Week Five: Changing Scholarship

In class, September 25



Explore one of the repositories of open access primary sources below.

Blog Post: Using one of the collections above, discuss how the Web impacts the way you do historical research. How does it change the way you think about sources? Are there qualitative differences between using digital archives and more traditional analog sources?  Why or why not?


One response

  1. I selected the Papers of the War Department 1784 – 1800 for this assignment. In 1800 a fire destroyed the War Office and any records that were stored there. The War Department was responsible for virtually every aspect of supplying and maintaining an army and navy. There were over 55,000 records at the office at the time of the fire. These records constituted an integral part of US history. A project was begun in 2011 to transcribe archives that are being used to reconstitute those early records. A wide variety of people are active in the project. Over 1400 transcribers have signed on for the project. I have signed on. In the last 3 months 238 people have contributed to the transcription project. These types of documents are available on the Web and at this site. Ten years ago, a researcher would have had to uncover the physical location of the project. The University of Vermont is a repository for government documents. At UVM, it takes a skilled research to identify the document and then to locate it. With this project, it is clear that an online search can be accomplished from any location. It is also evident that the search engines provide a simpler process for researchers. To best understand the process, professional researchers, amateur historians, and active and retired military people have volunteered to assist on the transcription project. The qualitative difference between a digital and a analog source is in the technology – real paper versus online copies. Most, if not all, of the original documents are locked up. So, a researcher would be dealing with a copy, in any event. And to use an analogy from Claude-Levi Strauss, a stone axe and a steel axe can both chop down a tree. In the end the technology will yield a similar, effective result.

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