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DigiCULT 9
A
few years ago, Francis
Fukuyama declared, that
we had reached the end
of history in Hegelian terms; that
is, history as a confrontation bet-
ween ideologies. Prof. Dr. Hartmut Weber, president
of the Bundesarchiv, the German federal archives, is
more afraid that we might loose our history. If we
are not careful in archiving electronic records. A
major problem in this respect, is the documentary
trail.Weber states: `A good archive contains not only
the end document, for instance the text of an agree-
ment, but also documents which allow you to recon-
struct the process which led to the agreement.
Authenticity demands that this archiving process be
transparent, in the sense, that you are able to identify
and verify all the elements of the process in reaching
a decision.'
The reconstruction of this documentary trail is
still mostly based on paper documents, such as letters
or notes that are kept in archives, but as the migration
of this information from paper to electronic form
increases, so does its volatility. `That, in itself, is
nothing new', comments Weber. `Previously, you had
informal meetings of which no minutes were taken.
The same goes for telephone conversations.The diff-
erence is that the results of informal meetings and
telephone conversations were formalised somewhere
in written form. Nowadays they tend to remain in
the virtual domain without a physical representation.'
The problem is that the media containing the
information are not very `tenable'.To be able to
access the information, the records have to be con-
verted ever so often, because either the hardware it-
self or the software used for access changes.Through
these repeated migrations the intrinsic value of the
records might get lost, including the context of the
record. According to Weber, that is a temporary pro-
blem. `At the moment, the Bundesarchiv is executing
some projects with the well known method of data
migration. But, there is a need to think about emula-
tion of systems, a process whereby not only the
data are transferred from one medium to the
other, but also their context and functionality. In
this way, we hope to be able to guarantee their
identity and integrity.' Until that day, a lot of digital
documents will have to be converted to their
analogue paper form.
More important
than the technology
itself is the lack of
comprehensive pro-
cedures for archi-
ving electronic documents. For instance, letters sent
by email or text adjustments in electronic docu-
ments.The Bundesarchiv is quickly developing such
procedures, for instance in archiving emails, because
loosing history is not only a loss for historians who
want to explore the archives, but also for the govern-
ment, the organisation itself and the wider commu-
nity.Weber: `For its present policies, a government
often has to fall back on archived records. If they do,
they have to be sure that the information on record
is correct and complete in the sense I mentioned
before, that is that you can reconstruct the process.
The same goes for citizens who have a right to
know under our constitution.That means, that you
not only have to guarantee the authenticity of docu-
ments, but you also have to stabilise the context.'
Hence, it is, according to Weber, of the utmost
importance that government organisations develop
procedures for archiving electronic documents to
prevent a possible loss of information. `The use of
new technologies puts a lot of pressure not only on
the national government, but also on regional and
local governments and of course on the EU. But,
before you can start developing procedures, you have
to raise the awareness among government officials
and civil servants about the importance of complete
and transparent archives. As professional archivists, we
cannot sit and wait until decisions have been made.
I think we have to make it a co-operative effort to
store records in a transparent way, making them
accessible by electronic means.'
Weber foresees an archive which stores most of
the data in electronic form. Decisive documents,
though, will also be stored on paper.The task at
hand is to design an archiving system that combines
the advantages of a traditional paper archive (tenabi-
lity, identity and integrity) with those of an electro-
nic archive (accessibility, ease of use). `It will take
some time, possibly some decades, before a stable
symbiosis has been realised', reinforces Weber. `But,
eventually, it will happen. I am an optimist. Archives
have survived 1000 or more years, so I trust we can
use digitalisation to our advantage as well.'
D I G I TA L
H
I S TO RY
A
N A L O G U E V E R S U S
S
TO R AG E O F O U R
An Interview
with
Hartmut Weber,
President
Bundesarchiv,
Germany
by
Joost van Kasteren
Photo: Bundesarchiv