The Reconfiguration of the Archive as Data to Be Mined

  • Michael Moss
  • David Thomas
  • Tim Gollins


This article discusses changing practices brought about by the move to online digital records, the impact these are having on the way history is written, and the way in which archivists are responding (and will need to respond in the future). We argue that digital administrative records are surrounded by other sources – online newspapers and social media – and that the huge volume of digital records alters the way historians read material. This will require a shift in approach from archivists, who will need to view archives as collections of data to be mined and not as texts to be read. Approaches to appraisal will need to be modified, and archivists will need to understand the tools and techniques used to make sense of digital records. While grappling with these issues, archivists will also need to recognize that the future record will be as much about sound and vision as about text.


Cet article aborde les pratiques changeantes occasionnées par le passage vers les documents numériques en ligne, l’impact de ces changements sur la façon dont l’histoire est écrite, et les façons dont les archivistes réagissent (et devront réagir à l’avenir). Nous soutenons que les documents administratifs numériques sont entourés d’autres sources – quotidiens en ligne et médias sociaux – et que la quantité énorme de documents numériques modifie la façon dont les historiens lisent le matériel. Ceci nécessitera un changement dans l’approche des archivistes qui devront voir les archives comme collections de données à exploiter et non comme textes à lire. Les approches en évaluation archivistique devront être modifiées et les archivistes devront bien saisir les outils et techniques qui servent à comprendre les documents numériques. Tout en faisant face à ces questions, les archivistes devront aussi reconnaître que le document d’archives de l’avenir sera autant une question de son et d’images que de texte.

Author Biographies

Michael Moss

Michael Moss is Professor Emeritus of Archival Science at Northumbria University, Newcastle. He was previously Research Professor in Archival Studies in the Humanities Advanced Technology and Information Institute (HATII) at the University of Glasgow, where he directed the Information Management and Preservation MSc program. Prior to being appointed to HATII, he was Archivist of the university from 1974 to 2003. He was educated at the University of Oxford and trained in the Bodleian Library. He was Miegunyah Distinguished Visiting Fellow in the eScholarship Research Centre at the University of Melbourne in 2015. He was a member of the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on Records and Archives from 2007 to 2015 and a nonexecutive director of the National Records of Scotland from 2008 to 2018. He researches and writes in the fields of history and the information sciences. His recent publications include “Brussels Sprouts and Empire: Putting Down Roots,” in Gardening: Philosophy for Everyone, ed. Dan O’Brien (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011); “Where Have All the Files Gone, Lost in Action Points Every One?” Journal of Contemporary History 47, no. 4 (2012); edited with Barbara Endicott-Popovsky, Is Digital Different? (London: Facet Publishing, 2015); and “Understanding Core Business Records” in The International Business Archives Handbook, ed. Alison Turton (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2017). With Professor Laurence Brockliss at the University of Oxford, he has just completed Victorian Professions, a big research project to investigate the professions in Victorian Britain. A book based on the project will be published in 2019.

David Thomas

David Thomas is currently a visiting professor in the iSchool at Northumbria University, United Kingdom. Until 2013, he was Director of Technology at the UK National Archives, where he was responsible for the acquisition and preservation of digital records and websites from government departments and for the development of preservation systems. More recently, he has researched and written on the silence of archives – why archives, despite their grandiloquent claims and high status, frequently do not contain the information that people might reasonably expect. He is currently researching the impact of forgeries and fakes on memory institutions as part of a larger project on fake news and archives.

Tim Gollins

Tim Gollins is Head of Digital Archiving at the National Records of Scotland, where he leads the Digital Preservation program. Since starting his career in the UK technical civil service in 1987, Tim has worked in information security, information management, systems design, and development on numerous large government information projects. Tim joined the National Archives of the UK (TNA) in April 2008, and as Head of Digital Preservation, led TNA’s work on digital preservation and cataloguing. He worked on the design and implementation of a new digital records infrastructure at TNA, embodying his approach to “parsimonious preservation.” Tim recently completed a secondment in the School of Computing Science at the University of Glasgow, where he investigated the challenges of digital sensitivity review. Tim holds a BSc in chemistry (Exeter), an MSc in computing science (University College London), and an MSc in information management (Sheffield). Tim was a director of the Digital Preservation Coalition for six years, from 2009, and is a former member of the University of Sheffield iSchool’s advisory panel.

How to Cite
Moss, Michael, David Thomas, and Tim Gollins. 2018. “The Reconfiguration of the Archive As Data to Be Mined”. Archivaria 86 (November), 118-51.