MSCA Grant Award: Digital Forensics in the Historical Humanities

Time for a grant announcement. Last summer Thorsten Ries and I had a crazy idea: to apply to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions (MSCA) – a programme of grants run by the European Commission – so that we could combine of interest and expertise in digital forensics to do something awesome. After finding out we were successful earlier this year and working through the EC paperwork ever since, I’m delighted to announce today that Thorsten will be joining me at Sussex as an MSCA Fellow to work on a project entitled ‘Digital Forensics in the Historical Humanities: Hanif Kureishi, The Mass Observation Archive, Glyn Moody’. Like me, Thorsten will be co-located in the Department of History and the Sussex Humanities Lab.

Our hacky forensics setup at SHL

Starting September and lasting for 12 months, the Fellowship takes as its starting point the truism that the use of personal computers has fundamentally changed the historical record. “Born digital” documents – private digital archives, legal and public digital repositories, websites and social media content, digital art – have entered the historical record and become part of our shared cultural heritage. Yet few scholars in the historical humanities can preserve, process and analyse these primary sources with the digital forensic methodologies required to maintain evidential integrity, fixity, and authenticity, to recover data, and to draw historically valid conclusions from the digital materiality of the evidence and its preserved technological context.

A more detailed setup example from the excellent BitCurator project

We think there is a clear need for this situation to change. And so to make that happen, the project will draw on Thorsten’s expertise in born-digital philology and digital forensics to undertake exemplary analysis of born-digital corpora in three distinct UK-based archives that have not been subjected to digital forensic analysis: the archive of the author Hanif Kureishi at the British Library, the Mass Observation Project Archive based at the University of Sussex, and the private digital archive of the technology writer and journalist Glyn Moody. By working across these three archives, the project will demonstrate the innovative potential of digital forensic methodologies in the historical humanities and set forensic standards for future research using born-digital archives.

Keeping old hardware (like this 1997 Apple Power Mackintosh G3 in my office) is one part of the digital forensics workflow.

Few people in the humanities are greater exponents of the digital forensics methods than Thorsten (see his excellent article “The Rationale of the Born-Digital Dossier Génétique: Digital Forensics and the Writing Process: With Examples from the Thomas Kling Archive,” Digital Scholarship in the Humanities, 2017, And so I am super excited to be supervising a project funded under this prestigious scheme and to get to work with Thorsten on an aspect of the historical method that I am passionate about (see my recent work with the Wellcome). There are workshops and talks attached to the project, so if you are interested in them do get in touch and we’ll be sure to keep you informed once everything is up and running!


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