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 Digital Archives

Screen shot 2014-09-07 at 2.25.04 PMThe new layout for the Sample DH is very easy to navigate. It clearly shows the seven categories: Archive, Visualization, Mapping, Digital Edition, Network Analysis, Textual Analysis, and Audio Analysis. It is very easy to find what you are looking for. Under the Archive section it is simple to navigate Old Weather, Lincoln at 200 and Database of Indigenous Peoples in North America. There is a little summary given for each of the three sites to peak your interest.

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I thought that Old Weather sounded pretty fascinating because it was about old ship’s logs, and you could read some of them. The website is fairly easy to navigate and understand, but it does ask you to log in to view the archives so I was not able to see them.

There are many advantages to creating digital artifacts from archival documents. First is the accessibility it enables. With artifacts online, anybody with Internet connection can retrieve information on the archives, not only the specialists that are granted access. They are also fast and normally very easy to navigate. Also, this new technology even allows the specialists to read more of the documents than they could have before. This is because some of the documents are illegible and too fragile to try and flatten out to ready. So with technology, even the oldest and most delicate artifacts are available for the public to view.

However there are also some disadvantages to digital artifacts. You do not have the document physically sitting in front of you. Viewing it online is not the same experience as being able to pick up the artifact. And although most of the time transcribing the artifacts makes it easier to read, sometimes doing so could affect some of the writing and make it more illegible than before.

As I build my digital humanities project, there will be many challenges that I will have to face. Transcribing will definitely be a struggle as well as working with the website for the first time. I also know that I will struggle when trying to organize my words and images clearly.

Transcription (a beginning)

How do you move from archive to digital artifact?

Traditionally the process starts in the archive when you find a document that catches your eye. It’s interesting, it sheds new light on an issue in history, and it’s the only copy in the world!! You have to decide what to do with that document.  Nowadays we’re able to use digital cameras in the archive  to take a photograph of the pages that we are interested in.  As you are taking digital photographs, you have to remember what they are of, what their call number is. And so I normally keep an archive log. Sometimes, as in the case of the Linn documents we’ll be working with, the archive agrees to have a set of documents sent out to a professional digitization firm to ensure that the documents are carefully managed and kept organized. [Read more…]

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. 

Digital Archives

The new website for the Sample DH projects is very well set up. All of the projects are split in to different approaches which makes it easier to find something that works well with you. The categories are archive, visualization, mapping, digital edition, network analysis, textual analysis, and finally audio analysis. Depending on what works well for you, the website is set up to find a project that matches your taste. Because i am a very visual person, i spent some time exploring the the mapping and visualization sections and thought all of the projects were very interesting. The project that i found the most interesting in these areas was Map of Early Modern London, which we had talked about in class and I continued to look at.

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I will mostly be talking about the archive section. The summaries that are listed on this page make it incredibly easy to figure out which project interests you so you can have an idea about what it is before you go to their website.

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Old Weather

My favorite project stood out to me was Old Weather. Old Weather is a project that works to transcribe old ship’s logs in order to gain information about prior environmental conditions. My attention was drawn to this in the first place because i consider myself a boat person and love to spend time on the water and learning about early boats is something that interests me. Their website is incredible, it allows people to pick the boat that they want to look at the documents for, and then people can help with the transcriptions. They have currently finished 39% of the logs.

Creating a digital artifact from archival documents allows information to be studied that may not have been able to be earlier. Also, it makes it more accessible to the common person, which means that more people can access the information that the documents hold. I think the hardest part for me is going to be the transcriptions and i hope that i can make it through it.