Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … mit Joëlle Weis

Was Historiker:innen und historisch Arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden

Joëlle Weis hat die Fragen beantwortet

Kannst Du in drei Sätzen Dein Projekt vorstellen und sagen, was speziell der digitale Anteil daran war?

Meine erstes „digitales“ Projekt war meine Dissertation zum gelehrten Netzwerk des Historikers Johann Friedrich Schannat (1683–1739), die ich 2019 abgeschlossen habe. Der digitale Anteil bestand eigentlich aus nichts anderem als einer wirklich banalen, aber für meine Zwecke absolut ausreichenden Excel-Tabelle, die alle ca. 500 Briefe mit ihren Metadaten umfasste. Darauf basierte dann die Netzwerkanalyse mit Hilfe des Tools Gephi. Vor allem das „Erwähnungsnetzwerk“ (also: wer hat wen in den Briefen erwähnt?), das ich aus diesen Daten gewinnen konnte, barg einen großen Erkenntnisgewinn für mich.

Netzwerkvisualisierung der Namen, die von mehr als zwei Korrespondenten Schannats erwähnt wurden. Man erkennt, dass das Netzwerk relativ dicht ist, d.h. eine relativ kleine Anzahl von Personen bezieht sich häufig aufeinander. Das deutet darauf hin, dass es sich um eine ziemlich geschlossene Gruppe handelt, deren Kontakte untereinander intensiv sind.

Stichwort Mehrwert: Was war nur möglich bzw. welche Vorteile gab es, weil Du digital gearbeitet hast?

Wie eben angedeutet, wären mir ohne die digitale Datenerhebung manche Zusammenhänge einfach verborgen geblieben. Durch die Netzwerkvisualisierungen konnte ich einen Blick „von oben“ auf die Korrespondenz werfen, durch den ich neue Fragen generieren und Hypothesen aufstellen konnte. Dann bin ich wieder in die Briefe gegangen, um die beobachteten Regelmäßigkeiten auch qualitativ zu prüfen. Aber auch jenseits der eigentlichen Projektfragestellung war das digitale Arbeiten ein großer Vorteil, weil ich einen Grund hatte, mir neue Kompetenzen anzueignen, die ich jetzt definitiv nicht mehr missen will.

Hattest Du vorher schon mal mit digitalen Methoden gearbeitet?

Ja, ich hatte diverse Berührungspunkte mit digitalen Methoden, manche eher theoretisch, andere hands-on.

Wie war damals eigentlich Dein Erstkontakt?

Während meines Studiums in Wien hatte ich das große Glück, immer wieder Seminare belegen zu können, die digitale Anteile hatten. Dabei handelte es sich aber meistens um größere Datenbankprojekte, bei denen wir zwar am Rande über Fragen wie Datenmodellierung und Datenbankstrukturen gesprochen haben, bei denen es aber primär darum ging, Inhalte zu produzieren und Einträge zu erstellen. Es gab hier generell eine starke Arbeitsteilung zwischen Programmierer:innen und den eigentlichen Geisteswissenschaftler:innen, was ich damals etwas schade fand.

Ich konnte aber darüber hinaus auch früh in einem Editionsprojekt mitarbeiten, wo ich immer wieder Berührungspunkte zum Themenfeld „digitale Edition“ hatte, so dass XML und TEI mir nicht gänzlich fremd waren. Und neugierig auf digitale Methoden war ich sowieso immer, was, glaube ich, die wichtigste Voraussetzung ist.

Man sagt, dass digitale Projekte eine steile Lernkurve haben. Was wären die fünf Tipps, die Du gerne Deinem jüngeren Ich geben würdest? Was hättest Du gerne gewusst, was hättest Du anders gemacht, was hat sich für Dich als augenöffnend herausgestellt?

Tja, das stimmt, nachher ist man immer schlauer. Und das ist auch gut so. Meinem jüngeren Ich würde ich definitiv raten, von Anfang an etwas gewissenhafter bei der Datenerhebung zu sein. Ich habe mir unnötig viel Arbeit gemacht, weil ich, erstens, anfangs nicht gut genug darüber nachgedacht habe, welche Daten ich eigentlich erheben will und welche aussagekräftige Ergebnisse bringen würden. Ich habe meine 500 Briefe daher mehrfach bearbeiten müssen, was doch recht zeitintensiv war. Zweitens waren meine Daten zum Teil Kraut und Rüben, es hat mich am Ende so viel Zeit gekostet, data cleaning zu betreiben, weil ich ständig zwischen Schreibweisen und unterschiedlichen Benennungen hin und her gewechselt habe. Ich habe mich wirklich selber dafür verflucht. Daher kann ich auch mit absoluter Sicherheit sagen, was für mich (leider zu spät) augenöffnend war: Open Refine!

Joëlle Weis ist wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin am Trier Center for Digital Humanities, wo sie den Forschungsbereich digitale Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaften leitet. Ihre Forschungsschwerpunkte liegen im Bereich der (digitalen) Sammlungsforschung und der Wissensgeschichte der Frühen Neuzeit. (ORCID-ID: 0000-0002-0080-4362, GND-Nummer: 1233399721)

Die Blogreihe „Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … Was Historiker:innen und historisch arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden“ wird betreut durch das GHI Washington in Kooperation mit NFDI4Memory / Task Area Data Culture, dem Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands (VHD) und der Digital History Professur der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Wir freuen uns über alle, die offen über ihre Erfahrungen mit digitalen Projekten im Geschichtsbereich sprechen möchten – und Tipps geben, was sie auf jeden Fall beim nächsten Mal anders machen würden.

Sie haben / Du hast auch Interesse, einen Beitrag für die Reihe zu schreiben? Gerne! Christiane Weber (VHD/NFDI4Memory) und Katharina Hering (GHI) freuen sich auf eine Email.

Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … mit Mario Kliewer

Was Historiker:innen und historisch Arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden

Mario Kliewer hat die Fragen beantwortet

Kannst Du in drei Sätzen Dein Projekt vorstellen und sagen, was speziell der digitale Anteil daran war?

Das mechanische Welttheater wurde zu Beginn des 18. Jahrhunderts erfunden und war bis zum Aufkommen des Kinos weit verbreitet. Bis auf Figuren, Bühnenelemente und Theaterzettel ist heute wenig überliefert, so dass wir beispielsweise nichts mehr über die Geschwindigkeit der Figuren auf den Schienen oder die Helligkeit der Leuchtmittel wissen. In der Puppentheatersammlung der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD) habe ich daher das museum4punkt0-Projekt „Die Dinge (wieder) in Bewegung bringen“ koordiniert. Ziel war die Entwicklung eines digitalen Bühnenraumes zur Erforschung und Ausstellung einer historischen Aufführung aus dem Theatrum mundi des Schaustellers Kurt Kressig.

Abb.: Theatrum-mundi-Figur Giraffe mit Begleiter, hergestellt: zweite Hälfte 19. Jahrhundert, Sammlung Marionettentheater Curt Kressig, Puppentheatersammlung der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden. https://skd-online-collection.skd.museum/Details/Index/276776#

Stichwort Mehrwert: Was war nur möglich bzw. welche Vorteile gab es, weil Du digital gearbeitet hast?

 Die fragilen Theatrum mundi-Figuren dürfen heute aus konservatorischen Gründen nur noch eingeschränkt bewegt werden. Um ihre inneren Mechanismen und ihre Rolle in der Aufführung dennoch zu verstehen, wurden sie digital nachmodelliert, animiert und in einen virtuellen Bühnenraum eingefügt. Mithilfe der Informationen auf historischen Theaterzetteln und weiteren Kontextinformationen können Aufführungen somit Stück für Stück rekonstruiert und experimentell erforscht werden. Präsentiert wurde der digitale Bühnenraum bereits in der Ausstellung „Der Schlüssel zum Leben“ als holographische Projektion und als interaktives Tool. Seit diesem Jahr kann er auch online von Nutzer:innen bedient werden. Der Vorteil digitalen Arbeitens liegt hier also in der verschränkten Anwendung von 3D-Digitalisierung, Gamification und modernen Präsentationsmethoden in der kulturhistorischen und volkskundlichen Forschung sowie der musealen Wissensvermittlung.

Abb.: Screenshot des digitalen Bühnenraums mit der Giraffe in der Theatrum-Aufführung „Agra. Residenz der indischen Großmogulen mit dem prachtvollen Grabdenkmale der Kaiserin“. https://tm.skd.museum/

Hattest Du vorher schon mal mit digitalen Methoden gearbeitet? Wenn Ja, wie war damals eigentlich Dein Erstkontakt?

