Parallel Archive - PA
Parallel Archive (PA), an "invented" archive repository accessible for everybody wishing to upload primary sources, is developed by the Open Society Archives (OSA) at Central European University in Budapest, Hungary. PA is, "at once a personal scholarly workspace, a collaborative research environment, and a digital repository". Personal Workspace "Parallel Archive includes essential tools for building and managing personal collections of primary sources. Documents uploaded to PA are automatically transformed from digitized image files into searchable (text behind image) PDF files with the help of OCR (optical character recognition) software. PA guarantees the integrity of all uploaded documents: each character of each file is preserved throughout the archival process and cannot be altered. Each document stored in PA receives a permanent URL that allows researchers to link the full document to their published works. Users are also able to collect documents already in the repository and add descriptions, tags, and private notes. Importantly, users can decide when to make their privately used archival material publicly accessible or can simply delete it from the system." Collaborative Environment "Parallel Archive's networking functions enable users to build on the contribution of others. Researchers can share documents or ask fellow researchers working in distant archives to digitize and upload documents useful for their own ongoing research. They can find colleagues working on similar topics and participate in forums on specific documents or on general research problems. Users can tag and add metadata to documents thus providing new and varied contexts. The tag cloud captures the scope of the collection and research interests of the community at any given moment." Digital Repository "According to reliable estimates, millions of privately digitized archival documents are stored on private computers and could be shared with other interested researchers for the benefit of the larger scholarly community. PA offers this possibility. As envisioned, PA will be a repository of documents from archives and personal collections across the world; it is structured to complement existing archives, providing varied contexts and perspectives. Importantly, PA enables scholars to locate the archive possessing the original document to authenticate their findings and discover related material. Content curation ensures the quality of the material and descriptive information provided by users, and PA guarantees that content is stable, accessible, and preserved. In this case it is the individual researcher who decides what is intellectually and professionally important, and scholars are not forced to rely only on the discretion of either funding agencies or archival institutions. In this way, PA helps to unearth hidden documents from archives around the world. In the context of the dramatically altered social and technological environment, isolated traditional archives still lock documents that are the property of the public in the depth of their repositories, and offer access only to the selected researchers who have the means and the opportunity to do research on-site, dependent on the goodwill of the professional archivists." Prospects "PA is actively seeking cooperation with scholars and graduate students, learned societies, and international research associations. PA will make serious efforts to persuade peer-reviewed journals of those academic fields where published scholarly articles rely on archival documents, to request authors to upload their sources into PA." The Parallel Archive Manifesto: "The traditional archive, as it has been known and used in the past several hundred years, is in crisis. The archive as an institution and as an idea is traditionally based on trust; the archive has been looked at as a trusted institution, the guarantor of the authenticity of the documents in its care. As a result of the dramatically increasing information overload, (the sheer volume of and the connections among available information) and new types of access to records, historical but even legal and forensic research are faced with new, difficult and barely solvable problems. The skyrocketing digitization of documents, the proliferation of records that are ab initio (born) digital, new ways of conducting research, the available technical opportunities of networking and cooperation pose new challenges and offer innovative new solutions for archives. Digitization shifts emphasis from the materiality of documents to content, putting preservation in a radically new perspective. The withering away of analog documents, the spread of digital records change the status of the document and the information record in the archive. In the era of ab initio digital records, the status of the archive, where traditionally the original "real" records could be found, has been destabilized. Authenticity, credibility, the integrity of the documents. "Forgery from a distance", "manipulation not made by human hand" can tamper the original documents in ways that had been unimaginable just a decade ago. Computer viruses, as well as obsolete formats can change or destroy whole collections, or undermine the authenticity of the documents, while keeping the appearance of credibility. Analog technology made alterations expensive, complicated and in most cases – in the long run – detectable. The situation in the digital age is fundamentally different. As textual documents are being migrated to digital environment, the difference between texts and images is becoming blurred; texts and images (photographs) are indistinguishable, inasmuch as both are easily mutable digital information. The fragility of authenticity is a dramatic threat for the archives, especially but not exclusively, in the case of legal and forensic documents. As OSA is the repository of important archives on human rights violations (among them the records of the UN Expert Commission on War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia, the Bosnia Projects of the Physicians for Human Rights – including the whole forensic documentation of the mass-grave exhumations in Srebrenica), we are aware of the importance of preserving the integrity of images and digital or digitized documents that are important guarantees of fair court proceedings of the international courts, and also that of substantiating historical claims in scholarly works. OSA has a working relationship with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia in The Hague and has assisted in the work of the Dutch Parliamentary investigation commission in its work on the responsibility of the Dutch peacekeeping forces during the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica. We are aware of the technological challenges that have changed the way records are (or should be) handled by different institutions dealing with evidence. As a consequence of the technological changes, examination of records does not necessarily reveal prior manipulation. Digital tampering of documents leaves just a few detectable traces behind, so it becomes complicated and very difficult to trace intrinsic artifacts of manipulation. The launching of a new type of distributed, networked, cryptographically-signed file-sharing archive would naturally address the issues of integrity and authenticity. (An authentic record is – complex ontological and epistemological issues aside – what it purports to be; issued by a person or agency endowed with relevant authority. Integrity refers to the fact that the document has been preserved without any alteration that would impair its status and use as an authentic record.) By launching PA, by the active contribution of its users, OSA aims at demonstrating that in spite of the technological changes and problems of authentication, archives can regain their trusted institutional status by making collaborative use of new networking technology."

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Saturday, 17 March 2012 - 10:32pm
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