Primary sources are gold for this emerging historian. An assignment for my Historical Research Methods class led me to Terry Abraham‘s Repositories of Primary Sources maintained at the University of Idaho. Effectively a database of websites, it provides links to thousands of sites across the globe holding primary sources of varying kinds. It’s important to note that many of the sites listed do not provide digitalized versions of primary sources accessible on the web. Abraham is clear in pointing out that while the site provides links to “holdings of manuscripts, archives, rare books, historical photographs, and other primary sources for the research scholar,” they are “solely of web sites that describe” these collections. Because the focus is on the repositories, virtual collections and exhibitions themselves won’t be found on the site. Abraham points out that other sites maintain listings of archival exhibits on the web. An excellent example is the Smithsonian Institution Libraries. [Do a search on the Civil War.]
Organization of Repositories of Primary Sources is geographical. Thus one needs to have some idea where a holding institution is physically located. There is also an “Additional General Links” list which has, among other things, other archival portals across the globe.
Abraham, Emeritus Professor, was Head of Special Collections and Archives at the University of Idaho Library from 1984 to 2005. He has an interesting article on lessons learned in bringing archival materials to the web available for reading here.
Historical Research Methods started Monday. I have my virtual pencils sharpened, Moleskine in hand, and course books on my shelves. There is a GREAT group of students in the class from a variety of backgrounds and from all over the world. We also have an excellent professor (Barbara Kaplan). [Note to self: buy her books…they look excellent.]
In addition to the required texts (see listing in earlier post here), the following are recommended. I owned all but Novick’s book so picked it up.
I am impressed with the focus the class will have on research in the digital age. Much of the supplementary reading focuses on digging into digital sources. I peeked ahead and read “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplar Projects” by Douglas Seefeldt and William G. Thomas which is posted in the Digital Commons of the University of Nebraska Lincoln accessible here. (1) Pivotal to their article is a working definition of what digital history is.
“Digital history might be understood broadly as an approach to examining and representing the past that works with the new communication technologies of the computer, the internet network, and software systems. On one level, digital history is an open arena of scholarly production and communication, encompassing the development of new course materials and scholarly data collection efforts. On another level, digital history is a methodological approach framed by the hypertextual power of these technologies to make, define, query, and annotate associations in the human record of the past. To do digital history, then, is to digitize the past certainly, but it is much more than that. It is to create a framework through the technology for people to experience, read, and follow an argument about a major historical problem.” (2)
Seefeldt and Thomas saw differentiation between digitization projects and digital history scholarship. Superb examples of digitization projects according to the authors are the Library of Congress’ American Memory project and the National Archives. (3) Examples of digital history, on the other hand, “tended to arrange a more discrete collection of sources and materials around a historiographical question.” (4) They site as examples The Valley of the Shadow: Two Communities in the American Civil War, and Race and Place: An African American Community in the Jim Crow South among others. These illustrate how creative use of digital resources can open “the question up for readers to investigate and form interpretive associations of their own.” (5) Seefeldt and Thomas characterize sites like this as game changing in that they aren’t just an “analog” presentation of information one might copy from a book or other media but a presentation of “a suite of interpretive elements” that position viewers as active participants to a degree in solving the problem. (6)
The following sites were given as examples of digital history evolved to a new level.
Andrew Torget’s (University of North Texas) The Texas Slavery Project. Think of spatial mapping of demographic data related to slaveholders. Very cool.
You might also find interesting my post “Discovering the Civil War Online” about the March 3rd, 2010 webcast during which Civil War historian Steven E. Woodworth and educational technology specialist Tom Daccord explored utilizing online databases to research Civil War topics.
(1) Seefeldt, Douglas and William G. Thomas. “What is Digital History? A Look at Some Exemplar Projects.” Perspectives on History 47 (May 2009): 40-43. Accessed online 13 June 2010 at http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/historyfacpub/98/.