This paper examines two repositories of digital material to investigate how representational practices take shape in online archives. Specifically, it questions whether Internet archives work against the archival principle of provenance or reinterpret it to create new and flexible contexts. Digital, online, and website archives here refer to websites created by individuals, organizations, or institutions who presumably have little or no grounding in archival theory yet desire to make historical material accessible in digital form. Many of these online archives are defined by their ability to archive, rather than any specificity of their meaning as an archive. This paper contends, however, that an adherence to the concept of provenance, particularly in its postmodern manifestations, is nonetheless apparent in online archives: that despite their apparently free approach to content, context remains a unifying representational principle for online collections. The paper concludes with a discussion of how the fluidity and malleability of the digital interface both encapsulate and popularize the multifaceted concept of provenance discussed by archival theorists over the past decade, and how the proliferation of online archives will affect the professional practices of archivists.

This content is only available as a PDF.