Digital Heritage: problems and possibilities

As a means through which aspects of ‘heritage’ are channelled, stored and preserved, various elements of digital media seem to hold endless possibilities (Harvey 2008: 33). In this blog back in November 2013, I recounted an event in Glasgow, in which social media had been used to organise a broad-based, marginalised and decidedly ‘non-expert’ constituency that had a direct effect on heritage planning policies in the city. This sounds very rosy, with potential for a more democratic, immanent and open-ended process of heritage-in-action; with purpose; with ambition. But then this week, I was reminded about the other side of the coin when it comes to ‘digital heritage’.

 A colleague of mine found a 5 inch floppy disk at the bottom of a filing cabinet in the Departmental Office – it had my name on it, and the date: 23/10/92. It must have been sitting there for more than 21 years – it still had my hand written notes about what computer code needed to be entered into the DOS operating system in order for the disk to ‘work’ – a world before Microsoft Windows!


Of course, now my problem was how I might be able to see what was on the disk – possibly vital information – a paradigm-shifting set of thoughts perhaps? Or maybe just some notes from a long-forgotten Student Staff Liaison Committee meeting!


This made me reflect on other such examples of ‘digital ephemerality’ that I possess: I still have around 30 hours of oral history recordings from farmers born between around 1908 and 1925 who are talking about the Second World War ‘Plough-Up Campaign’ in Devon – all neatly organised and stored on minidisks (remember them? Anyone under the age of about 23 will not know what I am talking about)! And a conversation with Mr Lucas, born in January 1900, talking about Methodist politics and everyday practices in North Cornwall in the 1920s. Oh dear!

Harvey, D.C. (2008) ‘A history of heritage’, in B. Graham and P. Howard (eds) Research Companion to Heritage and Identity (Ashgate; Aldershot), pp. 19-36.


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