 Vermutlich irgendwann in den 1990ern mit „Digital ist besser“ von Tocotronic auf CD. Aber Spaß beiseite, prinzipiell sind digitale Praktiken schon lange ein integraler Bestandteil meiner Arbeit. Mein erstes explizit digitales Projekt war das DFG-Projekt „Weltsichten. Digitalisierung und Erschließung fotografischer Archive bedeutender Forschungsreisender“, das ich inhaltlich und organisatorisch in der Deutschen Fotothek koordiniert habe. Aber auch in studienbegleitenden Praktika und in verschiedenen Ausstellungsprojekten habe ich Sammlungsbestände digitalisiert oder digitale Formate umgesetzt. Im Rückblick war das also eher ein praktischer und offener Lernprozess.

Man sagt, dass digitale Projekte eine steile Lernkurve haben. Was wären die fünf Tipps, die Du gerne Deinem jüngeren Ich geben würdest? Was hättest Du gerne gewusst, was hättest Du anders gemacht, was hat sich für Dich als augenöffnend herausgestellt?

  1. Die Neuentwicklung einer digitalen Anwendung kostet Zeit. Nicht selten mehr als für ein definierten Projektzeitraum (und damit meistens auch Finanzierungszeitraum) vorgesehen ist, da oft noch Erfahrungswerte fehlen. Wichtig sind daher eine permanente Hinterfragung und gegebenenfalls Anpassung der Projektziele.
  2. Kommunikation bedeutet auch Übersetzung. In Digitalprojekten kommt es auf permanente Kommunikation zwischen allen Projektbeteiligten und häufig auch auf Übersetzungsarbeit an. Beteiligte Wissenschaftler:innen, Entwickler:innen, Techniker:innen oder andere Beteiligte sprechen selten von Anfang an dieselbe Sprache.
  3. Die Kompetenz im Umgang mit digitalen Tools und Formaten ist nicht selbstverständlich. Häufig muss Nutzer:innen niedrigschwellig vermittelt werden, dass digital wirklich besser ist. Und dafür benötigt man oft viel Geduld und Ausharrungsvermögen.
  4. Nicht immer muss alles neu erfunden werden. Bevor etwas neu entwickelt wird, sollte erstmal recherchiert werden, was schon vorhanden und weiterverwendbar ist. Das erspart viel Zeit für Neuentwicklungen (siehe Punkt 1).
  5. Wir brauchen mehr Verstetigung. Gerade im musealen Bereich werden digitale Anwendungen oder Sammlungsinfrastrukturen häufig im Rahmen von Projekten finanziert. Meiner Ansicht nach ist hier eine personelle und infrastrukturelle Verstetigung dringend nötig. Sonst entstehen immer wieder Tools, Portale oder Datenbanken, die nach gewisser Zeit in der Versenkung verschwinden.

Mario Kliewer ist Historiker und koordiniert im Deutschen Museum die Task Area 1: Data Quality der NFDI4Memory und den Antrag für die Forschungsinfrastruktur OSIRIS mit. Er studierte und promovierte an der TU Dresden und der Université de la Réunion und kuratierte anschließend verschiedene Ausstellungs-, Sammlungs- und Forschungssprojekte. (ORCID-ID: 0009-0001-8946-1051, GND-Nummer: 1082329681)

Die Blogreihe „Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … Was Historiker:innen und historisch arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden“ wird betreut durch das GHI Washington in Kooperation mit NFDI4Memory / Task Area Data Culture, dem Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands (VHD) und der Digital History Professur der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Wir freuen uns über alle, die offen über ihre Erfahrungen mit digitalen Projekten im Geschichtsbereich sprechen möchten – und Tipps geben, was sie auf jeden Fall beim nächsten Mal anders machen würden.

Sie haben / Du hast auch Interesse, einen Beitrag für die Reihe zu schreiben? Gerne! Christiane Weber (VHD/NFDI4Memory) und Katharina Hering (GHI) freuen sich auf eine Email.

Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … mit Holle Meding

Dies ist der Auftakt unserer neuen Serie „Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … Was Historiker:innen und historisch arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden“. Die Blogreihe wird betreut durch das GHI Washington in Kooperation mit NFDI4Memory / Task Area Data Culture, dem Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands (VHD) und der Digital History Professur der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Wir freuen uns über alle, die offen über ihre Erfahrungen mit digitalen Projekten im Geschichtsbereich sprechen möchten – und Tipps geben, was sie auf jeden Fall beim nächsten Mal anders machen würden.

Was Historiker:innen und historisch Arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden

Holle Meding hat die Fragen beantwortet

Kannst Du in drei Sätzen Dein Projekt vorstellen und sagen, was speziell der digitale Anteil daran war?

Filme und Serien begeistern Jung und Alt, und meine Faszination gilt den fiktionalen Produktionen, die Brücken in die Vergangenheit schlagen, wie Narcos, Dignity oder Los 80. In meiner Dissertation werfe ich einen Blick hinter die Kulissen der Unterhaltungswelt und der digitalen Öffentlichkeit und beschäftige mich mit der massenmedialen Vermittlung historischer Narrative und geschichtskulturellen Rezeptionsformen. Dafür erhebe und analysiere ich Massendaten aus sozialen Netzwerken wie Twitter, Instagram und YouTube. Durch den Einsatz von Methoden der natürlichen Sprachverarbeitung (NLP), Textanalyse und Computerlinguistik werden Meinungsbilder identifiziert, kategorisiert und quantifiziert, um Thematik, Darstellungsformen, Entwicklungsprozesse und Zuschauer:innenresonanz zu erfassen.

Meine Doktorarbeit ist dabei eingebettet in das interdisziplinäre Forschungsprojekt „Geschichtsvermittlung durch Unterhaltungsmedien in Lateinamerika. Labor für Erinnerungsforschung und digitale Methoden“ (GUMELAB), das am Lateinamerika-Institut der Freien Universität Berlin angesiedelt ist und vom BMBF gefördert wird.

Stichwort Mehrwert: Was war nur möglich bzw. welche Vorteile gab es, weil Du digital gearbeitet hast?

Im Gegensatz zur Archivarbeit mit analogen Quellen, zu Interviews und Befragungen ist es mittels digitaler Methoden möglich, große Mengen an Information zeiteffizient zu erfassen und auszuwerten. Ein klarer Mehrwert besteht darin, dass die Erhebung in sozialen Netzwerken auf den transnationalen Raum erweitert werden kann. Dadurch können neue Forschungsfragen formuliert und die Untersuchung historischer, kultureller oder sozialer Phänomene in einem globalen Kontext vertieft werden. Eine Herausforderung stellt die Verarbeitung und Interpretation der gewonnenen Daten dar, da die Anzahl zu verarbeitender Datensätze schnell die Größenordnung 105 überschreitet. In keinem Forschungsprojekt ist die manuelle Verarbeitung einer solchen Menge an Daten realisierbar oder zweckmäßig.

Hattest Du vorher schon mal mit digitalen Methoden gearbeitet?

Schon immer haben mich digitale Methoden fasziniert und als Historikerin habe ich tagtäglich damit zu tun: Sei es die automatische Text- oder Handschrifterkennung mit Adobe Acrobat oder die Analyse von erinnerungskulturellen Entwicklungen mit digitalen Tools wie Google Trends.

Wenn Ja, wie war damals eigentlich Dein Erstkontakt?

Als studentische Hilfskraft habe ich in der Sprachlichen Informationsverarbeitung gearbeitet, dabei konnte ich mir erste Kenntnisse im Text Mining aneignen und erhielt erste praktische Einblicke in quantitative Analysen. Diese Erfahrungen prägten meinen akademischen Werdegang und lenkten meine Forschungsinteressen zunehmend in Richtung Digital Humanities.

Man sagt, dass digitale Projekte eine steile Lernkurve haben. Was wären die fünf Tipps, die Du gerne Deinem jüngeren Ich geben würdest? Was hättest Du gerne gewusst, was hättest Du anders gemacht, was hat sich für Dich als augenöffnend herausgestellt?

