Guest editorial

Luciana Duranti (School of Library, Archival, and Information Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Records Management Journal

ISSN: 0956-5698

Article publication date: 16 March 2015


Duranti, L. (2015), "Guest editorial", Records Management Journal, Vol. 25 No. 1.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Guest editorial

Article Type: Guest editorial From: Records Management Journal, Volume 25, Issue 1

On 14-16 November 2013, in Paris, France, the third conference on Digital Diplomatics was held, following those of Munich in 2007 and Naples in 2011. Its goal was to further the scholarly reflection on the way the discipline of diplomatics has developed as a result of the opportunities offered by digital tools to analyse documents on traditional media, and of the challenges presented by born digital documents. This issue comprises a selection of the papers presented at that conference, entitled “What is Diplomatics in the Digital Environment?”[1]

Diplomatics originated in France as a method of assessing the authenticity and authority of documents of disputed origin in the seventeenth century, and it developed as a discipline in the following century when it was introduced in the German faculties of law to educate the legal profession about the relationship between facts, acts and the records attesting to them and to assess records as reliable sources of evidence. After history became an autonomous discipline, in the nineteenth century in Austria, diplomatics was included among the “auxiliary disciplines of history” for its role in supporting historical research and the critical study of documents created by individuals and organizations in the course of their practical and intellectual activities. At the same time, diplomatics began to be taught in the first archival schools in Paris and Marburg, as well as Naples. When, in the twentieth century, archival science developed itself as an autonomous discipline throughout Europe, it absorbed into its body of knowledge the concepts and the methods of diplomatics (Duranti, 1989). However, diplomatics, as a discipline, remained linked to the identification and analysis of medieval documents as historical sources.

In 1990, I introduced diplomatics to the records management community and proposed it as the fundamental theory of records management, based on the fact that diplomatics is a coherent system of concepts and principles focussing on the nature, form, structure and authority of records, and on their relationship with the functions and activities of the creator, and that such a system can be brought to bear on the processes of records creation, transmission, maintenance and use, and on ensuring and attesting to their authenticity over time (Duranti, 1990). If diplomatics can be used not only retrospectively, to analyse and understand what exists in terms of records and record systems, but also prospectively, to determine what should exist to ensure reliability, accuracy and authenticity of records as well as the reliability of record-making and recordkeeping systems, then it can become a powerful instrument to design records systems.

Based on this hypothesis, in 1994-1997, diplomatics was used as the primary theoretical and methodological instrument to develop a reliable recordkeeping system in a research collaboration between the University of British Columbia’s Master of Archival Studies faculty and students and the US Department of Defense Records Management Task force, which resulted in the findings of the University of British Columbia-Master of Archival Studies (UBC-MAS) project, incorporated in the DOD5015.2 standard for recordkeeping (Duranti and MacNeil, 1997; DoD 5015.2-STD, 2007). The knowledge developed in the course of the UBC-DOD project was presented on the pages of the Records Management Journal in 1999 and reprinted in its 20th anniversary volume in 2010 (Duranti, 1999).

Following the success of this project, in 1998, diplomatics became the theoretical framework and one of the methods for a new research project, International research on Permanent Authentic Records in Electronic Systems (InterPARES). Its primary usefulness was in developing more nuanced concepts of record and trustworthiness (i.e. reliability, accuracy and authenticity) in the context of increasingly complex technological systems, and in supporting the identification of procedures for records creation, maintenance, use and authentication (Duranti and Thibodeau, 2006).

The InterPARES project has completed its third phase ( and begun a fourth phase under the name InterPARES Trust ( Throughout the research, the discipline of diplomatics has been one of the keys to finding solutions to ever-changing issues and challenges, as demonstrated by several of the papers herein published. Part of the reasons for the effectiveness of its success has been the association of diplomatics with the growing area of digital forensics, which I made in 2009 and was first tested in the Digital Records Forensics Project ( (Duranti, 2009, 2013).

Clearly, diplomatics has changed fundamentally in the past few decades due to dramatic developments in information technology. However, these changes have not been of the same kind globally. In some countries, Germany, for example, diplomatics has consolidated itself as an autonomous science with its own centuries-old theory, methodology, analytical processes and tools, continuing to focus on research on medieval and early modern legal documents. In other countries, like Italy and Canada, it has also grown into an interdisciplinary field, expanding its area of inquiry to all kinds of textual traditions, documentary forms and creation processes through the use of sophisticated digital tools.

Many of the advantages of conducting any kind of documentary research in the digital environment were clear to diplomatists when they began creating online portals of archival material, doing digital editions of medieval documents, linguistically analysing charter corpora or applying to them visual analysis or visualization technologies. The easy reproduction and publication of charters makes large fonds accessible to historical research and provides the opportunity to reconstruct dispersed fonds. Text analysis tools allow researchers to dig deeply into the data in the documents, extracting information on the distribution of phrases or legal concepts, and creating resources for statistical and network analysis of content. The possibility of developing data models beyond the material restrictions of a printed book inspires rethinking the traditional ways of editing charters. The access to huge image collections fosters historical research on the semiotics of documents as visual signs. Thus, while the comparison between records on traditional media and those born digital has shown that classic diplomatic knowledge can be effectively used to address issues related to records creation, maintenance and preservation in the digital environment, this is not the only direction in which diplomatics has developed.

However, a scholarly reflection on how these new directions taken by diplomatics affect its nature as a field of study concerned with a systematic critical analysis of documents has just begun. The need for such scholarly reflection was at the root of the 2013 Conference on “What is Diplomatics in the Digital Environment?” and it is the primary motivation for dedicating this issue of the Records Management Journal to Digital Diplomatics.

Luciana Duranti - Guest Editor




DoD 5015.2-STD (2007), “Design criteria standards for electronic records management software applications”, available at: (accessed 19 June 2002).

Duranti, L. (1989), “Diplomatics: new uses for an old science”, Archivaria, Vol. 28, pp. 7-27.

Duranti, L. (1990), “Is there a records management theory?”, Proceedings of ARMA International’s 35th Annual Conference, ARMA International, Prairie Village, KS, San Francisco, CA, 5-8 November, pp. 814-822.

Duranti, L. (1999), “Concepts and principles for the management of electronic records, or records management theory is archival diplomatics”, Records Management Journal, Vol. 9 No. 3, pp. 149-172, Reprinted in (2010), Records Management Journal, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 78-95.

Duranti, L. (2009), “From digital diplomatics to digital records forensics”, Archivaria, Vol. 68, pp. 39-66.

Duranti, L. (2013), “The return of diplomatics as a forensic discipline”, Beihefte of the Archiv Für Diplomatik, pp. 89-98.

Duranti, L. and MacNeil, H. (1997), “The preservation of the integrity of electronic records: an overview of the UBC-MAS research project”, Archivaria, Vol. 42, pp. 46-67.

Duranti, L. and Thibodeau, K. (2006), “The concept of record in interactive, experiential and dynamic environments: the view of InterPARES”, Archival Science, Vol. 6 No. 1, pp. 13-68, available at: