On Material and Digital Archives

Digital artifacts from archival documents really benefit scholars a lot. By making digital artifacts, tremendous data are carefully categorized, which enables people to find the data they need by simply searching the key word instead of picking up the data from libraries that contain tons of data. For example, in Lincoln at 200, facts about Lincoln and his activities are carefully divided into different parts so that readers can easily study Lincoln.the perfect integration of image and context

Many archival documents are the only existing copies. If they are damaged or lost, we can hardly find ones that contain the same things with the one ruined. By making digital artifacts, these archival documents are never lost and people can read them at the same time instead of going to different places, even countries, to find useful materials.

However, there are also some disadvantages in digital artifacts. Reading an archival document is different from reading a digital artifact from the internet. An archival document can help us build up a strong emotional link with what we are reading, but digital artifact cannot. During the winter break, I went to a museum in which I saw some beautiful porcelains and I made some pictures for them. But when I went back and see these porcelains. I could not experience the feeling that I had when I was in the museum.

The exhibit I create is Moravian journals. When I create my own exhibit, what challenges most is that there are several pages of journals. All of them are Moravian journals. But some of them have different route and some of them are created at different time. The scribbled note is also a problem for me, they are hard to read.Moravian Journal · Stories of the Susquehanna Valley

On Material and Digital Archives: Old Info, New Medium.

Digitizing archival material comes with advantages and disadvantages; creating a large responsibility for the archivist.

Digitally cataloging historical information makes the material accessible. For example prior to the travel journals being published online, the only way one could read them would be by reading the actual journal. Now the contents are available online, so the information can be viewed and used by anyone. This helps, also, to protect the original documents from potentially being damaged by users. Inputing archives into databases allows information to be perused that could have otherwise been lost.

Another major advantage to having information on a digital platform is that it can be analyzed in new ways. Researchers are able to make visual representations of content to gain a deeper understanding of the material. Having a large amount of accessible data allows not only researchers and historian but everyone to gain a more complete understanding of a period in history.

Creating digital archives is becoming easier and nearly anyone is able to contribute. While this comes with many important advantages, there are undeniable downsides. One of which is the inevitable bias that comes with republishing work. By taking anything out of its original context alters the meaning of the work and skews how it is perceived by readers. Even just the way information is grouped, categorized, and framed impacts the way in which readers will come to understand it. Therefore archivists must be aware of the way they frame their work and display it to the world.

When making my own Stories of the Susquehanna Valley Omeka exhibit I found that, though technology has advanced and continues to improve everyday,  the system was not as efficient as it could have been. When trying to select images to include on each page there was not an easy way to search for the pictures I was looking for. In addition, many of the images were not in a descriptive way, lacking metadata, which did not accurately represent the content. However, overall I feel quite accomplished creating an exhibit of historical information as an undergraduate student. I was able to organize the pages of the exhibit ways that made sense to me. The Omeka website keeps track of those who post images and articles which provides credit for the work where credit is due.  The exhibits can be edited and added to at any point which allows it to evolve and grow. [http://ssv.omeka.bucknell.edu/omeka/exhibits/show/mostly-maryland]

This is the main page of my Mostly Maryland exhibit. On the right side, the pages are listed by category of maps.
This is the main page of my Mostly Maryland exhibit. On the right side, the pages are listed by category of maps.
This is an example of a page from my "Mostly Maryland" exhibit. This page focuses on maps of Maryland and Pennsylvania.
This is an example of a page from my “Mostly Maryland” exhibit. This page focuses on maps of Maryland and Pennsylvania.

On Material and Digital Archives

Digital artifacts created from archival documents provide advantages such as preservability, portability, and easy organization and accessibility. Digital artifacts won’t wear down from being analyzed by people because it is just digital image. The physical artifact may get damaged from being handled by many people. Digital artifacts do not take a long time to find. In online databases, a simple search will be enough to find an artifact, whereas physical artifacts may require traveling around the world to find it.

As a digital artifact, this is one map, but as a physical artifact, this is actually multiple different sheets of paper that have to be lined up next to each other.
As a digital artifact, this is one map, but as a physical artifact, this is actually multiple large sheets of paper that have to be lined up next to each other.

When an artifact is digital and in an online database, it is already organized into exhibits and categories and it never becomes unorganized. When someone analyzes many different physical artifacts, they may become very unorganized and difficult to find. The image on the left is a good example of an artifact that would be easier to analyze digitally than physically.

Disadvantages of digital artifacts might be that you don’t get to hold it and  feel what it feels like. When someone holds a physical artifact, for example an old map, they may feel a sentimental attachment to it because they are holding the same map that certain historical figures held, used, and wrote on in the past.

New Netherlands exhibit on Stories of the Susquehanna Omeka website.
New Netherlands exhibit on Stories of the Susquehanna Omeka website.