Digitale Projekte bergen gerade für Geisteswissenschaftler:innen einige Herausforderungen, aber auch ein breites Spektrum an Möglichkeiten. Fünf Tipps, die ich meinem jüngeren Ich geben würde, wären:

  1. Starte mit einfachen Schritten: Häufig lassen sich durch grundlegende statistische Analysen bereits Trends und Muster in quantitativen Daten aufzeigen. Das ermöglicht nicht nur einen einfachen Einstieg in die Datenanalyse, sondern bildet sowohl eine solide Grundlage für die Datenerhebung als auch für weiterführende, komplexere Untersuchungen. Open-Source Anwendungen wie Voyant Tools stellen einen sinnvollen Ausgangspunkt für die Textanalyse dar.
  2. Besuche Workshops und Fortbildungen: Das Center für Digitale Systeme (CeDis) der Freien Universität Berlin oder auch das Konsortium NFDI4Memory bieten beispielsweise eine Vielzahl sowohl von Online- als auch Präsenzangeboten an. Einsteigerfreundliche Online-Tutorials für Geisteswissenschaftler:innen findest du auch bei Programming Historian.
  3. Eigne dir Programmierkenntnisse an: Auch wenn im Forschungsprojekt Informatiker:innen unterstützend zur Seite stehen, ist es wichtig, sich selbst aktiv mit den Daten und dem Programmiercode auseinanderzusetzen. Gerade in interdisziplinären Projekten stellt oft die Kommunikation eine Herausforderung dar. Eigenes Know-how in der Programmierung ermöglicht es, Ergebnisse kritisch zu hinterfragen und eventuelle methodische Fehler zu erkennen. Ein besonders nützliches Angebot stellt das Jupyter Book dar, das Historiker:innen einen praktischen Einblick in die Programmiersprache Python gibt.
  4. Lerne aus deinen Fehlern: Insbesondere zu Beginn sieht man sich beim Programmieren und bei der Datenanalyse zahlreichen Herausforderungen gegenüber. Lass dich davon nicht entmutigen, denn das ist ein natürlicher Teil des Lernprozesses. Schon bald wirst du erstaunt sein, welche Fortschritte du machst und welche Erfolge du erzielst.
  5. Visualisiere deine Daten: Gerade die Visualisierung von Daten in Form von Graphen, Netzwerken und Modellen eröffnet oft eine klare Perspektive auf die Ergebnisse. Hierbei gibt es eine Fülle von Software, die dir weiterhelfen kann, wie Gephi, Google Looker Studio oder Microsoft Power BI.

Holle Meding promoviert in Geschichte und arbeitet als wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin an der Freien Universität Berlin. Sie forscht im Bereich der Digital Humanities und beschäftigt sich mit der Anwendung digitaler Methoden und historischem Framing in den Medien. (ORCID-ID: 0000-0001-5005-9770, GND-Nummer: 1189454912)

Sie haben / Du hast auch Interesse, einen Beitrag für die Reihe „Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … Was Historiker:innen und historisch arbeitende ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden“ zu schreiben? Gerne! Christiane Weber (VHD/NFDI4Memory) und Katharina Hering (GHI) freuen sich auf eine Email.

 

 

Editorial Note

The GHI Washington established the blog Href in 2018 in conjunction with the start of the DFG-funded relaunch of German History in Documents and Images under the leadership of the  founding editors Kelly McCullough, GHDI’s project manager, and Atiba Pertilla, research fellow and digital editor at the GHI. Katharina Hering, digital project librarian, joined the blog’s editorial team later that year. The goal of Href has been to showcase the use of digitized primary source materials, broadly conceived, for studying, teaching, and researching German and global history. Href proved to be particularly timely during the pandemic, when it offered a forum for authors, many of whom were remote or on-site interns at the GHI, to reflect about the opportunities and challenges of researching German history in a global context remotely.

Articles have covered a wide range of topics, ranging from descriptions and analyses of new online portals and resources, such as Linda Rath’s Historical Newspapers. The Zeit.Punkt NRW-Portal (September 22, 2022), Götz Lachwitz’s Online access to historical German TV programs: Reflections on the research potential of unique audiovisual sources (October 22, 2022), Href has also shared essays on the process and ethical consequences of researching digitized collections and archives, such as Lara Raabe’s Reflections on Reflections on Researching Digitized Personal Files of Sinti and Roma Created by Berlin’s Criminal Police in Nazi Germany (July 12, 2022) or Janna Katharina Müller’s article on her research focusing on the very first monthly astronomical journal in Germany: The Celestial Police and their structures of communication (September 7, 2021). It has also published methodological pieces on tools and digital methods, such as Maximilien Gudenberg’s article Navigating the Challenges of OCR-based Research in the Arabic Script and Language (July 12, 2023) and Simon Krahé’s Reflections on the Process of Network Analysis Dataset Creation Using Line Content Classification with Python (December 15, 2023). Notable href posts have also include several original interviews, including Tim Feind’s interview with Beth Lander, who has served as the Managing Director of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) since 2020.

With the participation of the GHI Washington in the NFDI 4Memory Consortium, an initiative dedicated to the creation of a long-term and sustainable research data infrastructure in Germany,  we’ve decided to re-conceptualize Href as a forum where some of the discussions sparked by the 4Memory community, particularly its emphases on “Data Literacy” and “Data Culture,” can be continued and broadened. In line with the traditional role of the GHI as a transatlantic and trans-national bridge, Href continues to be directed at a US and Canada-based audience that is not yet familiar with NFDI4Memory.

The new edition of Href will be organized into three series:

1) One new series, developed in collaboration with Christiane Weber from the VDH (Association of Historians in Germany), will be titled “Hätte ich das mal eher gewusst … Was Historiker:innen und historisch Arbeitende mit digitalen Ansätzen ihrem jüngeren Ich raten würden.” This series will feature short interviews with emerging scholars discussing their experiences with digital tools and methods and will be predominantly in German. The first post in the series, an interview will Holle Meding, Freie Universität Berlin, Institute for Latin American Studies, will be published on March 1. We hope to share new interviews at least once a month.

2) The other new series will be a forum reflecting on Critical Data Literacy in the Humanities and Social Sciences. This series will include short articles and interviews related to a group bibliography on Critical Data Literacy that is currently being organized in collaboration with students in information science from the TU Darmstadt. The bibliography is being put together using the Zotero platform and can be found here: https://www.zotero.org/groups/5121403/4memory_data_literacy

This series will also provide a forum for occasional conference reports, and as a platform to support the preparation of the textbook Historical Data Criticism and Sustainable RDM which will be produced as part of the 4Memory’s “Data Literacy” project.

3) The third series continues in our established Href tradition and will offer a forum for reflections about digitized primary source materials in studying, teaching, and researching German and global history. The Href team welcomes inquiries for potential submissions.

Contact: Katharina Hering: hering@ghi-dc.org

Thanks to Atiba Pertilla, Christiane Weber, Kelly McCullough, and Daniel Burckhardt for their helpful feedback and revisions of an earlier draft of this editorial note.

Women’s and Gender History in the Digital Age: The “Helene-Lange-Archiv” and its Potential for Historical Research and Education

Editorial note: Hannah Voß has finished her undergraduate degree in History and English and American Studies at the University of Münster and is currently in the last semester of completing her master’s degree in history. Her bachelor’s thesis focused on the role of “New German Dance” in the period of National Socialism in Germany. Her current research interests include the history of National Socialism and the Holocaust as well as the history of social movements, Gender, and Queer History. In her master’s thesis, Hannah will analyze the women’s and lesbian movement in Germany in the 1970s and 1980s. She has also been a part of the curating team of the 2022 historic exhibition “Queer Münster. Eine andere Geschichte der Stadt / A Different History of the City.”

Born in 1848, Helene Lange became one of the most important representatives of the moderate wing of the German women’s movement in the late 19th and early 20th century. She immersed herself in the fight for women’s rights and education and became known as the author of the Yellow Brochure (1887), in which she sharply criticized the state of girls’ education. In 1890, she founded the General German Association of Women Teachers (ADLV). As a teacher, women’s rights activist, and politician, she made a decisive contribution to enabling German women from the middle classes to study and to opening up career opportunities for them.

Today, the Helene-Lange-Archiv (HLA), which is part of the Landesarchiv Berlin (Berlin State Archives), bears her name. In addition to parts of Helene Lange’s written legacy, the archive brings together the papers of a number of associations and societies advocating on behalf of women’s education, training, and careers.  Large parts of the HLA have been digitized and are integrated into the Digital German Women’s Archive (DDF). The HLA focuses on the moderate wing of the middle-class women’s movement of the late 19th and the early 20th century as well as on two “radical” women’s associations of the movement. Most of the archive’s collections are now openly accessible online.

