Exploring Digital Archives: Blog #2 “GDHI”

Digital History is not easy history. While digital archives have arguably increased the efficiency of specified searches, expanded accessibility to a larger range of audience members (some of whom are substantially limited by lack of resources such as time and finances), and are exposed to public critique for enhanced validity, the standard for archivists and historians alike have not and cannot be lowered using the ideology of “Digital History being easier” as an excuse.

Simply put, digital archives are commonly known as holdings of information through technological means. This includes but is certainly not limited to photo-digitization, transcription of text and documents (images, maps, etc…) into digital data and corresponding metadata, and digital native/born resources. I spent much of my initial explorations of digital archives navigating a general history site providing archival holdings of German History 1500-2009 (http://germanhistorydocs.ghi-dc.org/).

This archive offered very surface level resources that allowed viewers, researchers, and historians alike to explore the archive in chronological patterns. This specific archive was multifaceted in its organizational structure of how the resources and the archival holdings were presented. Information was sectioned by year range with a title to indicate the significance of that time period. Each time period was then divided into further subsections of Introductions, Documents, Images, and Maps. The documents themselves were quite few in number for each specific section. As a result, this particular digital archive becomes resourceful to expand research beyond this singular site and to seek additional documents and resources through the references noted from the archive documents present on this site. In many ways, this archive can be seen as a “landing page” or a starting block for digital historians to gather the foundations of their research and be directed to further resources from that point.

Digital Archives have provided aid in addressing many of the constraints placed on physical archives. These constraints include space and resources. Digital storage drives help to combat the issue of limited physical space within archival buildings and libraries.   Digital Archives have also been held in high regard for their accessibility features. While this particular digital archive on German History is open to public access, limitations of any archive (digital or not) is the level of access. This could mean total or partial access to the public but it could also mean complete restricted access only made available to those who achieve special permissions or are able to provide evidence of a certain status of credentials.

Accessibility was not a limitation to this particular archive however a variety of limitations were present. As previously mentioned, this archive provided surface level and basic foundations of German History. It is evident that the focus of this archive is on breadth rather than depth. With that focus comes a highly curated information process. Archivists have made decisions pertaining to this archive about what is deemed important and valuable and therefore must be included and what is not. Taking a more critical approach to the web design and structure of the archival site itself, it was not very user friendly by today’s technological standards. In an age where scrolling is favoured for its versatility across a variety of devices, this site is strongly click based causing viewers to be consistently relocated. The inconsistent sections and subsections also create large barriers and walls making it difficult for readers to draw connections between resources. Finally, the ability to spotlight search for this particular archival site required a substantial amount of preexisting knowledge on the topic. This particular drawback means the site is lacking in one of the most efficient tools of digital archives.

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