Fieldwork and the Digital Archive

Archives and Special Collections are becoming increasingly available to researchers everywhere as university libraries, museums, and enthusiasts digitize their holdings. As a result, a good amount of archival research now takes place on laptops rather than at the source of the material. For many undergraduates, research only takes place online, as in, it often doesn’t even occur to them to search their library’s catalog for actual books, let alone consider non-traditional sources such as images, oral tradition, and cultural artifacts as texts. Being out of touch with the tangible does lessen somewhat the thrill that hands-on research can bring, just as a good book just isn’t as enjoyable if you’re reading it from a pdf you found online so as to avoid buying the book for class. Looking forward to the next generation of students–who will be even more connected–how can we most effectively teach and use the vastness that is the digital archive while also stressing/remembering the value of immersive learning?

– Lydia Ferguson