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The meaning and value of web archives for research

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A presentation given at the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek in Frankfurt am Main, 28 November 2018.
I outline the current state of world Web archiving and the nature of the archives that are produced. I then examine the kinds of questions that historians and other scholars may use web archives to answer, with case studies from my own work and that of others.

Published in: Internet
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The meaning and value of web archives for research

  1. 1. The meaning and value of web archives for research Deutsche Nationalbibliothek 28 November 2018 Dr Peter Webster Webster Research and Consulting @pj_webster
  2. 2. On the contemporary religious history of the Web • ‘Religion in Web history’ in The Sage Handbook of Web History (2018) • ‘Technology, ethics and religious language: early Anglophone Christian reactions to “cyberspace”, Internet Histories 2:3 (2018) • ‘Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, and the sharia law controversy of 2008’ in The Web as History (2017) • 'Lessons from cross-border religion in the Northern Irish web sphere….’ in The Historical Web and Digital Humanities. The case of national web domains (2019)
  3. 3. The web its own archive? Open UK Web Archive 2004-13 comparison. @anjacks0n http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/webarchive/2014/10/what-is-still-on- the-web-after-10-years-of-archiving-.html
  4. 4. Who might use web archives? • journalists • activists • lawyers • anyone with a stake in a record of the recent past
  5. 5. Planned disappearance southtippcoco.ie, captured by archive.org, 4 Jan 2014
  6. 6. Unplanned disappearance
  7. 7. ‘Perhaps Stanley will counter that at the technical end of his period, 2000, the internet was not what it has become eighteen years later…. [but] the internet does not merit an entry in Stanley’s index, yet it has changed everything.’ Diarmaid MacCulloch, reviewing Brian Stanley, Christianity in the Twentieth Century (TLS, Sept 7th 2018)
  8. 8. The emerging discipline of Web history Conferences: ReSAW 2015, 2017, 2019 Journal: Internet Histories (2017-) Method: The Sage Handbook of Web History (2018); Brügger, The Archived Web (2018) Case studies: Web History (Peter Lang, 2010); The Web as History (UCL Press, 2017); Web25 (Peter Lang, 2017)
  9. 9. What is web archiving? “deliberate and purposive collection and preservation of web material” (Brügger, 2018) • very small- or very large-scale • harvesting, screen capture, file delivery • public, restricted, or no access
  10. 10. Who are the Web archivists? • Internet Archive • national libraries • corporate archives • research-driven: universities and individuals • activists See: Webster, ‘Existing web archives’, Sage Handbook of Web History (2018); ‘Towards a cultural history of web archiving’, Web25 (2017)
  11. 11. National libraries • 16 of 28 EU member states • Iceland, Switzerland, Norway also • Sweden the first (1996) • some with legal deposit provision: Denmark (2005); France (2006), UK (2013)
  12. 12. Legal deposit web archiving: characteristics • broad domain crawl, plus selective • definition of the nation varies • types of content included varies • access restrictions
  13. 13. Selective harvesting • in absence of NPLD, based on permissions • part of the case for obtaining NPLD law • key resources, eg. government, media • events: elections, Olympics, Eurovision • themes: political extremism, climate change
  14. 14. Web archives in the UK Temporal scope Content scope Access Open UKWA 2004-present Selective Online Legal Deposit UKWA 2013-present Comprehensive (for UK) Onsite JISC UK Domain Dataset 1996-2013 Comprehensive (for .uk) Index only UK Government Web Archive 1996-present UK government Online Parliamentary Web Archive 2009-present UK parliament Online Univ. of Oxford 2011-present University sites Online
  15. 15. University-based archiving As records management • Bodleian Libraries, Oxford For research • Innsbrucker Zeitungsarchiv • Digital Archive of Chinese Studies [Leiden / Heidelberg]
  16. 16. Five analytical strata • element (paragraph, image, border, menu) • page • site • Web sphere • the Web as a whole … each of which has visible and invisible aspects. [Brügger, The Archived Web (2018), 31-35]
