Define Digital Heritage : Part 03

Digital heritage objects from the point of creation, therefore, may be of two types: digitally born and digital surrogate (Parry, 2007, p68). ‘Born digital’ has been identified by UNESCO as that type of which “there is no other format but the digital object”. Therefore, any digital heritage contents created through digital media or digital tools without any references of analogue resources can be defined as ‘born digital’. Examples of, ‘born-digital’ heritage contents are electronic journals, World Wide Web pages and on-line databases. In this way, born digital has no parents of which they are a digital manifestation but has now become part of the world’s cultural heritage. On the other hand, ‘digital surrogate’ is a copy captured from an original or existing object for preservation, representation or research purposes. Captured images, 3D scanned objects, digital video of a ritual are a few of such digital surrogate objects.

Therefore, the content of digital heritage, by the definition from UNESCO (2003) may include a wide and growing range of formats such as texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, web pages and so on[1]. Digital heritage may exist in any language, in any part of the world, and in any area of human knowledge or expression. Many of these digital resources contain intrinsic value and significance, and, therefore, constitute a heritage that should be protected and preserved for current and future generations. However, due to the nature of digital-media, digital heritage is frequently ephemeral and requires purposeful production, maintenance and management in order to be retained. UNESCO, therefore, through a charter in 2003 highlighted the issue of preservation of digital heritage and made guidelines for its member states (UNESCO, 2003).

The UNESCO Charter (2003 : 1) states that, “Digital materials include texts, databases, still and moving images, audio, graphics, software and web pages, among a wide and growing range of formats ………… Many of these resources have lasting value and significance, and therefore constitute a heritage that should be protected and preserved for current and future generations”. The question remains as to which amongst these materials should be kept for future generations and how can they be selected and preserved. Moreover, interestingly, this current definition of digital heritage by UNESCO gives equal value to both ‘born digital’ and ‘digital surrogate’ objects. However, the digital surrogate may not contain any explicit message or value of its own but carries those of the original. Thus, digital surrogate acts as a tangible link with the past and possesses a different role from the born digital object. In that sense, Cameron (2008) argued that UNESCO’s idea of a digital heritage is a ‘paradox’ since “nothing is deemed more valuable than that which is inherited from the past”; at the same time, these newly created objects or media are in the discourse of loss.

Even the definition of digital heritage seems political (Cameron, 2008) and varies according to practice. In the light of prior discussion on the many facets of digital heritage, the following can now be considered as, the broad qualities of digital heritage:

  • Any unique resources consisting of the cultural value of human knowledge and expression created or converted into a digital form.
  • Digital heritage can be born digital (created digitally) or digital surrogate (i.e. made from analogue resources).
  • Contents of digital heritage can be in both 2D format (such as, text, image and video) and 3D format (such as, VRML model, navigational 3D environment etc.).


[1]Source:, dated 22.02.2009.


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