David Martin Dwiggins: Putting the “where” in the archives: Internet mapping and archival records

“…. Abstract
As keepers of recorded and artifactual history, archival repositories provide communities with the raw materials to support collective memory and create an effective “sense of place.” Part of this requires exposing the underlying geographical locations whose history is documented by archival records. But traditional archival principles of arrangement and description primarily emphasize provenance, respect des fonds, and temporal organization rather than the spatial aspects of records. Internet-based GIS tools such as Google Maps and Google Earth offer opportunities for archives to present records in new and exciting ways, and can help better connect archives to the communities they s ….
Just as in other professions, digital technologies are rapidly permeating every aspect of the archival field. To some degree, technology simply extends activities that archivists have always undertaken — allowing them, for example, to make “flat” finding aids available online or to answer reference queries by e–mail. But to truly take advantage of new technologies, archivists must consider the implications new capabilities and weigh the changing expectations of users.

The online availability of archival collections means that they are no longer the exclusive domain of specialists who can spend days poring over finding aids. Online archives allow the general public to interact with history in new ways, and can attract nontraditional users to existing collections. To serve these new users, archivists must help them discover the real connections between the records and their own lives. Highlighting the places documented by their records is one particularly effective way of demonstrating this relevance. David Glassberg (1998) has observed that cultural resource managers “…can help residents and visitors alike see what ordinarily cannot be seen: both the memories attached to places and the larger social and economic processes that shaped how the places were made.” I would argue that this assertion is as true for those charged with historical records as with historical sites. Web 2.0 GIS tools like Google Maps are an accessible way for archivists to better present the spatial aspects of their collections, making it easier for communities of users to discover and utilize records of a place in new and different ways. These developments point toward a future where archival users can browse historical documentation as easily as they can seek out a new apartment.”
Library Student Journal,
June 2010

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