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Web archives – archiving the internet for future generations

Web archives – archiving the internet for future generations

What could interest historians in 2058 about the 2018 online election campaign in Bavaria? In the Web Archives project of the German Research Foundation (DFG), a team from the University of Passau is developing methods to systematically archive websites, online reports, social-media discussions and comments.

The heyday of the world wide web started in the 1990s: ‘But much from that time has also been lost,' said Professor Malte Rehbein, who holds the Chair of Digital Humanities at the University of Passau, ‘so we can actually speak of the internet's dark ages'. Ever since, a number of different private initiatives have become active in preserving old web pages for posterity, including the Wayback Machine online service of the not-for-profit Internet Archive. Yet, he considers these activities to be more or less haphazard. Usually there is no systematic development of the archived content, and the possibilities of tapping these resources for research is very limited.

Processes and tools in the digital humanities

This is where the DFG project ‘Web archives – Methods of Digital Humanities in application for creating and accessing web archives', which is headed by Professor Malte Rehbein and Professor Daniel Göler, who holds the Jean Monnet Chair for European Politics, takes the initiative. The Bavarian State Library is a project partner. The team of researchers are tasked with testing innovative and intuitive access routes as well as the implementation of processes for an automated and use-driven collection.

In addition, researchers have taken up a political-science case study on the framing of European policy issues in the world wide web during the election campaign for the Bavarian state parliament in 2018 and the EU election campaign in 2019. This case study sets out at the interface between two up-and-coming research fields: the change in election campaigns brought about by online communication, on the one hand, and the increasing significance of EU policy themes in the national discourse, on the other, both of which can be subsumed under the label of Europeanisation. ‘Exploring such issues - which can be addressed only to a limited extent using the standard methodological toolset that political science has to offer - in an interdisciplinary cooperative is a great opportunity,' said Professor Daniel Göler.

The project is comprised of three strands:

  • Scientific application: political science researchers establish which information could be relevant for typical issues and should therefore be archived.
  • Archiving process: as a project partner, the Bavarian State Library stores online content in specific time slots.
  • Methods and processes in the digital humanities: Professor Rehbein and his team study which time intervals would be expedient for storage and test tools using select datasets in order to measures and visualise the dynamics of online discussions, for example.

‘One of the questions we address is: How do I archive the experience a person using the internet in 2018 had?' said Professor Rehbein. Tools tried and tested in practice have been integrated into a project-specific web platform. He went on to explain that their goal is to design successfully tested processes and tools so that other organisations which take a selective approach in archiving the web can use them as well.

The Chair of Digital Humanities provides the requisite methodological know-how and the fundamentals needed to classify web archiving in the theory of science. Furthermore, it serves as an information vector between academic users and the Bavarian State Library. The German Research Foundation (DFG) has agreed to fund the project for a period of three years.

Principal Investigator(s) at the University Prof. Dr. Daniel Göler (Professur für Europäische Politik), Prof. Dr. Malte Rehbein (Lehrstuhl für Digital Humanities)
Project period 01.10.2018 - 30.09.2021
Source of funding
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Wissenschaftliche Infrastruktur > DFG - Wissenschaftliche Infrastruktur - LIS: Wissenschaftliche Literaturversorgungs- und Informationssysteme
DFG - Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft > DFG - Wissenschaftliche Infrastruktur > DFG - Wissenschaftliche Infrastruktur - LIS: Wissenschaftliche Literaturversorgungs- und Informationssysteme
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