When making my Omeka Exhibit I found it challenging to find enough information about each individual artifact to write up a description about each one. The exhibit I created is called “New Netherlands” and it includes historical maps of the region.

Digital or not, Making your own choice

The cultural heritage is now taking digital form, whether born digital or born-again by conversion to digital from other media. The projects in the DH sample books website are categorized according to the DH methods used. From the left to right, there are seven categories: Archive, Visualization, Mapping, Digital edition, Network Analysis, Textual analysis and Audio analysis. Under different categories, each project focuses on one specific kind of information to demonstrate. Under “ Archives” category, the projects are trying to keep the originality of the data. In Old Weather website, we can see a photocopy of detailed records kept about weather in ships’ logs, which will give us theScreen Shot 2015-01-24 at 11.19.09 PM
information about climate change. In Database of Indigenous Peoples, we can see the original documents of the hand-written letter.

Our Humanities Now class is a project-based course that using digital tools and Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 11.31.45 PMmethods of analysis. Creating digital artifacts offers unique advantages. First, information and content may be delivered directly to users and can be retrieved remotely. The flexibility of the digital material is another advantage. It’s easy to edit and print the data compared to the fixed paper and printed text. Moreover, digital artifacts own the ability to provide a large number of users’ access to unique collections’ material at the same time. By allowing a wider user to view digital artifacts of primary material, the utility of the collection increased. There also are some disadvantages of digitization. You will not have sense of touch that provided by a physical archive. Also, it’s hard to get any options to start a new archive after you finish using one. However, when you go through a library, you will see lots of options in front of you.

The exhibit I created is Maps of SusquehannaScreen Shot 2015-01-25 at 3.12.20 PMFor me, the biggest challenge to build my Omeka Exhibit was to choose a topic for my exhibit. When I browsed the items and collections, there were too many data and options showing on the screen. And after I chose the topic, it’s hard but really important to keep all my data added into my exhibit focuses on one specific kind of information. Also, it’s important to make my website clear and easy for readers to read.

Digital Artifact is a great invention? It depends.

Following the prompt on the WordPress, I went to the DH Sample Book website, where Archive, Visualization, Mapping, Digital edition, Network analysis, Textual analysis, and Audio analysis are seven different categories the archives fall under. Under Archive, I browsed the 3 projects, the OldWeather, Lincoln at 200 and Database of Indigenous Peoples in North America.

Since digital artifacts provide a tremendous network platform. On that platform, users can easily find the information they are looking for with the help of tags and metadata. In this case, a huge database is accessible to almost every user. The internet gathered all materials which shatter all over the world on the same website. Instead of taking the 15-or-more-hour flight to see the original archive, one now only need 1 second to get all related digital archives because tags and metadata grouped them together. Furthermore, since a lot of important archives are so antiquated and fragile that they are generally inaccessible to the public. With the help of digital technology, we can get one copy version in our laptop.  The digital artifact is also very important since it puts the images and context side by side to give readers a much more clear view of what is going on. the perfect integration of image and context

However, one disadvantage appears when we are looking at a digital document, like journals. As time passes, words on ancient archives became blurred and unrecognizable. With the pixel problems, scholars sometimes still need the actual archive for research study, although the digital version is provided online. “Old Weather” displays a photograph of a “logbook” from a ship that became trapped in ice. As the original document traced back to the late 19th century, the digital artifact gave us more difficulties to understand what it meant. A poor understanding of its meaning will directly lead to the failure of research study.  Logbook for the Jeannette

During this week, I found it is really hard to find one interesting title for my exhibit. I want to make my exhibit look colorful and attractive . In this case, I prefer to use portraits and oil paintings rather than maps and journals. However, due to the limited databases, I have to change my title frequently to make my images match the title.

Kindred Britain by Stanford University

The Kindred Britain project is a digital humanities project that shows how historical figures, mainly from Britain, are related through mutual connections.

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Home page of the Kindred Britain website. Each blue or purple dot represents a person.

The purpose of this project is to relate any two iconic British figures to each other. The project has almost 30,000 people stored in the database. A user chooses two people and the program shows the relationship between those two people. The two people are usually never directly related. The relationship usually consists of many different kinds of relationships between different people. Here is an example of the relationship between Sir Isaac Newton and William Shakespeare:

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Display after making a connection between two people.

This is a very distant relationship, as there are 22 people connecting Newton and Shakespeare. In the top half of the screen the user can see how exactly the two people are connected. The lines connecting each person in the relationship are color-coded to show if they are married or blood related. In the bottom half of the screen the user can see the life-spans of each person and when they crossed paths with each other.

It is very clear how extremely important the visualization aspect is to this project. The project displays the connection rather than stating, “Isaac Newton was William Shakespeare’s granddaughter’s father-in-law’s brother-in-law’s sister’s grandson’s wife’s sister’s grandson’s wife’s great-great-grandfather’s brother’s great-great-grandson.” Statements like these might give the user a headache and they will not want to use the program anymore. The visualization technique is what makes the project so sleek and easy to use.

