the group!

Webrecorder not only captures social media, embedded video and complex javascript (often tricky with current tools), but can actually capture the essence of an individual’s interaction with the web-content.

How it works: Webrecorder records all the content you interact with during the recording session. Users are then able to interact with the content themselves, but anything that was not viewed during the recording session will not be available to them.

Current web archiving strategies aren’t able to capture the personalised nature of web use. How to use this functionality is still a big question, as a web recording in this way would be personal to the web archivist: showing what they decided to explore, unless a systematic approach was designed by an institution. This itself would be very resource-intensive, and is arguably not where the potential of Webrecorder lies: the ability to capture dynamic content, such as net-based artworks. However, the possibility of preserving not only web content, but our interaction with it, is a very exciting development.iPRES 2016 balloon

iPRES 2016 was a fantastic opportunity to gain insight into projects happening around the world to further digital preservation. It showed me that often there are no clear answers to ‘which file format is best for that?’ or ‘how do I preserve this?’ and that seeking advice from others, and experimenting, is often the way forward. What was really clear from attending was that the strength and support of the community is the most valuable digital preservation tool available.


Georgian Manuscript Treasures on Display

aak_029, 17/1/03, 2:38 pm, 8C, 5022x7594 (1839+1550), 100%, afn bent6stops, 1/50 s, R13.8, G29.5, B46.9

Visitors to the Weston Library on Wednesday 19th October will have the opportunity to see two 17th century manuscripts of Shota Rustaveli’s epic poem, which will be on display to accompany Dr. Nikoloz Aleksidze’s lecture ‘Come, let us sit for Tariel’: The story of The Man in the Panther’s Skin. This 12th century work was dedicated to Queen Tamar, Georgia’s greatest ruler, and to this day remains a monument of Georgian national identity. The two manuscripts that will be on show were added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register in 2014 as part of a joint nomination made with Georgia’s National Centre of Manuscripts. Registered lecture goers will also have the chance to view the manuscripts from 5pm in the Blackwell Hall before the start of the talk at 5.30pm.


Farewell to the VCR!

I was interested to learn from a recent BBC News article that July 2016 would see the end for the production of videocassette recorders (VCR). Whilst this hardly comes a surprise, given that VHS tapes have long since been superseded by digital technology, it does present something of a problem for archivists.

Image of VCR

Sony Professional VCR by By Hosseinshamloo (2009). Wikicommons.

VHS tapes have had a relatviely long life (they were first introduced in the 1970s) and ensuring that important content held on them is preserved for future generations will become increasingly difficult. Without the technology to play them, we shall have no means of digitising their content. Despite the end of production, hopefully the VCR will be around for a few more years yet!