Analyzing Historical Archives

Historical archives are a necessary and valuable source for anyone doing research in historical topics. As such the creation of digital archives has in recent years become a valuable source to historians allowing them to access what would have been difficult to find primary documents. Many documents are well preserved through online databases as the information on the primary sources can be accessed without damaging the physical object. There are various types of historical archives and numerous ways to display the resources they hold. The following websites are examples of a few of the different ways in which digital information can be portrayed and the pros and cons of these forms of curation.

Ancestry.ca is a website designed for the general person to find very specific information for price. Ancestry.ca is a historical archive that digitizes records for people to sort through and find. The website is not well designed for anyone who is looking for more than one specific record about a relative. For historical research the process of finding multiple records of people from the past is rather difficult as the records are categorized by specific names. This website however is good for general records as it does not focus on the life of one person or group but rather many people from all over. For the average person looking for a relative or for a researcher looking for the history of a specific family group, it would be helpful in finding primary sources through the transcribed census records and does offer valuable information on the demographics, careers, and languages of the people of the past. Having used this website for historical research in a previous course, I have noticed that the transcription of census records by ancestry.ca is not always accurate and therefore could result in misinformation. Overall this is a very useful source for both historians and the average person but it difficult for many to access and use due to a poor layout for searching and charging for use.

The Darwin Correspondence is a useful and well laid out historical archive that is free access to anyone with an Internet connection. This resource gives historical context to the primary sources that they have available and clearly categorizes their information so it is easy to search thematically and by person rather than sorting through letters individually. The Darwin correspondence uses a good mix between text and media in order to capture the user’s attention to specific resources but maintains a profession look for the website overall as it stays informative amongst the many images present. This resource is for a very specific topic of research and as such would be useful for primary and supporting documentation for arguments but would require anyone doing historical research to find more contextual information to back up the information in the primary sources.

The Medici Archive Project is a very informative source that covers a specific topic, the Medici family over a long period of time. This website is free to access and as such makes it available to anyone who may need to use these primary documents for historical research. The website offers background information on several of the documents and is arranged easily to sort through the archive. But this website is laid out in a way that the abundance of images makes the historical information being used seem small in comparison and may draw the users attention away from relevant information with the distracting overuse of media. The sources are well archived and organized but their presentation needs to include more text so that users can have an easier time finding what they are looking for. As well this website does appear to still be updating itself, they offer a variety of further learning opportunities in their courses section and even include metadata on the archives as to how the project was compiled which increases their legitimacy as a source.

As demonstrated above there are a variety of methods for curating historical resources through online databases all with their pros and cons. It is important for the historian to keep in mind the ways the information they are accessing is curated in their research as the forms of organization can have a large effect on the outcome of their research.

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