Why Digital?

In an ever changing technological climate, it’s difficult not to ask: why digital? In the world of library and archival sciences, the term Digital Humanities has gained recognition as traditional archives grow to harness developing technologies and best utilize collections. As growing generations look to the internet as an important source of information inside and outside academia, institutions must determine how to best adapt collections to facilitate interaction between patron and objects of interest. The digital case warrants the investigation of potential positive and negative attributes presented by this cause. Creating new ways to present archival material, emergent learning environments place an emphasis on self navigation, widening the audiences of valued collections. When querying “Why Digital?” a simple question presents complex answers in what can be considered the future of media based in libraries and archives worldwide.

Archives serve a pertinent function in today’s society in both public and private institutions; aiming to efficiently preserve, curate, and present data for a curious public. Although archives specifically operating within libraries and museums contain limitless information spanning countless fields of information, historical documents specifically play a vital role within an archival setting when drawing connections to our pasts. A single piece within a collection of countless primary documents may provide learners with factual information of historical and contemporary subjects, making widening audiences a pertinent goal for many archives. The place of humanities within the greater dialogue surrounding the transition of many collections to digital mediums is of great importance, creating new ways for the public to interact with their histories through the combination of online and traditionally structured collections. While the application of digital technology to archival settings is truly interdisciplinary, transcending academic fields of study, the prospect of utilizing these tools to better understand the humanities is revolutionary.

Traditionally, archivists wield a specific set of skills and responsibilities associated with the practice of curating collections. As technologies and standards for displaying content shift, archivists face the task of honing these new skills and applying them to developing projects. Of course, the traditional goals and methods of the professional archivist are more important than ever – in combination with emergent technologies in the field. David Bearman defines a core set of traditional archival aims, stating, “When U.S. Archivists are asked what the purpose of archives is, they inevitably reply by referring to the four categories of archival activity; that the purpose of archives is to select, describe, preserve, and provide access to records.”

Compiling vast collections of rare manuscripts, printed works and valuable photographic media, archives can be easily seen as rabbit holes of seemingly limitless information for inquisitive visitors. When seeking documents solely available directly through the archive itself, access to these resources may require preparation for prospective visitor and archivist alike. Once guests are guided through collections of interest, strict rules must be adhered to when viewing and handling documents; a potentially daunting factor to newcomers to a collection. The process of obtaining access to documents becomes more difficult for viewers geographically detached from their collections of interest. As traditional archival methods grant researchers opportunities to access rare sources of information, solely offering traditional approaches presents a host of limitations. By combining traditional and digital archival methods, we may heighten the availability of information and grant learners new ways to interpret and interact with historical media.

The most conspicuous positive product of digital archiving is that once digitized, the factor of geographical distance between collection and viewer is virtually eliminated. Although the majority of items within an archive may remain available only through traditional means, selected pieces of media may be made available to anyone with an internet connection. For the student dependent upon a substandard library for research that will define their academic progress, archives supporting both digital and traditional methods present limitless opportunities to learners previously disconnected from valuable resources due to their location. For the academic community and interested guests alike, the option of viewing collections in both digital and traditional formats are vital in the progress of information sharing between institutions and visitors; potentially even encouraging younger learners to more readily utilize primary documents in research.

The products and aims of digital archiving are quickly reshaping the relationship between collection and viewer. Creating a unique bond between the original object and their digital renditions, each version of the document or object is available directly though the archive or a website connected to the archive or library. By implementing this method, learning institutions enable viewers have the choice of interacting with documents in the convenience of their own home or personal computer; a significant factor for learners separated from the collection by many miles. While prominent archives such as the New York Public Library and The Library of Congress have led efforts in constructing extensive digital collections since the mid 1990s and today act as outstanding examples of the long-term implementation of digital elements in major archives. As libraries, universities, and research facilities construct online learning environments, emergent projects in the field of archival sciences are quickly redefining how we interact with historical documents in the twenty-first century. Redefining how patrons interact with collections through the construction of innovative and interdisciplinary projects, we grant new opportunities to researchers, learners, and institutions through combining digital technology and traditional archival methods.

