RMIT University
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Assembling a Record of the Australian Internet: Tracing the Emergence and Evolution of a Nation’s Web Archives

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Version 2 2024-07-03, 08:16
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posted on 2024-07-03, 08:16 authored by Kieran Hegarty
How are a nation’s library collections imagined and enacted in a globally networked and digital information environment? In this thesis, I explore this question by examining the social and material foundations of a nation’s web archives, which bring together preserved snapshots of web pages and other online materials. Using ethnographic and historical methods, I chart the emergence and evolution of Australia’s web archives. I focus predominantly on the Australian Web Archive, a collection of billions of web pages selected for preservation by Australia’s network of national and state libraries since 1996 and a collection of social media developed by the State Library of New South Wales since 2012. Using participant observation, interviews, and document analysis, I present one of the first comprehensive studies of a nation’s web archives over three decades—from initial conception, shortly after the publication of Australia’s first website in 1992, to 2022, when the number and type of actors involved in producing and circulating information on the web have changed significantly. Using these methods, I argue that national web archiving is not merely a process of preserving web pages but a relational process whereby what constitutes a national collection in the age of the popular internet is defined, debated, and reimagined by a shifting multitude of actors and interests. Conceptualising Australia’s web archives as an “infrastructure”, my analysis is structured around three themes—categories, rules, and imaginaries—through which I trace the distinctive contours of these collections. Using this thematic approach, I show how traditional categories used to demarcate the limits of collecting both constrain and enable the formation of web archives, trace the emergence of a sociotechnical assemblage of rules that blend state and private regulations, and examine how dominant meanings surrounding library collections are forged as distinctive constellations of actors interact through new collecting processes. Attending to the social and material foundations that undergird contemporary library collections reveals their shifting boundaries and meanings, thereby making a significant contribution to media and information studies on the embedded values, biases, and politics of web archives and how the categories, rules, and technologies that underpin them shape how an increasingly central element of a nation’s documentary heritage is imagined and enacted.


Degree Type

Doctorate by Research


© Kieran Hegarty 2024

School name

Global, Urban & Social Studies, RMIT University