For the most part a digital archive, the HLA offers new possibilities for research on women’s and gender history and for public engagement with this history. Generally, having online access to sources means that researchers no longer need to travel inside or outside the country to review archival collections, which helps with facilitating historical research. Often, digitized sources are also searchable, either as full texts or based on their metadata. Research, which could take hours of flipping pages, can become a matter of seconds. The HLA is already pre-arranged online and organized by topic with the level of detail varying depending on the size of the collection. For example, anyone wishing to research Helene Lange’s archival legacy can retrieve digitized material under titles such as “Letters by and to Helene Lange”, “Writings by Helene Lange (Brochures, Journal Articles, Typescripts)”, “Journal Articles on the Women’s Movement, the Reform of Girls’ Secondary Schools and the Admission of Women to University Studies”, and more.[1]

However, online access to digitized material is not only about making the lives of established professional historians easier. It also gives those researchers access to sources who don’t have a strong institutional and financial support system. This is especially relevant for women’s and gender historians. In Germany, relevant gender history research is frequently carried out by doctoral and postdoctoral researchers who often work under precarious employment conditions.

The development of the HLA and the DDF also needs to be situated in the context of the development and institutionalization of women’s and gender history at universities in the United States, Western Europe, as well as other countries. In the 1960s in the USA and 1970s in many European countries, including Germany, women’s history emerged as its own field in the time of new social movements, especially the women’s movement. Building on work by women’s history pioneers, such as Mary Ritter Beard, Gerda Lerner created the first graduate program in women’s history in the US at Sarah Lawrence College in 1972. From the 1980s onwards, women’s and gender history gained acceptance and became more widespread at history faculties in the United States.[2] In Germany, the institutionalization of women’s and gender history took longer than in the US. In 1986, Annette Kuhn held the first chair in “Didactics of History, Medieval and Modern History, and Women’s History” in Bonn. In the 1990s, there were only three chairs at West German universities specializing in women’s or gender history. Still today, as women’s and gender history have become established fields of study at many German universities, there is still work to do. The field needs adequate funding for new research programs and could be more firmly anchored at universities.

From the beginning, women’s and gender historians aimed to discover new sources while reading existing sources through a different lens in order to counter the inherent male bias with which many sources had been interpreted before. The vast collection of sources on women’s associations and their politics, discussions, and individual members within the HLA makes this undertaking easier. Based on these collections, researchers can analyze a range of questions, including how women organized themselves during the Kaiserreich (German Empire) and the newly established Weimar Republic; how they formed different interest groups on local and state levels, how these groups interacted with each other and transformed in the wake of the Nazi movement and the NSDAP’s rise to power.

Online archives like the HLA also open up new possibilities for transnational research and comparative studies. What did women’s engagement look like under different circumstances in different countries in the early 20th century? How did women’s interest groups evolve in a newly established democracy? Questions like these can rarely be investigated based on source material from one’s own country of residence alone. And while driving or even flying to another country for archival visits might be possible for some researchers, it is easier (and cheaper) to visit an archive in a foreign country from the comfort of one’s own workplace. This can, in turn, spark the interests of more historians in transnational or comparative projects on women and gender, which makes the field even more diverse and thought-provoking.

Nevertheless, the HLA and other archives alike do not only benefit the academic historical profession. They are a great, accessible resource for teachers and other educators trying to incorporate women’s and gender history into common – often male-centered – historical narratives found in textbooks and curriculums. In Cornelsen’s Forum Geschichte for German high school students in North Rhine Westphalia, for example, there are 40 pages on the Weimar Republic, out of which two focus specifically on women’s rights.[3] In Westermann’s Zeiten und Menschen, there are none.[4] The HLA’s collection on the ADLV could, for example, provide first-hand accounts of women’s engagement in associations and politics on an individual as well as structural level in the Weimar Republic which can be connected to a variety of topics concerning the development of the first democratic German state.

Making archival material on women’s and gender history accessible online thus enables many small-scale developments: Historical research on the topic becomes more inclusive within and outside of the profession; historians can broaden the horizon of their research topics; women’s and gender history may receive more recognition in textbooks and education in general. What might appear as small-scale then has an impact on the bigger picture. In times where the legitimacy of women’s and gender history is still being questioned by some in- and outside of university campuses, archives like the HLA enable researchers and educators to anchor the field more equally in the historical canon. This acknowledges that women have always played a role in history no matter the time, place, or situation and that looking at the role of gender as a fundamental organizational category of society can give us new insights about past and present.  


1 It would be desirable for the digitized collections of the HLA to be searchable in full text in the future.

2 In 1986, Joan W. Scott published her essay “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”, now often considered a “classic”.

3 Forum Geschichte 3: Nordrhein-Westfalen Gymnasium G9. Berlin: Cornelsen, 2021, pp. 130-132.

4 Bethlehem, Siegfried et al. (eds.). Zeiten und Menschen: Geschichte: Qualifikationsphase Oberstufe Nordrhein-Westfalen. Braunschweig: Westermann, 2015.

Image References

1) Helene-Lange-Archiv. Verschiedenes Material über Helene Lange, in: B Rep. 235-11 – Nachlass Helene Lange. https://www.meta-katalog.eu/Record/BRep235116MFNr36003601VerschiedenesMathla/HierarchyTree?recordI D=BRep235116MFNr36003601VerschiedenesMathla#?#tree-BRep235116MFNr36003601VerschiedenesMathla &showDigitalObject=&c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=&r=.

2) Helene-Lange-Archiv. Glückwünsche, Würdigungen, Programme und Ansprachen von Feiern zu Helene Lange’s 80. Geburtstag (9. April 1928), in: B Rep. 235-11 – Nachlass Helene Lange 1928. https://www.meta-katalog.eu/Record/BRep235117MFNr36013607GlckwnscheWrdiguhla/HierarchyTree?recordID=BRep235117MFNr36013607GlckwnscheWrdiguhla#?#tree-BRep235117MFNr36013607GlckwnscheWrdiguhla&showDigitalObject=&c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=&r=.

3) Lange, Helene. “Steht die Frauenbewegung am Ziel oder am Anfang?” Die Frau. Sonderabdruck (1921): 1-14. Helene-Lange-Archiv. Schriften von Helene Lange (Broschüren, Zeitschriftenaufsätze, Typoskripte), in: B Rep. 235-11 – Nachlass Helene Lange. https://www.meta-katalog.eu/Record/ BRep235113MFNr35973599SchriftenvonHelehla/HierarchyTree?recordID=BRep235113MFNr35973599SchriftenvonHelehla#?#tree-BRep235113MFNr35973599SchriftenvonHelehla&showDigitalObject=&c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=&r =.

4) Beckmann, Emmy. “Abbau und weibliche Beamte.“ Deutsche Lehrerinnenzeitung: Organ des Allgemeinen Deutschen Lehrerinnenvereins 41, no. 17 (15 September 1924): 129-130. Helene-Lange-Archiv. Zeitschriftenartikel u.a. zu den Volksschulen, zum Personalabbau und Mädchenschulwesen, in: B Rep. 235-03 Allgemeiner Deutscher Lehrerinnen-Verein (ADLV) 1924–1925. https://www.meta-katalog.eu/Record/BRep2350341 Zeitschriftenarthla/HierarchyTree?recordID=BRep2350341Zeitschriftenarthla#?#tree-BRep2350341Zeitschriftenart hla&showDigitalObject=&c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=&r=.

5) Beckmann, Emmy. “Kampf gegen die Doppelverdiener und der Abbau der verheirateten Lehrerin.“ Allgemeiner Deutscher Lehrerinnenverein (A.D.L.V.). Helene-Lange-Archiv. Schriftwechsel mit weiblichen Abgeordneten und Eingaben, in: B Rep. 235-03 Allgemeiner Deutscher Lehrerinnen-Verein (ADLV) 1922-1933. https://www.meta-katalog.eu/Record/BRep2350337Schriftwechselmihla/HierarchyTree?recordID=BRep2350337Schriftwechselmihla#?#tree-BRep2350337Schriftwechselmihla&showDigitalObject=&c=&m=&s=&cv=&xywh=&r=.

Literature

Blom, Ida. “Global Women’s History: Organising Principles and Cross-Cultural Unterstandings.” In: Writing Women’s History: International Perspectives, edited by Karen M. Offen, Ruth Roach Pierson, and Jane Rendall, 135-149. London et al.: MacMillan, 1991.

