Digital History and the Politics of Digitization | Digital Scholarship in the Humanities | Oxford Academic

Abstract:  Much has been made in recent years of the transformative potential of digital resources and historical data for historical research. Historians seem to be flooded with retro-digitized and born-digital materials and tend to take these for granted, grateful for the opportunities they afford. In a research environment that increasingly privileges what is available online, the questions of why, where, and how we can access what we can access, and how it affects historical research have become ever more urgent. This article proposes a framework through which to contextualize the politics of (digital) heritage preservation, and a model to analyse its most important political dimensions, drawing upon literature from the digital humanities and history as well as archival, library, and information science. The first part will outline the global dimensions of the politics of digital cultural heritage, focusing on developments between and within the Global North and South, framed within the broader context of the politics of heritage and its preservation. The second part surveys the history and current state of digitization and offers a structured analysis of the process of digitization and its political dimensions. Choices and decisions about selection for digitization, how to catalogue, classify, and what metadata to add are all political in nature and have political consequences, and the same is true for access. The article concludes with several recommendations and a plea to acknowledge the importance of digital cataloguing in enabling access to the global human record.


John Hay Library Receives Grants to Digitize Materials of Dissenting U.S. Politics | Brown University Library News

“Through its Divided America project, the John Hay Library will digitize and make available material representing extremes of political thought from 1946 through the 1990s in the United States. With a $250,000 grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission’s Access to Historical Records: Major Initiatives program and a $1.5 million grant from the Arcadia Fund, the project will take on the digitization of about three-fourths of the holdings in the Hall-Hoag Collection of Dissenting and Extremist Printed Propaganda. Consisting of nearly 200,000 individual items from over 5,000 organizations, the Hall-Hoag Collection is the country’s largest research collection documenting the ideas and activities of dissenting right- and left-wing U.S. groups, offering a trove of material that will help scholars and journalists further understand our current political moment. …”

Chronicling America Reaches 50 States

“Chronicling America, the searchable online database of historic American newspapers, will soon include digitized newspapers from all 50 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and housed and maintained online at the Library of Congress, Chronicling America offers free online access to 19.9 million pages of newspapers published in the United States between 1777 and 1963….”

FFDW Works with Prelinger Archives to Make Rare Historic Films More Accessible Using the Decentralized Web | by Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web | Aug, 2022 | Medium

“Filecoin Foundation for the Decentralized Web (FFDW) is proud to announce its collaboration with Prelinger Archives, a San Francisco-based historical film archive, to make rare and one-of-a-kind films accessible to the general public. The Prelinger Archives will use the award from FFDW to digitize a vast collection of archival 8mm, 16mm, and 35mm film footage held by both Prelinger Archives and Internet Archive and make these materials broadly accessible to the public through both Internet Archive and the decentralized web….”

About this Collection  |  Copyright Historical Record Books Collection, 1870-1977 (Preview)  |  Digital Collections  |  Library of Congress

“The U.S. Copyright Office is governed by Title 17 of the United States Code, which requires the Register of Copyrights to maintain and provide public access to copyright records. This collection is a preview of a digitized version of the U.S. Copyright Office’s historical record books. The collection contains images of copyright applications and other records bound in books dating from 1870 to 1977. The collection offers a historically-important snapshot of the culture of the United States, primarily relating to copyrightable expression, authorship, and copyright ownership.

This collection is a digital preview of the physical collection and should not be relied on for legal matters.  To access the official public records in the copyright historical record books, visit the Copyright Office Public Records Reading Room. In the future, as part of its overall modernization efforts, the Copyright Office plans to incorporate digitized, searchable versions of the official historical record books into the Office’s Copyright Public Record System (CPRS), which is currently in a public pilot.

The collection will be made available online starting with the most recent volumes from 1977, proceeding through the Copyright Office’s internal administrative classification system in reverse chronological order. Images of record books will be added to this collection as they are digitized….”

Millions of Images From Ebony and Jet Magazines Will Soon Be Accessible to All

“Ownership of the Johnson Publishing Company Archive, which includes the photographic archives of Ebony and Jet magazines, has been formally transferred jointly to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) and the Getty Research Institute. Sold for $30 million in 2019, academics, archivists, and artists were reassured to learn that the vast trove would pass into the hands of institutions committed to preserving and facilitating public access to it after extended anxiety that it would be won at auction by private collectors….”

LSU Expanding Efforts to Digitize Louisiana’s Diverse Cultural Institutions | LSU Libraries News & Notes

“The Libraries’ proposal, “Y’ALL Means All: Piloting a Distributed Digitization Program to Support Digital Diversity,” was awarded $31,800 to facilitate broader representation of the state’s digital cultural heritage by helping smaller institutions digitize their physical collections and is an expansion of the Libraries’ You Are Louisiana’s Legacy (Y’ALL) Award.

In Louisiana, there are many valuable collections in rural and underfunded institutions that lack the equipment and staffing to digitize, describe and upload their content. Many of these collections are increasingly at risk of being lost in the future due to budget cuts and the threat of climate change, which increases the possibility that the collections will be damaged by flooding and storms….”

