Chapter 11 – Web archiving as e-research

Steven Schneider, Kirsten Foot, and Paul Wouters

As the Web has become an object of research, Web archiving has emerged as a Web-based form of inquiry enabling developmental and retrospective analyses of many kinds of online phenomena. For some scholars in the social sciences and humanities, one such phenomena that holds scholarly interest as an object of study is e-science or e-research, which is commonly understood as the development of ways of doing research that are mediated by digital, networked technologies. Simultaneously, Web archiving has also emerged as a practice of e-research, that is, a practice engaged in by social science and humanities research mediated via digital, networked technologies. In this chapter, we analyze current and potential uses of Web archiving in social studies of e-science, and the challenges of employing Web archiving in such studies. We also interrogate Web archiving as an e-research practice, focusing on the ways in which Web archiving shapes knowledge. We assess the knowledge-shaping dynamic of Web archiving in four dimensions: (1) the analytic practices facilitated by Web archiving, and the possibilities and constraints of Web Archiving for the type of research questions and styles of research; (2) the technical and scholarly processes of Web archiving; (3) the implications of Web archives for the transparency of “replicability” of scholarship on online phenomena and corresponding shifts in research processes; (4) the institutional policies needed to support and sustain Web archiving as e-research. The kinds of analyses facilitated by Web archiving utilize both quantitative and qualitative methods employed at a large scale, over time, and by distributed research teams. We conclude by identifying the challenges social researchers encounter in Web archiving for the purpose of studying e-research. Employing Web archiving in the study and design of e-research requires careful planning and tool development, but enables fruitful reflection on scholarly practices on the Web over time and policies that promote or hinder e-research.