‘Go fish’: Conceptualising the challenges of engaging national web archives for digital research

Jessica Ogden, Emily Maemura

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our work considers the sociotechnical and organisational constraints of web archiving in order to understand how these factors and contingencies influence research engagement with national web collections. In this article, we compare and contrast our experiences of undertaking web archival research at two national web archives: the UK Web Archive located at the British Library and the Netarchive at the Royal Danish Library. Based on personal interactions with the collections, interviews with library staff and observations of web archiving activities, we invoke three conceptual devices (orientating, auditing and constructing) to describe common research practices and associated challenges in the context of each national web archive. Through this framework we centre the early stages of the research process that are often only given cursory attention in methodological descriptions of web archival research, to discuss the epistemological entanglements of researcher practices, instruments, tools and methods that create the conditions of possibility for new knowledge and scholarship in this space. In this analysis, we highlight the significant time and energy required on the part of researchers to begin using national web archives, as well as the value of engaging with the curatorial infrastructure that enables web archiving in practice. Focusing an analysis on these research infrastructures facilitates a discussion of how these web archival interfaces both enable and foreclose on particular forms of researcher engagement with the past Web and in turn contributes to critical ongoing debates surrounding the opportunities and constraints of digital sources, methodologies and claims within the Digital Humanities.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)43-63
JournalInternational Journal of Digital Humanities
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • National web archives
  • Digital curation
  • Scholarly primitives
  • Digital research methods


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