Canada to open one of the world’s largest library and archive facilities

“When it opens in 2026, ?dis?ke is expected to be one of the largest library and archive facilities in the world. 

With work now underway, the 216,000-square-foot, $326 million facility will house the Ottawa Public Library’s new central branch as well as Canada’s national library and archives. ?dis?ke will offer free and open access to millions of documents and Canada’s documentary heritage. It will be the first new building in the Parliamentary District in nearly 30 years. …”

Thousands of older dissertations from UCSF newly available in eScholarship – California Digital Library

“Over three thousand dissertations and theses digitized from UCSF’s archives, originally submitted to the university between 1965 and 2006, were added to eScholarship this year. These titles cover topics as disparate as the pregnancy experiences of black women, AIDS and identity in the gay press of the 1980s, and models for examining the clearance of drugs from the liver. Before the project was undertaken to add these dissertations and theses to eScholarship, accessing them was challenging: you may have been able to find one in a database if you were at a subscribing institution, but if the title was old enough, your only option might have been to travel to California and visit a library storage facility. 

This is the case with dissertation literature around the world, especially older dissertations. Unique work produced by graduate students at thousands of academic institutions, representing their intellectual labor and that of their advisors and committees, sits behind paywalls or worse. As a result, researchers are often thwarted in trying to track down a citation to what sounds like the perfect source for their own studies….

Newer dissertations and theses — going back to 2007 — had been submitted electronically and were already available in eScholarship. Making older works available, however, proved complex. Even though the volumes had already been scanned as part of UC’s work with the Google Books project and the HathiTrust Digital Library, many questions remained. What permissions did students grant the university when they filed their dissertation paperwork? How could the image files generated by the scanning process be converted to document files for eScholarship? Where would the record data come from, so that each document’s title and author displayed properly? Answering these questions and several more required the expertise of numerous people at UCSF and the California Digital Library….”

Getty opens access to 30,000 images of black diaspora in UK and US | Photography | The Guardian

“A collection of almost 30,000 rarely seen images of the black diaspora in the UK and the US, dating from the 19th century to the present, has been launched as part of an educational initiative to raise awareness of the history of black people in the UK.

The Black History & Culture Collection includes more than 20 categories of images including politics, hair, education, female empowerment and LGBTQ+….”

Introducing the Atlantic Archive – The Atlantic

“To help our readers begin to explore the millions of words we’ve just uploaded to the web, we’re launching a special project spotlighting 25 writers from our past, with essays written by contemporary Atlantic writers. These featured writers include one of the two greatest figures of 19th-century American life, Frederick Douglass, along with Helen Keller, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Henry David Thoreau, Raymond Chandler, and John Muir. And we’ll keep adding new writers, because the Atlantic bench has infinite depth….”

A quest to digitize 1 million plant specimens

“The Australian National Herbarium in Canberra is imaging nearly a million plant specimens using an automated system developed by Netherlands company Picturae….

The full digital collection of the Australian National Herbarium will be made available through the Atlas of Living Australia, including for the general public.”

Preserving endangered Islamic manuscripts – College of Arts & Sciences

“The Haalpulaar people were among the first Senegalese to widely embrace Islam. Haalpulaar scholars wrote Islamic manuscripts in Arabic, but also used the Arabic script to write poetry in the local language, a writing system known as Ajam?. Today, Arabic and Pulaar manuscripts are held in family libraries, while Taal’s original library still sits in French libraries since its colonial confiscation in 1890. Most of the manuscripts in Arabic are at the Taal family’s main library in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Camara said the body of work produced by the Haalpulaar is a bit of an untold story: “It became important to prove that this poetry existed and that it actually predated many of the manuscripts that we boast about in Senegal.” …

Collectively, the team digitized 6,000 pages of text, about 3,500 pages from Senegal and 2,500 from Mali. The materials will be archived in three digital repositories — the British Library’s Endangered Archives Program, University Libraries and the West African Research Center in Senegal. The project also received support from the AAAD department and the African Studies Center at UNC….”

Bloomington library partners with museum to open access to local historical collections | WGLT

“The Bloomington Public Library has started an effort to preserve and improve access to local historical documents in partnership with the McLean County Museum of History.

Earlier this year, the library completed a donation of its archives and historical papers to the museum where they will be housed and displayed. Certain documents such as local city directories will also be digitized for online access….”

Music Library Association Opens Publications at Internet Archive – Internet Archive Blogs

“For librarians who specialize in caring for music collections, it can be challenging to keep up with the latest technology and resources in the profession. The Music Library Association recently helped address this problem by making many of its publications openly available online.

The MLA donated 21 of its monographs to the Internet Archive for digitization and worked with authors to make the material free to the public under Creative Commons licenses. 

The new collection of backlist titles includes information on careers in music librarianship and history of the field. It also covers planning and building music library collections, which can be complicated and involve individual creators and small publishers, said Kathleen DeLaurenti, who helped lead the partnership with the Internet Archive in her role as MLA’s first open access editor. There are also valuable materials on music library approaches to technical services—everything from how to preserve music materials to how to bind and catalog them….”