Delving into Digital Archives

Digital archives are an amazing advancement in historical research and education since its advent. Once upon a time, historians were required to rummage around in physical archives where they would spend a great amount of time, money, and energy to find desired documents. However, with today’s digital archives like the Darwin Correspondence Project, I can search in an instant through thousands of historical documents to find letters pertaining to initial scientific research on early humans by Darwin and his contacts. Not only would this have been impossible to find through physical archives in a comparable time frame, but access to such documents would be mostly limited to research professionals. The outlined digital archives among others provide access to primary source materials to anyone connected to the internet promotes the spread of historical knowledge and understanding as well as spreads detailed evidence of historical events and timelines.

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The German History in Documents and Images (GHDI) archive, contains countless documents and images which contribute to significant instances within important German historical events since 1500 CE. Within my short time sifting through the archive I found several interesting artifacts such as Hitler’s “Scorched Earth” Degree, where Hitler ordered the annihilation of German infrastructure. Historians could find a great deal of research from the documents found within this archive. However, this digital archive is far from perfect. The web interface is atrocious, as the website only takes up have of the webpage and the design seemingly has not been updated since 2009. When any website has a poor user interface, especially digital archives, the user will have difficulty finding their desired content. So, although the GHDI has some useful documents, the outdated interface and lack of a search function makes its longevity questionable.

 

As the digital archive describes itself, “The Dartmouth Dante Project (DDP) is a searchable full-text database containing more than seventy commentaries on Dante’s Divine Comedy – the Commedia”. The archive contains these 75 commentaries span across almost 700 years. The archive is definitely very useful for any historian studying the Commedia and looks to collect research from these commentaries. Unlike GHDI’s digital archive, the DDP archive has a search function. This greatly helps narrow desired content much easier for a user. Despite this the DDP is still outdated, however this is not a huge burden on the users of the archive as the search has additional tools to find the exact line, translation, version of any commentary. The DDP also features the Dante Lab Reader, a web application, which improves the reading experience when compared to the format of the homepages of the DDP.

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The Darwin Correspondence Project has the most up-to-date web design by far. This is unsurprising considering the archive is served through the University of Cambridge. The DCP digital archive does a fantastic job at appealing to a wide range of users. The main search tools make it easy for students and historians to quickly access and narrow searches relating to Charles Darwin’s letters. The DCP archive also provides education for 2 groups aged 7-11 and 11-14. Furthermore, the archive features a timeline of Darwin’s life, which might not be of great help to historians, but it does help students consume historical knowledge easier.  Of the three digital archives, the DCP is easily the best at providing the best experience for any of its users.

 

Since their advent, digital archives have and continue to improve public historic knowledge. However, the experience a digital archive should create for their users, whether historians or children, should be considered.

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