Stories, sources and new formats: Digitising Archives

Historian article

By Ben Walsh & Andrew Payne, published 14th April 2016

The challenges of digitising large archive source collections

In the last two decades or so there has been a movement towards digitising large collections of original sources. These projects have had a range of purposes, approaches and target audiences but there can be little doubt that they have had a profound impact on the practice of history in the academic, educational and public domains. In this article Ben Walsh and Andrew Payne attempt to survey the broad landscape of the scale and impact of digitisation and assess how the digital landscape has affected the historical landscape.

The digitisation of history

The development of digital technologies has opened up tremendous new possibilities for the study of history. Digital imaging and digital storage have enabled the creation of vast
digital libraries enabling academic historians, educators and the general public relatively easy access to very large collections of original documents and other sources from archive collections.

The process began in the 1990s with the digitisation of document collections on to CD-ROM. One of the earliest instances of this was The British Library’s series of CD-ROMs Sources in History. Since then digital imaging and digital storage have developed spectacularly such that high-resolution copies of documents, maps, cartoons, census and other official records and countless other types of documents are now available to users in universities, schools and homes...

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