February 12, 2008
By Robert B. Townsend
The AHA is now offering an Archives Wiki as a free resource for historians and other researchers. This project is described in greater detail in the February issue of Perspectives on History, but in general terms, we hope that by harnessing this (relatively) new technology for collaboration on the web, we can draw on the collective interests of thousands of researchers and archivists to develop a rich resource for anyone venturing into new archives for the first time.
As a starting point for the project, we seeded the wiki with information from the “Collections and Libraries” section of the 104 organizations listed in our Directory of History Departments, Historical Organization, and Historians in the United States and Canada. And quite happily we have already received new information and edits from almost a dozen additional archives just in the past few days.
We hope that as this project develops it will provide a deeper level of information than the rather general information on most archival web sites. As an example, I entered information based on my own recent work in the Papers of the American Historical Association at the Library of Congress. My hope is that other researchers will come in and offer similar analyses of particular collections and archives they have worked in recently.
Unfortunately, this project will face some high hurdles given the rather solitary tendencies of many in our profession. When I circulated my original proposal to some senior scholars in the field, their response was sadly dismissive. Most averred that, “if I want to know about a particular archives, I just write to my network of friends.” Some in the archival community are skeptical as well. In a first assessment of this project at ArchivesNext, Kate Theimer wondered yesterday, “how eager historians will be to share really detailed information about … how to get access to ‘the good stuff.’”
This project is offered in the hope that the profession is better than that; that historians young and old, and many others with an interest in archival research, can come together to make this a vital resource. We have done what we could within the resources available to us, so now, as they say, it is up to you.