On verification and authenticity
As an archivist (and archival educator-in-training), something that comes up a lot in discussions of digital preservation is authenticity. How can archivists, patrons, and other stakeholders be certain that a digital document is authentic, trusted, verified? This is obviously a fertile topic for debate, and one that has been covered extensively in the archival (and other) literature as technology and training have developed.
One thing, however, that is not usually questioned so much: the idea that paper-based older materials are understood to be authentic. This week, the Archivist of the United States and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) released the information that a well-known researcher had deliberately changed the date on a Lincoln document, and then published his "finding" that he had discovered perhaps the last document that Lincoln signed before heading off to Ford's Theater on that fateful April night. (See http://www.archives.gov/press/press-releases/2011/nr11-57.html)
What to make of this? Does this finding have implications for digital/digitized historical records? By creating a digital surrogate of some records, could this situation be avoided in the future-- or is it more likely that the digital record could be altered in a similar fashion?