On March 21st the IHR Wohl library held a Digital Archives event giving a chance for researchers, archivists, historians and anyone with an interest in history to come and listen to three experts showcase how to use their digital archival tools. Each speaker offered a taster session on the different resources available through these fascinating digital tools.
First of all, we heard an interesting talk from Jane Ronson who presented ‘Discovering UK Archives Online’ and showcased what Archives Hub is able to offer researchers. Archives Hub brings together descriptions of thousands of UK’s archive collections – held in a variety of UK repositories, examples included both Cymru1914 and the War Child project as well as a plethora of other collections. The Hub is a free resource, and gives researchers the ability to discover unique sources that are often little-known. Although it does not hold any archive material itself, it does provide the means to cross-search archival descriptions from different institutions. To use it you can search using keywords, such as ‘refugee’ and fine-tune results using a variety of filters. As a continually expanding resource, it is a good idea to visit the site regularly. Jane’s talk and introduction to the Archives Hub displayed just how interesting and a useful resource the Archives Hub can be.
Louise Seaward presented on the different work the Transkribus team have been doing, and the ways in which the Transkribus tool can be used. Transkribus is a comprehensive platform for the automated recognition, transcription and searching of historical documents. This project is part of Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents project (READ). Transkribus is another free tool with over 10, 000 users and is a resource that will continue to grow and adapt. Automated text recognition (ATR) enables computers to automatically transcribe and recognise text. The tool processes by line rather than by character so needs to be trained by showing document images and transcripts. The more training data it is able to gain and analyse the more accurate the recognition. For example, you can train a model to transcribe and search documents, such as ‘the Bentham model’ and also to recognise other languages such as Cyrillic, French and Swedish. Although the transcription can have errors measured by the Character Error Rate (CER) – these transcripts can be understood, searched and corrected quickly. There are also a variety of tools that you can use to search documents such as Keyword spotting – detecting similarities in images of words rather than transcripts. These searches can be made with precision or broad searches to find all possible matches. The more users of Transkribus, the stronger the technology becomes. Documents do remain private as do any transcriptions. Louise’s talk and introduction to Transkribus displayed a useful and fascinating resource that will certainly be of use to anyone who is looking to transcribe documents and provide a searchable resource.
Marta Musso, the Communication Manager of Archives Portal Europe, gave an introduction to the fantastic archival resource, Archive Portal Europe. This resource is the largest online portal in European archives and collates archives across Europe to allow researchers to search them at the same time. Previously researchers had to visit various archival websites for their research but this resource allows them to find information from millions of archival materials stored in hundreds of archival institutions in one place – a ‘one-stop web service’. The Portal allows you to search multilingually, to refine your search and to save your searches (you can save them as long as you are signed into the website). The advantages of using this resource are enormous – it gives you the chance to research transnational aspects of European History, to compare isolated European communities and parallel lives and to view historical events and characters as they are narrated by different archives. This wonderful resource allows you to conduct multilingual and qualitative research and allows for different narrations of historical events. Similar to Archives Hub, it is easy to use, to search and you can refine your results to help you find the documents that you need. Marta’s talk and introduction to Archives Portal Europe showcased a beneficial and fantastic resource that all researchers should look at.
We would like to thank everyone who came to this well attended event, their additions to the discussions and for their tweets. We would also like to thank Marta Musso, Jane Ronson and Louise Seaward for their fascinating tour around some extremely useful digital resources. We had an interesting afternoon and we hope all the people who attended the event enjoyed it too!