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Archives are special – the homes of our collective memories. Although the archive is still widely perceived as a trusted custodian, archivists are aware that they are working in a world in which digital content is increasingly questioned. Is the archive trusted because of its people and practices or because of the sheer practical impossibility of altering or manipulating kilometres of physical records? What is the digital equivalent? The emerging challenge around trust is particularly relevant in relation to public archives preserving records of contentious histories; terms such as “fake news” and “post-truth” are frequently heard in the context of national and international politics. How do we ensure that researchers continue to trust that the records have not been tampered with, or that a document can be verified as being the same as the archived original?
The ARCHANGEL project is breaking new ground by using blockchain to record checksums and other metadata derived from either scanned physical or born-digital records to allow verification of their integrity over decade- or century- long timespans. This data is permanently preserved through peer-to-peer distribution and consensus checking without the need for a trusted third party.
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