Securing our National Archives for Future Generations


ARCHANGEL is a 24 month socio-technical feasibility study co-creating and evaluating a novel prototype DLT service with end-users to determine how archival practices, sustainable models and public attitudes could evolve in the presence of a trusted decentralised technology to prove content integrity and ensure open access to digital public archives.

Project Partners

To undertake this adventurous and ambitious project we have formed a strategic multi-disciplinary partnership uniting a world-leading group in multi-modal signal processing (CVSSP), the Centre for the Digital Economy (CODE) within Surrey Business School, and a consortium of AMI stakeholders including The National Archives and the Open Data Institute (ODI).

Why this matters

The aim of ARCHANGEL is to ensure the long-term sustainability of digital archives though the design, development and trialling of transformational new distributed ledger technology (DLT) to promote accessibility and ensure integrity of content, whilst maximising its impact through novel business models for commodification and open access.

Archives and Memory Institutions (AMIs) are the lens through which future generations will perceive today; they form the authoritative economic, social and cultural memory of a nation.

For example, The National Archives (>15 petabytes) is one of the world’s largest and oldest AMIs responsible for preserving the digital record of the UK Government e.g. key decisions made by Ministers and advice received. Some of this information is made open, some kept closed for decades. AMIs are founded upon the principle of public trust, of being neutral and completely trustworthy; the immutability and integrity of AMIs are essential to maintaining their objectivity.

Yet world history is littered with examples where this objectivity has been compromised e.g. through expunging of physical records during times of political unrest. Today’s digital age presents new socio-technical challenges to AMIs around safeguarding of data. Digital public records are intangible and so easy to remove or modify without that modification necessarily being detectable. Indeed in some cases records have to be modified to ensure their continued accessibility as formats change and the curation of data is also accompanied by the need to maintain associated code to render that data for presentation, often across decades.

How should decisions over migration or prioritisation of maintenance be taken, or audited? What are the implications of migrations resulting in minor losses of fidelity one hundred years from now? How can the public be sure that digital content when released is fundamentally unaltered from the original? Existing archival practice is ill-equipped to respond to such issues, and is in urgent need of disruption to keep pace with our transformation into an increasingly digital society, so ensuring the integrity and impartiality of knowledge for future generations.

Our approach

From a technological standpoint, ARCHANGEL will leverage cutting-edge machine learning to collect robust digital signatures derived from digitised physical, and born-digital content, within a permissioned DLT.

Both signatures and programmatic code to render content and verify its provenance and integrity will be encoded within the DLT. Novel business models for sustaining the DLT e.g. via contributed effort (proof of work) will be explored at the points of creation and consumption using a cross-AMI model in which a single DLT is contributed to by multiple AMIs, across disciplines and nations, mitigating risk of archive distortion by its operating AMI.

Impact is not limited to traditional AMIs, but any digital public archive: University research data repositories (linked to DOI); better management of corporate memory in multi-nationals (e.g. financial/regulatory compliance, managing records of prior art in tech companies).