Archives: Physical and Digital

Looking at the new Sample Projects site, all of the featured projects have been separated and grouped based on what kind of data was collected, and form of digital media the raw data was translated into.  Categories such as Mapping, Visualization, and Network Analysis contain projects that are very visual-based, while others, such as the ones in the Archives section, deal with and create mostly text-based artifacts.  I looked in-depth at the Old Weather project in the Archives section.


Old Weather - Transcribe

The process of transcribing original documents into raw text data.

The aim of this project is to transcribe old ship’s logs from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.  The data contained in those logs are useful for researchers in many different fields, from naval historians to climate specialists.  One powerful benefit of choosing to digitize the archives is that all of these interested researchers are now able to access the data without trouble.


Old Weather - Our Weather's Past, the Climate's Future

An overview of the scale and progress of the Old Weather project.

It is important to note the scale of this project.  There are well over 100,000 pages of data from dozens of voyages to be transcribed.  A team of researchers with the original documents would never be able to get through everything in a reasonable amount of time, so the team behind the Old Weather project rely on another major benefit of their digital archives: crowd sourcing.  Just like the previous idea how anyone can access the final data, thousands of people can also help to interpret the raw data.


For all the virtues of digital archiving, however, it does have its flaws.  When transferring documents over into a digital format, you can only transfer what you think to look for.  Some information can be lost unless someone in the future wants, for some reason, to take another look at the originals.  Crowd sourcing also has some flaws.  While it is nice to have extra hands doing the work, unskilled hands can possibly do more harm than good, and create more work for the research team.


The most difficult part of our project will probably be interpreting the various documents we will come across.  This hurdle will just have to be overcome as we gain experience.

On Physical and Digital Archives

I primarily looked at the Indigenous Peoples of North America project and for reflection from the course’s archive. I was struck by the effect of good graphic design on the experience of digital humanities research, beyond the fundamental organization of the site, visual appeal comprises a surprisingly large compone

The search function is one of the most powerful tools in digital databases.

The search function is one of the most powerful tools in digital databases.

nt of digital humanities. The Indigenous Peoples of North America project was especially compelling in its visual layout. The search function was especially important, in the Indigenous Peoples project, the search results allow users to go through document pages and metadata within the thumbnail view. The ability to view full citations and search through tags and keywords are very well managed on the Indigenous People’s project. The project organizes thousands early 19 to 20th century documents and photographs, monographs and newspapers1 in a way where users can search by location, subject. Search functions represent one of the major advantages of digital artifacts. Databases containing millions of dates, people and subjects can be parsed within seconds. This ability was in the most-part unavailable before the information revolution. Multimedia is also one of the advantages of digital artifacts. Users can experience an artifact through detailed imagery and simultaneously listen to audio or narrated material. The Indigenous Peoples project especially contains a feature where selected text can be read by a computer generated voice. 

While most digital humanities projects are created by experts and researchers, some harness one of the Internet’s greatest powers, the wisdom of the crowd. Old Weather aims to help scientists determine mid-19th century Arctic and worldwide weather observation by having users transcribe ship logs. Users can pick vessels and journeys to transcribe logs and collaborate with other users across the globe. The project has completed 39% of logs and has transcribed 63,125 pages. The size of this project demonstrates the things that crowdsourced digital archives can do, transcribing thousands of pages without the need for hundreds of researches. allows users to pick vessels to transcribe  logs. allows users to pick vessels to transcribe logs.

While there are many huge advantages to digital artifacts, some very key aspects are still better with physical artifacts. The presence of an on-call expert or curator is an improvement over a stagnant website. Physical objects are often hugely complex and details often unseen in digital documents can emerge. 

Archivist Artifacts

The DH projects are organized based on a variety of artifacts. The categories are located towards the top of the page so the viewer can easily navigate to their desired artifact. The categories consist of archive, visualization, mapping, digital edition, and network, textual and audio analysis. Depending on the viewer’s preference in categories, they can click on the link and are shown a series of projects that fit in that specific category.

I will be focusing on the archive category in the DH projects. There are 3 articles presented that are categorized as archival material. Old Weather, Lincoln 200, and Database of Indigenous Peoples in North America all obtain original documents and artifacts that support their reasons for creating the project. The documents are primary sources that provide evidence to the specific field of study. An example of a piece of archivist material is presented in the document below. These projects  give the viewer the opportunity to access archivist artifacts easily and interpret it in their own way. On the other 2 DH projects under archives, there are series of documents similar to this one that can be utilized for further analyzation and interpretation.


Artifact for Indigenous Peoples in North America

Another example of an archivist artifact could be a visualization rather than a document.  The image posted below allows for a different perspective and can be a useful historical tool that provides insight of a specific event. Drawings and paintings can convey similar information as would a document, as both images and documents can be interpreted in various ways. ln0017_i52422_7f697ce9f3

A few advantages to creating a digital artifact from archival documents include preservation, access, and reconsidering of materials. When artifacts are digitally preserved, it ensures that copies of the documents will always be accessible. If an artifact is destroyed, the digital copy will allow researchers to still read and interpret them. A digital artifact also ensures unlimited accessibility. Specific documents could not be as easily accessible because they could be held in archives all around the world. Instead of physically visiting the archives, digital artifacts can be viewed and analyzed online. Reconsidering materials is another advantage to creating a digital artifact because it allows for different perspectives and diverse opinions. It can help make broader connections between artifacts, which could lead to a greater understanding of a particular field.

Some of the disadvantages of creating a digital artifact from archival documents include the inability to transcribe and the loss of collaboration and the community aspect. There may be certain words or ideas that could not be transcribed digitally but could be interpreted if the viewer is reading the actual document. Additionally, communication and collaboration for analyzing documents can create new ideas and opinions. However, reading digitally transcribed documents is more of an individual process which causes the viewer to lose others’ input.

When I build my own digital humanities project, I may feel that some aspects of my project are organized well. In addition, I may struggle to describe my thought process and reasoning for specific parts of my project. For example, I found that Lincoln 200 was easy to navigate but I did not understand the writer’s intent for the project.