The title of this conference, “From Parchment to Digital,” conveys a sense of continuity as well as change. The specific issues I was asked to cover, “Digital archive: completeness, credibility, safety,” involve continuity when translated into the theoretical archival concept of trustworthiness, as well as change, when related to how to ensure that the reliability, accuracy, and authenticity of digital material – its trustworthiness, that is – be maintained in the long term, even permanently.
Beginning with theory, let’s reaffirm the meaning of trust. Some view trust as a four-level progression: from individual, as a personality trait, to interpersonal, as a tie directed from one person to another (son to father), relational, as a property of a mutual relationship (people doing business), and societal, as a feature of a community as a whole. InterPARES Trust, the international multidisciplinary research project that I direct, defines trust as “confidence of one party in another, based on an alignment of value systems with respect to specific actions or benefits, and involving a relationship of voluntary vulnerability, dependence, and reliance, based on risk assessment”. Substantially, trust involves acting without the knowledge needed to act, by substituting the information that one does not have with other information, e.g. the testimony of witnesses, oral tradition, or documentary truth. This is because the historical truth is not directly accessible: facts and acts slide into the past as they happen and can only be known through oral or written accounts of witnesses and the material instruments that embody them, the records.