9 September 2016


Digital preservation is a topic that has been extensively explored over the last thirty years in the fields of archival and information studies. However, relatively little literature has touched on the topic of Trusted Digital Repositories (TDRs). A TDR is '[A]n archive, consisting of an organization of people and systems that has accepted the responsibility to preserve information and make it available for a Designated Community.’1 Standards governing TDRs, namely the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) and Repository Audit and Certification (RAC), have been designed and tested by developed nations with minimal reference to the developing world. Little attempt has been made to question whether these standards, entirely developed in one context, are actually transferable or applicable to another. There is an assumption, however, that because these standards have been generalised, they are ubiquitous and robust, transferable to any locale. This thesis seeks to question the basic assumptions that are made when standards or best practice created in the developed world are applied to different contexts outside of the original milieu of elaboration. Further, this thesis considers the applicability of TDRs to the Eastern African archival context.

Using threefold mimesis, the study examines the standards development process, identifying underlying socio-economic, cultural, infrastructural, educational and other presumptions that may exist in the documented standards. It also examines whether these biases impact on the applicability and transferability of standards to Eastern Africa.

During the course of this study the author analyses both the digital preservation scholarship and also research related to technology transfer. Parallels are drawn between technology transfer and standards development and implementation, to identify and detail some of the potential obstacles that may preclude the transferability of TDR standards to Eastern Africa.

In the end, this thesis finds that TDR standards have little relevance both in developed-world case study digital repositories and in the East African national archives context. These findings challenge the notion held by many that standards have been generalised to such an extent that they are transferable to any context. Further this conclusion brings into question the perceived universality of standards as unbiased documents capable of guiding the establishment of TDRs.

1 TC20/SC13 International Standards Organisation, ‘Open Archival Information System - A Reference Model' (INternational Standards Orgnisation, 2013)

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