Crowdsourcing Historical and Archival Information with NARA’s History Hub

By Naomi Lieberman

How can I get information about my father’s service in World War II? Where can I find records about my grandfather’s work for the Civilian Conservation Corps? Is there a list of official postmasters for local offices somewhere? These are all examples of questions recently asked and answered on the National Archives and Records Administration’s History Hub.

histhubWith its founding in 1998, Google completely changed the landscape and culture of the Internet by turning what had previously been extremely cluttered and difficult to navigate into seamlessly organized information through a search engine that many of us today use on a daily basis. Google provided us with the means to have our complex questions answered quickly and easily by displaying the most rele
vant results to a user’s topic or question at hand.

Like the pre-Google interweb, many people find the federal government difficult to navigate, lacking clear instructions on where to obtain needed information. There is quite a wealth of knowledge in the government that the public cannot access, either because it is currently impossible or because they do not know the best way to get in contact with those who hold the answers to their questions.

The National Archives is no exception. It houses many important historical and archival documents that can and should be utilized by historians, archivists, genealogists, and the general public to answer important questions, contribute to personal and professional research projects, and expand the public wealth of knowledge. It is not always easy to know, however, where to find the information you are looking for. This is where History Hub comes in.

History Hub is the first platform for information sharing that uses crowdsourcing technology enabling the public to communicate with the federal government. While many of us utilize community forums when looking for information on specific, niche topics—such as what to do when our smartphone screen cracks—we generally do not think of online communities as places to contribute to our research projects.

The National Archives researched this growing trend of crowdsourcing information for wider public benefit, and recently launched History Hub, a pilot support community for historians and other history enthusiasts, researchers, genealogists, citizen archivists, archival professionals, and open government advocates. History Hub provides a platform for collaboration, offering tools like discussions, blogs, and community pages to bring together experts and researchers interested in American history. Already, it has proven a success in increasing citizen historian and archivist participation and communication with the federal government.

One user, for example, posted a question asking where she could find death and burial records for a family member who died in Georgia in the year 1833. She had been unable to find a documented source for the death of this individual, the wife of a reverend. Two National Archives staff members offered responses to her question. Claire Kluskens mentioned that since the individual in question died before 1919, it may be difficult to find information on her death, because at that time, there was no statewide death registration. She discussed other possible ways that a death may be found, but that these may be more difficult to come by. Ann Abney also responded to the question with some information she had found on the family history through the website FindAGrave.com. Along with this, she even found a book that discussed the family’s history. Additionally, another History Hub user came across the post and responded that she too had information about the family because that same last name was also associated with her own genealogical roots! Through collaboration, a History Hub user was able to obtain information on her family history that may otherwise have been lost.

History Hub is useful for all historical- and archival-related questions, ranging from how to teach history as an educator, or how to research questions on anything from military history to African American records.

Explore the History Hub here! Ask a question, respond to a discussion, and check out the support community. Let the National Archives know what you think of the new platform on History Hub or by e-mailing historyhub@nara.gov.

naraNaomi Lieberman is a senior at the University of Maryland, studying marketing and information systems. She is interning in the Office of Innovation at the National Archives under the supervision of Kelly Osborn.

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