This lesson is being piloted (Beta version)

Using Emulators to Resurrect Recovered Data

About this lesson

This lesson was designed by Claire Fox and Ethan Gates, and originally performed as an in-person workshop in New York City at the Metropolitian New York Library Council (METRO) in January 2020.

Claire Fox is an A/V archivist and graduate of NYU’s Moving Image Archiving and Preservation program (‘20).

Ethan Gates is a Software Preservation Analyst for Yale University Library. He primarily works on user support and emulation configuration for the EaaSI program.

Emulation is commonly associated with video game consoles and questionable internet download sites. But the same technology can be a powerful tool for overcoming legacy software and hardware dependencies hidden in digital collections.

What if you get your data off of old floppies, CD-ROMs, or hard drives, but still can’t access the files because they depend on decades-old software? What if the files lose data or don’t look right when converted or opened in a modern format? Emulation can help by recreating the whole computing environment your data was originally intended for.

Attendees will be walked through the basic concepts, components and process of setting up emulators to authentically present and interact with legacy data. We will also introduce ongoing cutting-edge efforts by the Emulation-as-a-Service Infrastructure (EaaSI) program and the Software Preservation Network to make emulation more accessible to all.

This tutorial will involve using the command line! If you have never used a terminal/command line application before, we strongly encourage completing a tutorial or two on that topic first to make sure you are comfortable executing and troubleshooting the setup and steps necessary here. A few resources we recommend:


  • a laptop with approximately 5 GB of free storage
  • a bit of command line comfort (see above)
  • install QEMU and Mini vMac (see Setup)
  • download sample files provided (see Setup)


Setup Download files required for the lesson
00:00 1. Introduction and Icebreaker Who are we? Who are you?
00:15 2. Anatomy of a Computer What is an emulator?
What is a ‘virtual machine’?
How can you break down a computer into its component parts?
00:50 3. 1st Break Break
01:00 4. Emulation and Virtualization Applications What does emulation look like in practice?
What are unique challenges to Mac emulation?
02:10 5. 2nd Break Break
02:20 6. Emulation as a Service How can we scale emulation for institutions and collections?
03:00 Finish

The actual schedule may vary slightly depending on the topics and exercises chosen by the instructor.