Trusting the copies? Historical photographs and native title claims

Joanna Sassoon, Michael Aird, David Trigger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cultural institutions have long employed a range of copying technologies to safeguard and improve access to archival materials. This paper moves discussion beyond debates about institutional copying focused on a specific technology and raises questions about the trustworthiness of copies of archival photographs. This study uses differences between a source photograph and four copies to show that copying practices shape how copies of archival photographs can be used. It is situated within the Australian legal context of native title to sharpen the interrogation of the trustworthiness of copies; and, to demonstrate one implication of how copying shapes the evidential value of photographs. It considers how a witness may respond if asked to testify that one or all of these copies are trustworthy or to outline their shortcomings as evidence. It explains that while standards for microfilm copying documents valued creating trustworthy copies, the transition to digital copying was a missed opportunity to re-establish those standards for creating digital surrogates of photographs. While questions raised have yet to be tested in legal native title procedures, this paper argues that the promise of photographs for native title outcomes will come to rest with the trustworthiness of institutionally created copies.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalArchives and Records
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 27 Apr 2023
Externally publishedYes


Dive into the research topics of 'Trusting the copies? Historical photographs and native title claims'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this