  17. 17. The Web element Visible • circulation of images or memes, embedded media Invisible • Anne Helmond on trackers (Web25) • Brügger on the hyperlink (Web25)
  18. 18. The Web page: changing aesthetic gov.ie, captured by archive.org, 15 August 2000
  19. 19. [https://web.archive.org/web/19980129080224/http://www.kbr.be/fr/index.html]
  20. 20. Changing page content over time Anthony Cocciolo, Information Research 20;3 (2015) http://www.informationr.net/ir/20-3/paper682.html
  21. 21. Single pages as social and political evidence A case study of a public dispute in the UK about the place of religion in public life: Webster, ‘Religious discourse in the archived Web: Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, and the sharia law controversy of 2008’ in Brügger and Schroeder (eds), The Web as History (2017)
  22. 22. [Wikimedia Commons, CC BY SA 2.0, by Brian (of Toronto)]
  23. 23. Rowan Williams and sharia law
  24. 24. [https://web.archive.org/web/20080211003812/http://www.newsoftheworld.co.uk/1002_sharia.shtml]
  25. 25. [ https://web.archive.org/web/20080212010015/http://www.britishblogs.co.uk/categories/sharia-law/ ]
  26. 26. [https://web.archive.org/web/20080214231017/http://community.tigranetworks.co.uk/ ]
  27. 27. Studies on whole sites Single organisations Allah.com (Hofheinz in Web History, 2010) University of Bologna (Nanni, DHQ 11, 2017) Platforms Milligan on Geocities (The Web as History, 2017) Paloque-Berges on Usenet (Web25, 2017)
  28. 28. The Web sphere Definition: Web materials from more than one site with a ‘shared event, concept, theme or geographic area’ (Brügger, 2018) Two examples: one national, one thematic
  29. 29. The shape of a national web sphere Anat Ben-David (@anatbd), ‘What does the Web remember of its deleted past? An archival reconstruction of the former Yugoslav top-level domain’, New Media and Society, 18:7 (2016)
  30. 30. One island, two states Counties of Ireland, north and south (Wikimedia Commons) CC-BY-SA 3.0
  31. 31. A unique mix of faith and politics? Ian Paisley and Edward Carson, Stormont (1985) (Burns Library, Boston College, CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr)
  32. 32. Cross-border religion? • Historic Christian denominations: RC, Presbyterian (PCI), Church of Ireland, Methodist, Baptist • all organised on an all-Ireland basis • … spanning two political jurisdictions • …. and two ccTLDs - .uk and .ie
  33. 33. All-Ireland religion Church of Ireland dioceses (CoI, via Wikimedia Commons) CC-BY-SA 3.0
  34. 34. Research questions Using link graph data, to ask: • how does web estate of each church interact across the border (& between ccTLDs)? • are there distinct web spheres for each in NI and the RoI?
  35. 35. Baptists in Ireland (2016) • Association of Baptist Churches in Ireland has 117 congregations: 28 in RoI, 89 in NI • 8.5k members, community of 20k • Including independents, 93 in NI and 30 in RoI • 28 congregations with domains in RoI, 77 NI
  36. 36. Counties of Northern Ireland (Map by Maximilian Dörrbecker, CC-BY-SA 2.5)
  37. 37. Where are the congregations? County County Code % of congregations (with domains) Antrim AN 44 Armagh AR 7 Down DO 25 Londonderry LD 10 Tyrone TY 10 Fermanagh FE 4
  38. 38. Where are the domains? Domains Coverage .uk .com .ie Other % % % % % Baptist 101 > 80 40 24 - 36 Baptist (Antrim) 48 40 31 29
  39. 39. UK Host Link Graph (1996- 2010) • 2008 | catholic_church.co.uk | catholic_church.ie | 4 • 2001 | belfast_anglican.co.uk | derry_anglican.co.uk | 1 • 2002 | derry_anglican.org.uk | derry_catholic.co.uk | 1 Data in public domain: data.webarchive.org.uk
  40. 40. Coded link graph (NI-to-NI) • 1999 | AN27 | AR07 | 11 • 2003 | DW13 | LD05 | 17 • 2010 | AN11 | AN21 | 3
  41. 41. Total NI-to-NI edges Inbound Outbound Internal AN 248 299 151 AR 56 98 10 DW 125 64 15 LD 52 20 2
  42. 42. Conclusions • the Baptist web sphere very tightly localised • … but spread across several TLDs • little cross-border linkage • link analysis hard in national web archives Webster, 'Lessons from cross-border religion in the Northern Irish web sphere’ in The Historical Web and Digital Humanities. The case of national web domains (2019)
  43. 43. Questions ? Peter Webster peter@websterresearchconsulting.com @pj_webster / @WebsterRandC peterwebster.me websterresearchconsulting.com

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