Both the BBC and the Guardian have run stories on an extraordinary digitisation project relating to ‘un-shredding’ Stasi Cold War spy documents

At the end of the Cold War, the documents were ripped into pieces, but archivists starting reassembling them because of their obvious historic value.

The task was accelerated when they started to digitise the pieces. To quote the Guardian

“The machine works by scanning the document fragments into a computer image file. It treats each scrap as if it is part of a huge jigsaw puzzle. The shape, colour, font, texture and thickness of the paper is then analysed so that eventually it is possible to rebuild an electronic image of the original document.”

This is an extraordinary process!

One can easily see plenty of other applications where the ability to analyse digitised materials could produce innovative and unexpected results – any kind of historical document where physical damage has eroded its meaning could be aided by extending this technology. One can also see the need for really complex metadata schema to ensure all the relevant technical metadata which informs the analysis softwares in place.