All over the world, archives and libraries are shutting their doors as covid-19 spreads. These closures mean that researchers can’t use the not-yet-digitized collections that exist in those places. Or does it?
As I outlined in my last post, my primary Tropy project is mostly composed of handwritten correspondence. I also have side projects that include different types of sources. And I’ve also been getting my sources in a different way.
[This post features a guest author, David McKenzie. David is a graduate student at George Mason University as well as the associate director of education for digital resources at Ford’s Theatre.]
As a historian who works on the U.S. Navy in the early republican era, I have found that many, if not most, of my sources have been published in some form. Many have been published both in print and online. So when I go to an archive to look at manuscripts, there’s a strong chance that the documents I look at have already been published. Thus, it might seem like photographing manuscripts, particularly in big federal archives like the Library of Congress or the National Archives, is a waste of my time.
Since Zotero’s earliest days, our users have clamored for better support of historical manuscripts and, later, images. Zotero after all was developed by the Center for History and New Media, and as historians began to conduct their archival research with digital cameras instead of pencils, why shouldn’t Zotero help them? And years later when we sketched out and then launched development of Tropy, why did we choose to develop it as a separate application rather than add its functionality to Zotero?
Negotiating archives is one of the major joys and frustrations of any researcher. Even when researchers find something in the archives that exactly fits their needs, remembering what those sources said afterwards can be a challenge. Researchers have traditionally used methods such as extensive note-taking, photocopying, and requesting scans of sources to remember what they’ve read in the archives. Over the last several years, though, research practices regarding archival materials have begun to change.