The networking method is the base of the project. The project probably consists of a program containing an algorithm that starts from each person and iterates through their relatives until a common relative is found. The network method fits with the scholarly subject matter because the project is relating two people to each other through their common connections. This creates a whole network of people, which is where the visualization method takes over neatly displays the web of relationships.

Analysis of Kindred Britain

The Kindred Britain website by Stanford University helps to show the known family trees and connections of and between historical figures. The website also provides information about the degrees of separation between different figures. The use of digital humanities brings the information to life and engages the user. Kindred Britain succeeds in making the website interactive and easy to use.


The primary digital humanities approach used in the creation of this website is visualization. The information and family connections are graphically displayed in a series of bubbles, as shown below. The simple background andcolor scheme balances well with the large amount of information.

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Other key focuses of the website include networking and archives. Many of the people and information provided are from centuries ago; therefore this is an archival source. The digital humanities component of this site modernizes the archival material. Visualizing the data into networks that the user can click for more information was quite appropriate for the subject matter.


Here is an example of a typical family tree. This one shows Charles Darwin’s connections. The creators of the site were able to provide quite a bit of information about his lineage. An interesting fact Kindred Britain provides is that he is only fiScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 9.37.16 PMve degrees of separation from Virginia Woolf. This is just one example of the many networks and archival information that the site provides.


Kindred Britain combines valuable historical data with style to further emphasize the information being presented.

Analysis of Virtual Paul’s Cross Project

The digital humanities program “Virtual Paul’s Cross Project” intends to recreate a scene to allow us to experience a Paul’s Cross sermon that happens on Tuesday, November 5th, 1622. In order to present it, the researchers provide not only the physical environment model of the church but also the acoustic model of the churchyard through audio analysis and visualization.

The researchers analyze different aspect of the church site, such as the churchyard, the preacher and his preaching style, the weather, the size of crowd and even the acoustics. The history evidences are collected from paintings and maps, which depict the detail for theoverhead-black-roof-for-WWW social environment, such as the size and the structure of the church and the clues for the movements of Donne. The books, such as The Book of Common Prayer, also provide strong evidence to the order of service. To make the tremendous data easier to understand, the researchers summarize and present them not only with words, but also with visual model, which is a more direct description to the site that can only be found in the history. For example, when the researchers describe the weather of the church, they first provide a bunch of data analyzing the weather of London in 1622. Then, to help readers Straight-on-moderate-close-PC-for-WWWdirectly “see” the church, the researchers provide a visual model of the church. The picture shows a more precise description for the church: the gloomy atmosphere, the smoke and the bleakness of the place, each with explanations found in the data part.

The acoustic model plays the same role with the visual model does. Finding any acoustic sources from the contemporary paintings, the researchers collect these elements together and present them into acoustic model, which helps readers not only “see” the historical site, but also “hear” it.

Visualization and audio analysis make the project more acceptable to readers, helping people who are not familiar with such project put themselves into the historical site and experience it with their eyes and ears, instead of simply read it.

Analysis of Benjamin Franklin’s Letters’ Republic

The purpose of the Digital Humanities project “ Mapping The Republic of Letters” is to help people understand the networks of correspondence, the social and physical networks of famous scholars who live before the industrial revolution through the development of sophisticated, interactive visualization tools. I will examine the case of Benjamin Franklin in this post.

The primarily use of visualizations in Franklin’s case enabled people to understand the nature of Franklin’s correspondence and correspondents network that was comprised between 1756-1763. The examination of visualization also provides people important information about Franklin. By sreading the “letters” spreadsheet on this web page, people can find out the month and particular locations of letters that Franklin received. The spreadsheet on the right shows the countries that Franklin received most of his letters from between 1757 and 1763. Franklin received nearly all his letters from two places: British America and England. This leads people to think about the timing of Franklin’s ascent into the ranks of the “cosmopolitan” on the world stage. In July 1757, Franklin arrived in London to represent Pennsylvania in its dealings with Britain. And the year of 1757 is the starting point for a groundbreaking investigation of Franklin in the world of ideas. Therefore, the information provided by the spreadsheet makes sense that Franklin received letters most from British America and England. On the other hand, the spreadsheet shows the process that Franklin was on his way to becoming a giant.

Similarly, by reading the “correspondents” spreadsheet, people can learn Franklin’s top correspondents in details such as their gender, county of birth and community association or professional group. People can even find out where do women rank in Franklin’s network—he wrote most of his letters to men.

Besides examining visualization can provide important information, the research team developed the approach to further defining terms “Cosmopolitanism”. It compares Franklin’s correspondence network with Voltaire’s to reveal the prospects and limits of “Cosmopolitanism”. The geomScreen Shot 2015-01-18 at 12.12.34 AMap on the left shows Franklin’s network (top) and Voltaire’s (bottom).