The Digital transfiguration of the archive.

Publication Details


The digitization of archival material is a standard practice in many locations around the globe and various processes are in place to enable the preservation of the past through these techniques. Limited attention is however paid to the way this mode of archiving influences the understanding of the material traces of the past.

The primary argument of this paper is that there is a major shift in the material, intellectual and socio-historical value of the source material by virtue of its ‘new’ place in the intellectual economy as a digital artefact. This transfiguration renders the past accessible in a format related to the original item but requires that the viewer to engage it through a vastly different set of material properties.

This paper will investigate what is lost in translation to the digital, specifically the way objects embody a particular history and by proxy their value. This shift is complicated by the limitations of current technology, the costs attached to digitization and the limited number of archives that is accessible through such means. Specific local and international archives will be examined during the course of this investigation – the provisional list includes the following three archives:

• Local archive – The Digital Bleek and Lloyd Collection

• Continental archive – The Timbuktu manuscripts & Timbouctu Manuscript project

• International archive – The Darwin Correspondence Project

This paper is intended as the foundation for my PhD study which I intend to pursue in 2020.


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Digital Humanities

Last updated on 2020-14-07 at 05:16