BitCurator workshop – Digital Forensics at Tate
Last year I attended a talk at Digital Humanities 2013 about the BitCurator project, which is developing a software environment to support the use of digital forensics techniques for analysing born-digital content by archivists, librarians, and other practitioners in memory institutions. We are investigating forensics approaches in PERICLES, in particular in the context of the various forms of born-digital content collected by Tate – archival records, software-based art, and digital video art.
As a follow up to this, we invited Porter Olsen of the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities to visit Tate to organise a workshop on the BitCurator environment. Porter is Community Lead for the project and is responsible for engaging with potential user communities. The workshop took place on 16th June 2014 at Tate Britain, and included participants from the various groups at Tate working on PERICLES, as well as staff from King’s College London.
In the morning, Porter took us through an introduction to the whys and wherefores of digital forensics, magnetic media, and file systems, before moving on to the specific tools integrated into the BitCurator suite. We learned how to make disk images, what metadata can be extracted about these images and how it can be used, as well as the various ways in which information can be extracted from these images, analysed and exported – including access to hidden information and deleted files. In the afternoon we had the opportunity to try out these tools on real data from Tate’s archives and collections, including examples from the three main categories mentioned above. Feedback on the course, and in particular on the integrated toolkit developed by BitCurator, was very positive; in the words of one of the participants, "BitCurator provides a user-friendly way of accessing and using digital forensic tools. It was really useful to be able to see these tools in action and to consider how Tate would be able to use them within our preservation workflows."
The field of digital forensics is highly relevant to a number of key themes and activities of PERICLES. It provides a set of post hoc methods for identifying, extracting and analysing metadata and dependencies from digital objects within the context in which they were created and/or used, albeit the ‘fossilised’ context of a computer or other device at the end of its active life. This complements the PET tool, which takes a ‘sheer curation’ approach to capturing context in a still-live environment. Thus you might think of forensics as providing an ‘archaeological’ approach to digital objects and their context. Reliably duplicating such digital environments is for example essential for Tate’s work in preserving software-based artworks.
Digital forensics approaches are also likely to form an important part of the task that addresses the analysis and implementation of appraisal workflows for born-digital content. As part of PERICLES, Tate Archive is currently considering the impact on archive cataloguing of the increasing volume of digital records, exploring the use of forensic techniques to support appraisal and cataloguing work within the archive.
We now plan to investigate the use of these tools further in PERICLES, identifying specific scenarios for using them, and evaluating their use in the context of Tate’s collecting activities.