Bock, Gisela. Frauen in der europäischen Geschichte: Vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart. München: Beck, 2000.

Bridenthal, Renate, and Claudia Koonz. “Introduction“. In: Becoming Visible: Women in European History, edited by Renate Bridenthal, and Claudia Koonz, 1-10. Boston et al.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1977.

Dayton, Cornelia H., and Lisa Levenstein. “The Big Tent of U.S. Women’s and Gender History: A State of the Field.” Journal of American History 99, no. 3 (December 2012): 793–817. https://doi.org/10.1093/jahist/jas454.

Frevert, Ute, Christina Vanja, and Heide Wunder. “Historical Research on Women in the Federal Republic of Germany.” In: Writing Women’s History: International Perspectives, edited by Karen M. Offen, Ruth Roach Pierson, and Jane Rendall, 291-331. London et al.: MacMillan, 1991.

“Geschlechtergeschichte. Herausforderungen und Chancen, Perspektiven und Strategien: Ein Positionspapier.“ H-Soz-Kult, 9/19/2023. <www.hsozkult.de/debate/id/fddebate-138660>.

Hagemann, Karen. “Gleichberechtigt? Frauen in der bundesdeutschen Geschichtswissenschaft.“ Zeithistorische Forschungen/Studies in Contemporary History (Online-Edition) 13, no. 1 (2016). https://doi.org/10.14765/zzf.dok-1418.

Heinsohn, Kirsten, and Claudia Kemper. “Geschlechtergeschichte, Version: 1.0.“ Docupedia-Zeitgeschichte, 12/4/2012. http://docupedia.de/zg/Geschlechtergeschichte.

Klarfeld, Roman Aron. “Gesammelter Feminismus: Das Berliner FFBIZ.“ Werkstatt Geschichte 75 (2017): 43–48. https://werkstattgeschichte.de/alle_ausgaben/in-bewegung/.

Kurvinen, Heidi. “Towards Digital Histories of Women’s Suffrage Movements: A Feminist Historian’s Journey to the World of Digital Humanities.” In: Digital Histories: Emergent Approaches within the New Digital History, edited by Mats Fridlund, Mila Oiva, and Petri Paju, 149–163. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.33134/HUP-5-9.

Offen, Karen M., Ruth Roach Pierson, and Jane Rendall. “Introduction.” In: Writing Women’s History: International Perspectives, edited by Karen M. Offen, Ruth Roach Pierson, and Jane Rendall, xix-xli. London et al.: MacMillan, 1991.

Schroeder, Hiltrud. “Helene Lange.“ Digitales Deutsches Frauenarchiv (2021). https://www.digitales-deutsches-frauenarchiv.de/akteurinnen/helene-lange. Last visited 12/12/2023.

Scott, Joan W. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” The American Historical Review 91, no. 5 (1986): 1053–75. https://doi.org/10.2307/1864376.

Reflections on the Process of Network Analysis Dataset Creation Using Line Content Classification with Python

By Simon Krahé

Editorial note: Simon Krahé is finishing his undergraduate studies in English and American Studies, History and Computer Science at the University of Wuppertal. He will use network analysis methods in his bachelor’s thesis. His research interests include digital humanities and digital history practices, especially the use of Natural Language Processing (NLP) methods on large corpora of cultural heritage data.

Network analysis can be a valuable tool for digital history research: it can lead to new insights into social structures of historical actors and organizations and can also track developments with a diachronic approach, i.e. comparing data at different points in time. In the past months, I have been doing network analysis as part of a larger project at the GHI in Washington, DC, by Prof. Dr. Simone Lässig analyzing the history of the Arnhold family. 1 The Arnholds were a German Jewish family that operated a family bank in Dresden since 1864. Members of the family were part of a larger business network in Germany and also served as board members at other companies. In the context of this project, network analysis offers the opportunity to examine changes in a network of board members and corresponding companies in Germany in the 1920s and 30s. In the following blog, I will demonstrate how structured print data can be efficiently, without manual transcription or correction, converted into a dataset that can be further used for such a network analysis. The basis for this is the 1932 “Adreßbuch der Direktoren und Aufsichtsräte (Band 1)” (address book of directors and boards, volume one),2 I have used a Python Jupyter notebook for the implementation.3

From Page to Digital Artifact

As a first step, I examined the source material visually to determine its capability for digitization. A typical page (see fig. 1) of the address book consists of five types of content: page numbers (red), name lines (blue) that include names, titles and often a listed occupation, addresses (green) with varying amount of specificity, position descriptions (purple), and the companies the descriptions relate to (yellow). Fortunately, at a first glance, all of these types can be distinguished based on their formal characteristics such as being aligned to the left or the right, the level of indentation and the use of italics, which makes these pages a promising case for efficient digitization (here meaning a transformation to a digital queryable format that preserves the semantic context of the print data).

Figure 1: Page 10 of the 1932 address book with the different data types highlighted 4

After assessing the page layout, the document had to be scanned. Luckily, the German Museum, a museum dedicated to the history of science and technology, has already digitized the address book and made it available online. The next step was to extract the text itself, which further requires the use of optical character recognition (OCR) techniques. While there are multiple software solutions for OCR, I used Transkribus with the Transkribus Print M1 model for this project due to its superior accuracy compared to Tesseract 5 and Abbyy FineReader 14, which performed poorer.5 In addition, Transkribus made it easier to work with its output data for the purpose of this network analysis.

Transkribus’ user interface structurally mimics the output of the format it provides, PRIMA PAGE XML. One can see a hierarchical structure that consists of regions, within which lines reside. Lines consist of smaller lines that are drawn between individual points, as can bee seen in fig. 2. The points’ coordinates are aligned to the top left of the overall area. The PAGE XML representation (fig. 3) also includes the coordinates of the line on a word level, but this has no further use here. Rather, the XML elements “TextLine” and its children “coords” andTextEquiv”/”Unicode” contain the information on the coordinates of the text and the text itself. It becomes clear here that the text can be processed on a line-by-line basis.6 In the specific example shown in fig. 2 and 3, the original line “Agethen, Franz;” is split into multiple “Word” elements (namely “Agethen,” and “Franz,”) in the OCR output with each having specific coordinates. The entire line’s content, “Agethen, Franz,” is seen in line 58 of fig. 3, and its coordinates in line 43 respectively.

Figure 2: Transkribus user interface7

Figure 3: XML representation of the same excerpt8

Line by Line Processing

Interfacing with the XML documents that contain the lines was done through the “xml” package for Python. For each “TextLine” element, I saved its coordinates and the associated text. I did not, however, require all coordinates since the maximum and minimum values for the x and y axes are enough to assess which area is covered by the line. These, alongside the coordinates for the maximum values of the text on the overall page, were saved.

Figure 4: XML representation of a line with the information that is saved or further processed highlighted

This information was then sufficient to classify each line. The following rules, applied in this order, constitute the basic algorithm applied. Some edge cases requiring extra consideration are introduced at a later point in this post.

  1. If a line begins at the very left of a page, i.e., its leftmost point is close* to the left edge of the line positions, it is considered a name line, containing the name and potentially other information like the occupation of a person.

  2. If a line is indented only once and its rightmost point is not close* to the right page edge, it is classified as the beginning of a new company name. Indentation can be measured with a constant that describes the starting position relative to the overall page width. Excluding lines that border the right edge of the page minimizes false positives in the form of long addresses that spread so far left into the line starts at the same point that company information lines do.
    An exemption occurs if no position description (e.g. “board member of”) was read between the last read person and the given line; in this case it is not a company name, but a continuation of the person’s name on a second line. Here, the line’s content is added to the previous line and the current line itself is set to be ignored in further processing.

  3. If a line is indented twice and does not reach the right margin of the page,* it is assumed to contain a position description.
    A similar edge case to above applies, as long company names that continue on the following line are then indented again, starting on the same level. A distinction can be easily made by the human eye, as position descriptions are written in italics and company names are not. Unfortunately, neither is this information transcribed in any of the tested sufficiently well performing OCR tools, nor is the rule of using italics applied without exception by the original authors.9 However, there is still a way to distinguish the two fields as the position description text is thankfully quite predictable. By examining the source materials, certain keywords can be found with which the differentiation can be made.

