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Beyond paper: the digital trail

In June, we hosted a discussion between Professor Lisa Jardine CBE and Professor the Lord Hennessy of Nympsfield in which the distinguished historians explored the value of our archival heritage and considered why ‘sustaining the collective memory of the nation is a first-order requirement’.


  1. During this discussion lots of digital topics were touched on, so we re-visited and expanded on these in a live Twitter debate featuring contributions from our Head of Digital Preservation Tim Gollins and Research and Policy Manager Valerie Johnson.
  2. Our first topic was quantity. Would there simply be too much information in the future?

    Researchers of the 16th century have commented that there are relatively few records of the period, whether due to archivist’s selections, lack of collection care until recent times or the degradations of time. But these researchers also attest to relishing the challenge of the hunt for information, of successfully following a difficult trail.

    In principle we could keep a very large amount of digital data – but is this likely? What about cost and storage implications?

    Also, do we need to worry that there will be vast amounts of data? There is a vast amount of information available on the internet, yet this doesn’t present a challenge as we use tools to find what we need. Why would or should a digital archive be any different?

    Is it that historians and researchers fear they will miss out on what they enjoy most – the thrill of finding leads, the thrill of holding the physical record?

  3. It seeemed that too much information may be the case ...
  4. And, that digital archives had, in fact, made archivists of us all.
  5. It seemed that for many, it didn't matter how much information there was, so long as we could search and find what we are looking for.
  6. It also seemed that this was potentially not a new consideration.