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Web ARChive studies network researching web domains and events

The aim of the WARCnet network is to promote high-quality national and transnational research that will help us to understand the history of (trans)national web domains and of transnational events on the web, drawing on the increasingly important digital cultural heritage held in national web archives.

The network activities run in 2020-22, and they are funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark | Humanities (grant no 9055-00005B).

The network offers transnational interdisciplinary networking activities for researchers who study the archived web, and it reaches out to web archivists and IT-developers. The networking activities are guided by an overarching research question: How have (a) (trans)national web domains, and (b) transnational events developed on the European web? This broad research question constitutes an appropriate entry point for studying the archived web, and it allows for participation from various disciplines within the humanities, including media and communication, history and digital humanities, as well as others to be added as the network grows.

Since the mid-1990s the World Wide Web (or simply: the web) has become an inherent element in our societies’ communicative infrastructure. If we want to understand the development of the web as a public sphere where national and transnational events are articulated, created and negotiated, researchers need to make greater use of the archived web, because the online web of the past is gone. Despite the fact that national web archives in Europe (including the Danish Netarkivet) have collected and preserved the public web for decades — including a great variety of websites and social media outlets —, these archives have not been widely exploited by researchers. Several reasons for this limited use can be identified: Web archives are distinct from other digital collections, and to use them requires skills that many researchers do not have, and in the short term may be unwilling to learn; there is a lack of awareness about web archives and of showcases demonstrating their value; and no quick and easy access is available.

Thus, researchers face the following challenge: To fully understand some of the most pressing issues of today’s societies — and their recent historical development — a pivotal component, the web, has to be unlocked; but the treasure trove of historical sources in web archives is largely unknown to scholars, and its immense research potential remains untapped.

The aim of WARCnet is to rise to this challenge by providing a network for promoting high quality national and transnational research that will help us to understand the history of (trans)national web domains and of transnational events on the web, drawing on the increasingly important digital cultural heritage held in national web archives. Since the relevant national research environments are still very small, international networking and collaboration is imperative to reach a critical mass; in addition, for the field to develop beyond the few first movers, it is important to pay particular attention to including the next generation of early career researchers.