  4. If the line reaches the right edge of the page*, it contains an address.

  5. If neither of the previous cases applies, the line is classified as unclear. This result is logged.

* tolerance margins apply

Once the initial classification process had been completed, I moved on to the next step and revisited all lines for the purpose of encoding the relationships contained within the data. The principal logic behind this step is quite simplistic as the following lines illustrate:

After a person entry is read:
After an address entry is read:
Add the address as that person’s address in their dataset
After a position information entry is read:
After a company is read:
Add the company to the person’s dataset under the above relationship

The stored data at this point then closely resembled the print version, as seen in fig. 5.

Figure 5: Excerpt of data saved internally in dictionaries and lists

In implementing and testing these algorithms, some edge cases can occur that have to be considered. That is, for example, the case for multi-line companies and names, which I have described above. Additional challenges may arise when Transkribus generates two separate lines in situations where a human reader would not. This situation typically occurs when there are extended pauses in the scanned text, which do not necessarily indicate a transition to a different content category.

Figure 6: One line is split in two, see the small line index in front of the word “Bergwerksdirektor”10

Only one out of two lines can be accurately classified based on its starting position. The content from the other line must be merged with that of its adjacent line, after which the original line will be disregarded in subsequent processing. Neighborhood is determined by the closeness of one line’s minimum x value and another’s maximum x value, while they are on a similar average y-value, i.e. when they are close together, which a human would perceive as a ‘normal’ line. While this sounds straightforward so far, the unintuitive case of the first line in the determined reading order being to the right of its neighbor needs to be considered as well. This occurs when the rightmost line is a bit higher than its neighbor. This behavior turns out to be an even bigger problem when it leads to addresses being listed right before the person they belong to, requiring special cases for such behavior in the above algorithm.

Figure 7: Constants, including keywords that are used in the classification and grouping processes

Towards a Network

At the end of this process, we will need to consider the data points necessary to facilitate the implementation of a network analysis. The purpose of this specific network analysis was to identify relationships from person to person based on their mutual relationship to a company. This does, however, require that the company is recorded with the same name for both persons. At this point, errors caused by noisy OCR become visible. Without error correction, even a small mistake such as reading “in” as “m” could lead to associations not being made, which extends to network analysis metrics being imprecise as well. To find a solution, I had to check the company names that are being read against a list of already existing company names. If the string of a company’s name is close enough to another for it to be considered the same company with an OCR error in the transcript, the two names are automatically consolidated based on that criterion. Closeness in this case is measured with Levenshtein distance, i.e., the number of characters that need to be modified for string a to become string b.11

Once this error correction was completed, I exported the data. The use of simple structures to save it allowed for quick traversal. From the data, I created a NetworkX network in Python to export directly to the gexf format used in other network analysis tools such as Gephi. Furthermore, the data can also be exported to comma separated value (CSV) files (one for persons, companies, and their respective relation each) to facilitate reusing the dataset with other tools.

Observations on the Implementation Process and Further Work Needed

While the initial design and implementation of the algorithms for line classification and recreation of the hierarchy of the print source seems straightforward, troubleshooting, adjusting the constants and accounting for edge cases unsurprisingly proved to be very labor intensive. This was partially due to this specific project that required a low consistent error rate. I have successfully tested the script with a multi-page source sample. I was unable to process the entire address book straight away as some of the pages contain ads which need to be filtered out first.

To further improve the program, the processes of line merging (for lines with the same and with different heights), restructuring the data into hierarchical form, as well as cleaning and separating data within the now differentiated fields (such as a company name from the city of the company on the same line, a person’s occupation from their first and last name, etc.) will need to be improved. If we test the process with a larger test set, we can also expect additional edge cases.

Nevertheless, the working script proved to be much more efficient than manual transcription would have been. The potential reuse of the working script for address books from other years that follow the same stylistic guidelines makes it even more attractive. As a proof of concept, the process demonstrates the potential advantages of using digital methods to curate datasets for historical analyses of networks. Processing the full address book based on the workflow that I have outlined would be worthwhile, and promises to yield interesting insights into the shifting landscape of board memberships in 20th century Germany.

1 See the research overview of “Family and Enterprise in the Age of Industry” (https://www.ghi-dc.org/research/german-european-history/family-and-enterprise-in-the-age-of-industry), last accessed December 13, 2023, for more.

2 Mossner, Julius (ed.): Adreßbuch der Direktoren und Aufsichtsräte Band I. Jahrgang 1932., Berlin, 1932. https://digital.deutsches-museum.de/de/digital-catalogue/library-object/904368/, last accessed December 13, 2023.

3 At this point, credit should be given to Vanessa Tissen, whom I cooperated with on the wider effort of using network analysis methods to gain insights into the Arnholds’ network and with whom I developed the objectives of the script in the project context together.

4 Mossner: Adreßbuch, p. 10.

5 Nevertheless, OCR errors still occurred, such as the semicolon in the example given in the following figures being recognized as a comma due to the light print on its dot.

6 The underlying assumption for this process is that no two types of content intermingle on a single line. While, in case of a short name and a short address, these are printed at the same height, constituting a line in a human readable sense, the empty space between the two elements prompts Transkribus to create two distinct line elements.

7 The shown excerpt is from Mossner: Adreßbuch, p. 10.

8 The shown excerpt is from Mossner: Adreßbuch, p. 10.

9 See, for example, Mossner: Adreßbuch, p. 6, under the entries of the Cologne Mayor Conrad Adenauer.

10 The shown excerpt is from Mossner: Adreßbuch, p. 6.

11 As an example, the strings “abcd” and “abba” have a Levenshtein distance of two.

The U.S. in the (Digital) World: Working with the Foreign Relations of the United States Series in 2023

By Linus Lanfermann-Baumann

Editorial note: Having finished his undergraduate studies in History and English at Göttingen University, Linus Lanfermann-Baumann is in the final phase of his master’s degree in History at Heidelberg University. He also spent a virtual semester abroad at McMaster University and was a visiting graduate student at Yale University in 2022-23. His research on German migration to Canada during the Weimar Republic is forthcoming in the Oldenburger Jahrbuch, and his study of public memories of the Communist resistance against Nazism in Western Germany is forthcoming in the Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforschung. His current interests include U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War and inter-American relations. Linus completed his internship at the GHI Washington in the summer of 2023.

The Foreign Relations of the United States series, prepared by the State Department’s Office of the Historian and commonly known under its abbreviation FRUS, is one of the longest-standing, most prolific, and most cited publication series of edited historical sources in the United States and around the world. As such, it plays a prominent role in researching and teaching the history of U.S. foreign affairs. In recent years, the Office of the Historian has digitized most of the more-than-500 individual volumes in what is by now a well-advanced (if still ongoing) process. The purpose of this blog entry is to introduce the series by briefly tracing its history, to evaluate the various ways of accessing FRUS materials online, and to offer a glimpse of digitized historical sources beyond FRUS that can also be used to study and teach U.S. foreign relations.

 

162 Years and Going

The Foreign Relations series was started in 1861, some eight months into the Civil War, under President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of State William H. Seward. Since then, it has undergone major organizational and conceptual transformations that those using the series should be roughly aware of.[1] The first thing to note is that, essentially, FRUS is the executive branch of the U.S. government reporting on itself. This official nature has always entailed a fundamental tension between the government’s parallel interests in both transparency and secrecy – the first bestowing democratic legitimacy, the second protecting national security (or so it is argued).

Between 1861 and 1925, FRUS publications were largely a means for Congress, the legislative branch, to monitor the executive as part of the checks-and-balances system. Editing and review procedures were not highly formalized. This began to change in 1925, however, when Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg issued an order that professionalized the production of future volumes, sparking the interest of academics in the series.

FRUS’s strong focus on State Department records shifted with the expansion of the national security state during the Cold War. Editors began to include documents from other departments and agencies involved in foreign policy and to draw on significant individuals’ private papers. Clearance procedures became more complicated with this documentary expansion, highlighting the ever-present tension between the contradictory needs for transparency and secrecy then shaped by Cold War objectives. Consequently, the “publication lag” (the time between events and their public documentation in the series) rose constantly, reaching more than thirty years by the late 1980s.

