Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, African History. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 26 June 2022

The Preservation of African Websites as Historical Sourceslocked

The Preservation of African Websites as Historical Sourceslocked

  • Marion Frank-WilsonMarion Frank-WilsonCollection Development and Archival Collections, Indiana University Bloomington

Summary

The advent of the World Wide Web has changed traditional ways of communicating research and has increased opportunities for authors from the global South to disseminate knowledge, thus bypassing the “gate-keeping” system in the traditional peer-reviewed journal literature of the global North. Increasingly, content from and about Africa is produced and disseminated on the web. Content is all-encompassing and ranges from cultural and artistic creations to political as well as economic information and government publications and statistics. The web makes it possible not only to produce knowledge but also to provide public access to and increase interaction with information and historical sources. While the potential of the web to democratize knowledge production was recognized by librarians, archivists, and researchers on Africa early on, there is also an awareness that the web as medium for historical research may in fact deepen the digital divide and perpetuate longstanding inequalities, linking it to debates about the politics of archiving and related questions of cultural imperialism.

With the average age of a website estimated at seventy-five days, there is agreement among researchers and archivists that important web content is disappearing every day, and that future historical research depends on efforts to preserve and archive websites now. Nevertheless, while analyses and discussions about the importance of preserving African web content have emerged in the literature since the early 2000s, actual efforts to preserve and archive African web contents as historical resources have been relatively few and sporadic. Rather than relying on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, which automatically preserves websites through a web crawler but that cannot be depended on to archive every hyperlink or even every subpage or new version of existing pages, libraries and archives use the Internet Archive’s subscription-based tool Archive-It as a way to capture web content at a selective, deep, subpage level. Creating such curated, archived digital collections, however, connects web archiving with concerns and issues raised in the scholarly literature about the politics of archiving and who ultimately has the right to decide which websites will be preserved as part of a country’s digital history. Moreover, specific characteristics of the web as a medium pose additional, more practical challenges for its use in historical research. Issues related to funding, scalability, availability of metadata, and archival documentation, which would include information about functionality, website versions, dead links, provenance, as well as contextual information, are all factors that have yet to be addressed when creating web archives. The need to develop practices, policies, and documentation to guide web archiving has therefore been stressed by both archivists and historians. Ultimately, the preservation of African websites for historical research can best be accomplished collaboratively, with the involvement of both archivists and historians as well as library and professional associations and, most importantly, strong partnerships with stakeholders from the African continent.

Subjects

  • Historiography and Methods

You do not currently have access to this article

Login

Please login to access the full content.

Subscribe

Access to the full content requires a subscription