Online Research Centers

August 13th, 2004 by Ross Scaife

From the CHE:

A glance at the July issue of The Americas: The scholar’s role in building online-resource collections

Scholars should embrace the chance to work with archivists to build online research centers, which can provide “resources that would be impossible or extremely expensive to assemble and make universally accessible by any other means,” says Rolena Adorno, a professor of Spanish at Yale University.

Ms. Adorno helped prepare a digital facsimile edition of an important manuscript from the early 1600s, El Primer Nueva CorĂ³nica y Buen Gobierno, by the Andean native Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, as part of a project by the Royal Library of Denmark’s rare-books department to make its most precious documents available electronically.

The scholar’s role in such a project is essential, Ms. Adorno says, if the result is to be useful to other scholars. In compiling a list of the nearly 400 illustrations in Guaman Poma’s manuscript, for instance, a technician could have transcribed a list of titles and captions, but only a scholar familiar with the work could provide a descriptive menu to help other scholars more quickly identify illustrations tied to particular themes.

Electronic-resource collections can give unprecedented access to texts, she says, not only by making available documents that are rare and fragile, but by allowing scholars to reorganize texts and put them in context with related materials that are also available in digital form.

Such online collections will not replace traditional books and libraries, she says, but will enhance their usefulness. Digital resources, she writes, “can be as effective in advancing historical scholarship as the efforts of scholars, librarians, technicians, and institutions are prepared and willing to make them.”

The article, “The Archive and the Internet,” is available to subscribers of Project Muse. Information about the journal is available at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/the_americas/

–Kellie Bartlett

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