The first major FRUS controversy of the Cold War era was the publication under Republican congressional pressure of the “Yalta Papers” in 1955, only ten years after the famed conference attended by then-president Franklin D. Roosevelt, a Democrat.[2] A Historical Advisory Committee (HAC) consisting of academic historians was established as a consequence of this episode and still exists today. Strong criticism was also directed at the 1983 and 1989 volumes that covered U.S. activities in Iran and Guatemala but, hampered by the CIA and a new “Classification/Declassification Center” at the State Department, blatantly omitted much of Washington’s well-known role in overthrowing these countries’ elected leaders in 1953 and 1954.[3] Exacerbated by the resignation of the chair of the HAC, the ensuing crisis led to Congress passing a special FRUS statute in 1991, which demanded that documentation henceforth be “thorough, accurate, and reliable.” The statute thus reconfigured the balance between transparency and secrecy in favor of the former, even if the documentation of the Congo Crisis, the mass killings in Indonesia, and the proposed covert action in Greece during the 1960s continued to draw criticism in the 1990s and early 2000s.[4] Meanwhile, a strategic initiative advanced a plan that would make future volumes more flexible and accessible: electronic publication.

 

The Digitized FRUS

Since the “Future of FRUS” initiative introduced the idea in the late 1990s, efforts at electronic publication and digitization have come a long way.[5] Online access to the series is currently available via the websites of three different institutions: the State Department’s Office of the Historian; the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries; and the commercial database service HeinOnline, otherwise known for its legal materials. Although many purposes may be served by either of these three platforms, there are nevertheless important differences that make them more or less useful depending on the user’s objective. The following table summarizes these differences:

 

 

Office of the Historian (State Department)

University of Wisconsin-Madison

HeinOnline

URL

https://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments

https://search.library.wisc.edu/digital/AFRUS

https://home.heinonline.org/content/foreign-relations-of-the-united-states/

Access

free

free

subscription-based

Completeness

all volumes

375 volumes covering 1861 to 1960 only

all volumes

Online view

full web edition

JPG facsimile preview

PDF facsimile preview

Download options

full ebook download, limited PDF download (only vols. published in 2004 or later)

full PDF download (of available vols., see above)

limited PDF download (200 pages max. per download)

Microfiche supplements

yes

no

yes

 

Perhaps the most intuitive place to look is the official website of the Office of the Historian – which, indeed, has a lot going for it. There is free access, for one, and the content will always be up to date. Now that all the main volumes are available online, the Office is currently publishing updated digital editions of the microfiche supplements compiled in the 1980s and the 1990s that documented the Eisenhower and Kennedy years despite budget restraints.[6] Users have two main options here: They can either use the FRUS web edition, which includes the option to search the full text either of a given volume or across all volumes, or they can download an ebook in either of the EPUB or mobi formats. OCR-searchable PDF versions are also available, but only for volumes published in 2004 or later and for the updated microfiche supplements. Finally, and in line with Barack Obama’s 2009 Open Government Initiative as well as the 2012 Digital Government Strategy, the source files are freely available on GitHub, even leading one scholar to use it as a test case for her proposal of “New Archival History.”[7]

The second option builds on a collaboration between the University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries and the University of Illinois at Chicago Libraries and offers facsimiles of the printed volumes rather than a full-fledged web edition. Like the State Department’s website, the database is freely available and fully searchable, both within a given volume and across the entire series. No FRUS volumes are available beyond those covering the 1958-60 period, however. The key advantage of the University of Wisconsin facsimiles is that all available volumes can be downloaded freely as PDF versions.

Unlike these first two platforms, the HeinOnline database is not freely available but subscription-based. There are institutional subscriptions, however, so that affiliates of certain institutions would not have to pay out of their own pocket to gain access. HeinOnline has all the volumes available at the Office of the Historian website to view online, including full-text search options, and individual chapters can be downloaded as PDF files. Unfortunately, while there does not seem to be a cap on downloads overall, any individual download is limited to 200 pages.

In short: Those who prefer working online with a fully developed web edition rather than facsimiles, or offline with ebooks rather than PDF files, should use the digital materials offered by the Office of the Historian. Those who prefer PDF files and are not interested in the period after 1960 may want to use the University of Wisconsin-Madison database. And those who are looking for PDF files available neither at the Office of the Historian nor the University of Wisconsin Libraries (i.e., volumes published in print before 2004 that cover the post-1960 era) may want to consult HeinOnline.

 

Digitized Sources Beyond FRUS

Of course, there are many further options beyond the Foreign Relations series for studying and teaching U.S. foreign affairs with digitized primary sources. I cannot offer an exhaustive overview here but will merely refer to some of the most important resources.

For starters, the Office of the Historian offers a useful overview of various electronic resources on U.S. foreign affairs. Perhaps most important are the “electronic reading rooms,” a result of one of many amendments to the 1966 Freedom of Information Act. Signed by Bill Clinton in 1996, the so-called “e-FOIA” amendments provided for increased electronic access to government documents requested through FOIA and beyond. For example, electronic reading rooms are available on the CIA, the State Department, and the Department of Defense websites.[8] Declassified documents can also be obtained through the U.S. Declassified Sources Online archive run by the private publisher Gale, the WikiLeaks public library PlusD, and the National Security Archive, a nonprofit organization advocating government transparency.

HeinOnline’s above-mentioned FRUS database holds related subcollections, most of which are also freely available elsewhere. These include various government documents, such as Title 22 (Foreign Relations) of the Code of Federal Regulations, congressional reports, and official publication series of primary sources other than FRUS, such as American Foreign Policy: Current Documents.

Those interested in the role of U.S. presidents in foreign relations can consult the American Presidency Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara, which provides free access to the well-known Public Papers of the Presidents series, originally compiled by the Office of the Federal Register at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and much more. The University of Virginia’s Miller Center runs a useful Presidential Recordings Program whose digital edition offers free access to at least some of the presidential tapes. NARA, furthermore, provides access to some of its electronic records through its Access to Archival Databases (AAD) resource, including State Department telegrams from the 1970s.

Overall, documentation of the historical role of the United States in the (analog) world has increasingly been made available in the digital world. While the FRUS series remains an important archive for many scholars and instructors, numerous other online resources have also facilitated and enriched research and teaching, and they will continue to do so in the foreseeable future as historians dive deeper into the digital age.

[1] The authoritative account of FRUS’s history and the basis for the following remarks is a meticulous self-portrayal by researchers at the Office of the Historian that largely supersedes two earlier article-length assessments by historian Richard W. Leopold. See William B. McAllister et al., Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable”: A History of the Foreign Relations of the United States Series (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, 2015); Richard W. Leopold, “The Foreign Relations Series: A Centennial Estimate,” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 49, no. 4 (1963): 595–612; Richard W. Leopold, “The Foreign Relations Series Revisited: One Hundred Plus Ten,” The Journal of American History 59, no. 4 (1973): 935–57.

[2] Department of State, FRUS: Diplomatic Papers, Conferences at Malta and Yalta, 1945 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1955). The editing institution, the place of publication, and the publisher are the same for all FRUS volumes and omitted in further references.

[3] FRUS: 1952–1954, The American Republics, Volume IV (1983); FRUS: 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954, Volume X (1989). More complete FRUS volumes have since appeared on the U.S. role in these two coups, see FRUS: 1952–1954, Guatemala (2003) and FRUS: 1952–1954, Iran, 1951–1954 (2017), the latter of which was slightly expanded for a second edition in 2018.

[4] FRUS: 1958–1960, Africa, Volume XIV (1992); FRUS: 1961–1963, Volume XX, Congo Crisis (1994); FRUS: 1964–1968, Volume XXVI, Indonesia; Malaysia-Singapore; Philippines (2000); FRUS: 1964–1968, Volume XVI, Cyprus; Greece; Turkey (2002). Some of the more sensitive records on CIA covert action during the Congo Crisis were included much later, see FRUS: 1964–1968, Volume XXIII, Congo, 1960–1968 (2013). Besides the official FRUS history (footnote 1), see also Page Putnam Miller, “We Can’t Yet Read Our Own Mail: Access to the Records of the Department of State,” A Culture of Secrecy: The Government Versus the People’s Right to Know, ed. Athan G. Theoharis (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1998): 186–210. And see Matthew Jones and Paul McGarr, “‘Real Substance, Not Just Symbolism’? The CIA and the Representation of Covert Operations in the Foreign Relations of the United States Series,” Intelligence Studies in Britain and the US: Historiography since 1945, ed. Christopher R. Moran and Christopher J. Murphy (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2013): 65–89.

[5] See McAllister et al., Toward “Thorough, Accurate, and Reliable, 323–24 for the original initiative.

[6] As of August 2023, four out of the thirteen microfiche supplements have been made available online.

[7] Eun Seo Jo, “Foreign Relations of the United States, 1860–1980: A Study in New Archival History” (Stanford University: Ph.D. dissertation, 2020), available at https://purl.stanford.edu/km610md5945. See https://github.com/HistoryAtState/frus for the TEI XML source files (many thanks to Simon Krahé at the University of Wuppertal for his helpful explanations). See also https://history.state.gov/open.

