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Digital Forensics in the Historical Humanities: Hanif Kureishi, The Mass Observation Archive, Glyn Moody

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - DFitHH (Digital Forensics in the Historical Humanities: Hanif Kureishi, The Mass Observation Archive, Glyn Moody)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-08-31

The use of personal computers has fundamentally changed the historical record. “Born digital” documents, i.e. primary records that have originally been created in digital form (and that are not digitized versions of originally analogue records) – 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.

This 12 month research project conducted at the University of Sussex, Sussex Humanities Lab, was aimed at a) investigating and methodologically unlocking digital forensic in-depth levels of analysing born-digital archives and records by means of exemplary studies on three born-digital archives, b) help enable institutional archives to preserve born-digital primary records in a way that enables forensic inquiry for future historical research, c) empower fellow researchers to in-depth analyse born-digital primary records with forensic means, and d) improve cross-sector collaboration and exchange between archives, humanities researchers, and digital forensic professionals.
In focus of the project were three distinct UK-based archives that have not been subjected to digital forensic analysis: 1) the archive of the author Hanif Kureishi at the British Library (BL), 2) the internationally renowned Mass Observation Project Archive (MOPA) based at the University of Sussex (UoS), and 3) the private digital archive of the technology writer and journalist Glyn Moody.

The project parts about the born-digital Hanif Kureishi and Glyn Moody archive were interested in reconstruction of the writing processes, the digital working environments and writing strategies of the authors, as well as aspects of the historical digital forensic materiality of the digital manuscripts that would reveal the records’ provenance history and ensure their authenticity. The project part about the MOPA aimed at a grassroots history of digital writing in the UK on a broader historical scale throughout the digital transformation period.

Another part of the project was aimed at investigating emerging technologies, such as Solid State Drive hard drives, for their impact on digital forensics, on the materiality and structure of the born-digital record, and preservation of these storage media.
"In the course of the 12 month project, the three main born-digital archives (Kureishi, Moody, MOPA) were accessed, in part preserved, and analysed with digital forensic methods. The main goal was to reconstruct literary writing processes, analyze historical forensic traces of writing processes and writing strategies in digital objects and systems, and contextualize them in the historical development of literary, professional and everyday digital writing.

The forensic analysis of Kureishi’s (""Something to Tell You"", ""The Last Word"", film scripts for ""Le Week-End"") and Moody’s (""The Rebel Code"", ""The Digital Code of Life [...]"") born-digital archives delivered in-depth reconstructions of writing processes, secured traces of individual text processing strategies, legacy software used and forensic traces of the records’ history, provenance and archival processing. Hitherto not forensically described legacy file formats were analysed in this process. Less often documented forensic features that are often destroyed by archival processing, e.g. filesystem metadata granularity and embedded data garbage in document files, have been used during the analysis. The anonymized born-digital records at MOPA, ranging from 1987 till today, including digital files in various legacy formats and early printouts, have been analysed with digital forensic means, which made the digital transformation of the UK with its specific developments (e.g. BBC Micro, preferred formats over time) and elements of writing strategies traceable as element of a grassroots history of this process.

The project was extended by a forensic analysis of the hard drive of C.M. Taylor’s laptop, on which he wrote his novel ""Staying On"" (a British Library preservation project), and the development of a digital forensic, historical perspective on web archives, online threat and open source intelligence.

The beneficiary completed professional training in chip-off forensics, providing him the methodological foundation to extract and preserve NAND-based storage media (e.g. in mobile handsets, solid state drives). Furthermore, in the course of his several investigations, he developed forensic methods to recover and analyse data from legacy computers.

During this project, three academic articles on different digital forensic methods in the humanities and born-digital archives have been submitted and published. The beneficiary also edited the first special issue of the ""International Journal of Digital Humanities"" on ""Born-digital archives"". An article and a book chapter summing up the results are forthcoming. Ten conference papers and invited lectures on digital forensics, born-digital archives and digital literature have been delivered. Three paper abstracts have been published on the conferences’ websites.

The project included organizing the international research workshop ""Born-Digital Archives and Digital Forensics – Where are We Now?"" at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, March 2019.

As part of the project, the beneficiary gave a workshop on digital forensics in the Sussex Humanities Lab Open Workshop series, aimed at archivists, librarians and historical scholars, and a SHL research seminar at University of Sussex.

The beneficiary worked together with the digital preservation units of the involved libraries and archives (The British Library, The Keep, University of Sussex Library) to improve born-digital preservation."
The born-digital archives (Kureishi, Moody, MOPA, Taylor) have been accessed and analysed by humanities research for the first time or for the first time on a digital forensic level. The reconstruction of the writing processes, identification of forensic traces and structures in these born-digital archives, documented especially in the forthcoming publications, are in themselves novel. The results will deepen our understanding of the particular authors and their digital writing strategies, the historical development of literary, professional and everyday writing with digital tools in general, and will be instructive for further research on these archives.

The digital forensic inquiry into these primary digital sources in itself shed, by example, a light on the necessity of forensics-aware archiving, which will motivate more memory institutions to archive born-digital sources according to forensic evidencial standards, preserving their digital materiality to the extent that no relevant hidden data is lost - and be fully aware of its presence. Enabling archivists and researchers to preserve, curate and analyze sources at this level is key to securing authenticity, fixity, stability and relevance of born-digital primary sources and is the key prerequisite of critical appraisal on the research side. By holding the research workshop in London, the introductory workshop to digital forensics and advising the involved memory institutions on digital forensic preservation and analysis, not only knowledge has been transfered which ensures authentic preservation and forensic interpretability in the future.
Thorsten Ries delivering an invited lecture at Ghent University.
Thorsten Ries presenting at The National Archives, London.
Chip-off: a desoldered BGA memory chip.