Today in 2013, conversations surrounding the digital humanities yields a dialogue focusing on opportunity, innovation, as well as responsibility to institutions of learning worldwide. Although complex conversations surround the prospect of incorporating digital elements into archives, the host of opportunities created by the process will surely continue to influence the profession in coming years. Forging a dynamic relationship between digital and original object, the combination of traditional and developing archival methods create new ways to approach and fulfill core goals of preservation and accessibility. Through digitization, we forge new possibilities through the combination of past and present to enliven our histories and lead the world of history and information sciences to a strong tomorrow.


    1. David Bearman, Archival Strategies (The American Archivist, Vol. 58, No. 4. Fall, 1995, Pp. 380-413) Pg 12Stable URL: .
    2. Jill Liddington, What is Public History? Publics and Their Pasts, Meanings and Practices. (Oral History Society. Oral History, Vol. 30, No. 1. Spring, 2012. Pp. 83-93) Pg 83
    3. David Bearman, Archival Strategies (The American Archivist, Vol. 58, No. 4. Fall, 1995, Pp. 380-413) Pg 11Stable URL: .
    4.  Marija Dalbello, A Phenomenological Study of an Emergent National Digital Library, Part I:Theory and Methodological Framework(The Library Quarterly, (Vol. 75, No. 4, October 2005, pp. 391-420) Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Stable URL:

Why World War I?

To many historians, the First World War marks the dawn of the twentieth century. Signaling the collapse of empires and national economies, transformations of borders, and the redefinition of conflict on a global scale, the First World War brought an end to the ostensibly secure state of nineteenth century Europe. Despite shaping our last century, the conflict can be seen as highly inaccessible to contemporary learners. Often framed through its innumerable casualties, individual narratives and defining themes become marginalized by comparison. Nearly a hundred years later, digital technology creates innovative opportunities to greater understand our pasts. Through the application of historic documents and photographs of the First World War to digital mediums, we may learn both what purpose they served in the context of the conflict and discover new approaches to understanding the First World War in the digital age.

Despite shaping the twentieth century in its wake, the First World War is often seen as unfamiliar by those now entering adulthood in the United States. Characterized by military technology rarely seen before the beginnings of the war and more rarely after the fact, the First World War can even be perceived as a thing of near science fiction to modern learners without proper context. Despite young adults and the First World War being separated by multiple generations, understanding our past century is impossible without recognizing the significance of the First World War. Impacting artistic, political, cultural, and economic matters that extend their influence well into the twenty first century, relevancy of the First World War only increases as we approach its centennial. As we begin to explore new ways to present and interact with our histories, we may create new tools to familiarize younger generations with the First World War.

In the early twentieth century, technological advancements in print and photography made information more accessible to the general public than it had ever been before. The beginnings of the First World War created an influx of print media enforcing messages of national unity in the form of postcards, posters, and newspapers throughout Europe. By providing today’s viewers with examples of how media functioned in the context of the early twentieth century, pieces that could be seen as simply words and images contribute valuable insight into national, political, and social mentalities during the First World War.

A strong tradition of memorialization surrounds public memory of the First World War, vehicles for remembrance take new shapes with shifts in technology. While exploring and presenting historical content through digital platforms can give new life to our pasts, the impact of examining documents and narratives of the First World War depends solely upon how the opportunity to do so is approached. The construction of online collections of historical media places an emphasis on personal connection and accessibility, enabling contemporary learners to interact with century old documents at their own pace, anywhere they can access a web address. Through the application of historical documents to digital platforms, we open new possibilities in the present and enliven our collective histories.

There is a far-reaching motive to presenting the First World War through rapidly advancing and easily accessible online mediums. Creating platforms through which an audience may interact and engage with historical media related to this powerful conflict grants viewers the ability to approach the study of historic events in new and innovative ways. By constructing an environment in which viewers may view the First World War through an accessible lens, we grow to facilitate an understanding of the conflict and the powerful narratives surrounding it. Providing learners with clear visual examples allows them to interact with themes which played important roles in defining both individuals and nations working within the greater historical narrative of the First World War.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s