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Do you know where the first email is archived? Nowhere…

23 april 2018 Gepubliceerd door Laat uw gedicht achter

Hoe is dat nou, stage lopen bij het Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed? In een zesweekse serie vertellen de studenten die sinds begin dit jaar aan de slag zijn bij het Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed over hun ervaringen. Sophia Kalogeropoulou bijt het spits af:

‘To: KennisPlatform; Digital Heritage Network;


From: Sophia Kalogeropoulou;

Subject: Do you know where the first email is archived? Nowhere…


Journalists, bloggers, and internet entrepreneurs would have us all believe that email is dead, an old-fashioned practice on the verge of replacement. Alexis Madrigal, however, argues “you can’t kill email! It’s the cockroach of the internet.”[1] On the other hand, many archivists, curators and institutions are avoiding email archiving as if it was the plague; no one wants to think about it, talk about it or challenge it until someone else discovers the cure. Even if email was minutes away from disappearing, our efforts should be dedicated towards active conservation instead of active negligence.

First and foremost, email needs to be treated like any other born-digital record or, perhaps, as the ultimate born-digital record. Email functionality as correspondence is only one of the many possible uses of email. Email is the epitome of interoperability. An email can be exchanged regardless of the operating system or email application used. The same email can be accessed and stored on any type of device e.g. laptop, phone, tablet, or cloud and attachments can be shared regardless of format. Due to these and many other capabilities, email is one of the great struggles encountered by heritage and archival organizations.

Email, just like any other born-digital material, comprises of both hidden and visible components. The visible components make up the header, the body and the attachment(s). Whereas, hidden data is found as part of the header source or transmission data. Transmission data helps determine an email’s integrity and contributes to its authenticity. This data introduces the first of many challenges of email archiving, how do we extract this hidden content and what do we keep from it? Similar challenges are confronted with the visible elements, such as threads, attachment format accessibility and URL links. How to manage linked replies? How to handle URLs? How to deal with the numerous attachment formats? Other issues also deal with privacy, legal concerns and donor demands towards preservation and accessibility strategies. Then there is email appraisal, who and how can email be appraised? Not to mention, should it be appraised? what new challenges does email appraisal introduce? This is where my project for Het Nieuwe Instituut in cooperation with the University of Amsterdam comes into play.

Het Nieuwe Instituut is, currently, in their second phase of implementing a digital archive and it is expected that email will be an essential element of that archive. I am researching appraisal and selection of emails as well as the possible tools that can assist institutions with the appraisal process. Although, arguments can be made for and against born-digital appraisal, it is important for institutions to clearly define what they want to achieve before deciding on their appraisal approach. The project will result in an advisory report for Het Nieuwe Instituut that will be divided into two parts consisting of an appraisal report and a tool testing report. The report investigates the potential challenges ushered by email appraisal and offers recommendations to help manage them. Hopefully, the email archiving efforts of Het Nieuwe Instituut will spark interested in other organizations to further contributed to the email preservation challenge before email’s fate really does come to an end and any future research prospects of email collections fade into the digital abyss.

[1] Alexis C. Madrigal, “Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet,” The Atlantic, August 14, 2014, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/08/why-email-will-never-die/375973/?single_page=true.’

Heb je interesse in een stage bij het Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed? Neem dan contact met ons op via Marcel Ras (marcel.ras@netwerkdigitaalerfgoed.nl).

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