[8] The Department of Defense’s FOIA program is decentralized, see https://open.defense.gov/.

 

 

Navigating the Challenges of OCR-based Research in the Arabic Script and Language

By Maximilien Gudenburg

Editorial note: Maximilien Gudenburg is a student of Global History (M.A.) at the University of Heidelberg, with a special emphasis on American and German history. Before coming to Heidelberg, he completed his bachelor’s degree in History and Islamic Sciences at the University of Freiburg, with a semester abroad at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University. His bachelor’s thesis explored the portrayal of Islam and Middle Eastern countries in Nazi Germany’s largest weekly newspaper (“Das Reich”). He completed his internship at the GHI Washington in the summer of 2023.

With continuous advancements in OCR technology and an ever-growing corpus of digitized material, it comes as little surprise that more and more historians are making use of the ability to comfortably search decades’ worth of publications for keywords. Whether as a tool for quantitative assessments or to gather material for a qualitative analysis, OCR has become a staple in digital history. The technology remains a work in progress, however, and its results can sometimes be subject to severe limitations. This holds true even for Latin script, on which the majority of OCR-related research has been focused in the past. One can imagine the technology’s shortcomings when confronted with other scripts, of which Arabic has been identified as notoriously difficult to crack.[1]

This post aims to explain why Arabic script proves to be so difficult to capture by OCR programs, what problems the Arabic language itself can pose to historians, and how information technology can be used to mitigate these limitations. While neither of these topics can be explored here in full depth, one or two examples each shall serve to outline the general hurdles involved and explore one of the possible solutions at hand. The post assumes newspapers to be the source of choice, however the procedures explained can be applied to any type of digitized text.

Among the several characteristics that make Arabic script difficult to read for machines, two stick out in particular. First, the script is strictly cursive – in contrast to most other widely-used alphabets today. With few exceptions, all letters are directly connected to the letters preceding and succeeding them. This poses a severe challenge for OCR programs having to assess where one letter ends and the next begins – a problem further amplified by the fact that letters can, in some fonts, overlap vertically. Additionally, the cursive nature of the alphabet turns the relatively modest number of 28 letters into a much bigger set of glyphs, since most letters adopt different forms based on whether they appear at the beginning, the middle, or the end of a word.

 Illustration 1: Each of these words consists of the same letter three times in a row, illustrating the different forms they adopt depending on where in a word they are positioned.

Second, Arabic script relies on dots to distinguish between similar letters. As many as three different letters can have the same base form and differ only in the number and location of the dots surrounding them. Especially on older, weary material, these dots (and other small diacritics employed in the script) can easily be mistaken for background noise and thus be filtered out, or merge into hard-to-distinguish shapes.

Illustration 2: Two groups of three letters sharing the same base form.  

 Illustration 3: The left side shows a screenshot from the digitized version of a fifty-year-old newspaper. The right side shows the very same word depicted on the left, but written in computer font. While all glyphs are blurred on the left, the dots of the second and third letter are especially hard to discern.

It is not only the machine-readability of the script that poses problems, however. Even if OCR programs were capable of perfectly reading everything they are fed, challenges would still arise for those trying to process Arabic text with them. This has to do with the processes of transliteration and of translation, both of which entail a plethora of intricacies when it comes to the Arabic script and language. Transliteration (the act of converting words from one script to another) is an endeavor equally difficult in both directions, primarily because not all letters from one alphabet have a direct correspondence in the other.

To demonstrate this, it suffices to look at the name of the current head of state of Egypt. As one can imagine, it has only one correct spelling in Arabic, namely عبد الفتاح السيسي. Yet a brief glimpse into Western newspapers shows that the Latin spelling of his name could not be further from uniform. Variations as different as the following three can be found:

  • Abdul Fattah al-Sissi
  • Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi
  • Abdelfatah el-Sisi

Diversity in transliteration from Arabic to other languages is often increased by inconsistent treatment of what constitutes a proper word and what does not. This can readily be observed in the above example, where the exact same name consists of somewhere between three and five words when transliterated. Transliteration from Western languages into Arabic, in turn, is most often diluted by inconsistent treatment of vowels. While Arabic script contains diacritics to signal short vowels, these are in practice only used as reading aids in the Quran and in children’s books. Consequently, there is some leeway when transliterating short vowels, which must either be transformed into long vowels or skipped altogether.

Beyond transliteration, translation can also be a big obstacle when trying to come up with keywords for an OCR search. With Arabic belonging to an entirely different language family than all European languages (the Afroasiatic family), its syntax rarely allows for direct and obvious translations. An example for this is the Nation of Islam, a US-based Black nationalist organization. Though time has led to a consolidation of its name in Arabic (حركة أمة الإسلام, literally: Movement of the People of Islam), the corresponding translations during the organization’s first period of media coverage show impressive variety. One example would be جماعة أمة الإسلام السوداء (literally: Community of the Islamic Black People).[2] While some translations certainly take more creative freedom than others, a historian seeking to examine the reporting on an organization can hardly afford the luxury of discarding material solely because they disagree with the journalist’s rendition of the organization’s name.

For both the above issues (the imperfect state of OCR and the multitude of spellings and translations for most keywords), partial remedies exist. Since there are several competitive OCR programs for Arabic script, the deficits of one program can be ameliorated by employing a second one. While some are more generally potent than others, this does not imply strict superiority concerning individual words. Even if a software recognizes 70% of all words and another only recognizes 60%, this does not mean that all of the latter’s 60% are contained within the former’s 70%. Dual wielding these programs could thus increase the overall recognition, if only slightly. Utilizing more than two programs could well increase the yield even further, although diminishing returns are to be expected as the number of programs in use increases.

Concerning the multiple spelling variations for individual names, most OCR programs allow for the use of query syntax. This way, several different spellings can be searched for simultaneously. However, the total amount of characters per search is usually limited. This is especially bothersome since, with meticulous application of combinatorics, a single name can easily produce several dozen variations (an exercise for the curious would be to try and find all possible combinations for as-Sisi’s three transliterations above). Consequently, the process of running only one issue of a newspaper through all programs and then searching the results for all possible keyword variations might well take more time than it would have to just skim through the issue manually.

The question thus arises as to whether something can be done to improve the reliability of the OCR process without significantly increasing the overall workload. The answer to this is yes, and the concept is almost intriguingly plain: one simply needs to let the machine do even more work. The way to do so is to use a programming language to give the computer specific instructions, which is a lot easier than many people realize. While most historians react to the sheer prospect of coding about the same way a deer reacts to a headlight, this inherent fear of anything potentially involving mathematics is – as so often – unwarranted. Not all programming languages can be operated by only a small subset of well-trained and experienced people. In fact, many of them are designed specifically so that they can be relatively easily picked up by the general public.

One such language is Python, which is renowned for being comparatively easy to learn and an excellent choice for automating administrative and repetitive tasks.[3] With a lot of free learning resources, it is a matter of days, rather than weeks or months, for anyone to become sufficiently proficient in the language to automate simple tasks. With Python, a computer could, for instance, be instructed to perform the following tasks: open the digital archive of a newspaper, save every single issue under a specific, corresponding name, run all issues through all available OCR programs, save the results in a different set of documents, and then search and mark these for all possible name variations. While setting up a sequence like this might take a day or two, it can save weeks of manual labor in return – not to speak of preventing the mental fatigue from having to save, name, and search possibly thousands of documents by hand.

Of course, this still does not guarantee adequate results. Even the combined force of several OCR programs can fail to deliver sufficient results if the quality of the source material is too low. Whether the findings are suited for the task at hand is ultimately up to the researcher to decide. An easy way to get a first impression is to manually assemble a list of articles containing the relevant keywords, and then to check how many of those are found by the previously established process.

Even if this approach turns out to be futile for a specific project, basic programming skills are generally a valuable tool to acquire, especially in the field of digital history. While the necessity for automation is particularly apparent when it comes to Arabic script OCR, there are more than enough other situations where tech-savvy historians can rid themselves of strenuous tasks by adding only a few lines of well-constructed code.

[1] Faisal Alkhateeb, Iyad Abu Doush, Abdelraoaf Albsoul: Arabic Optical Character Recognition Software. A Review, pp. 764­–765, in: Pattern Recognition and Image Analysis Nr. 4 (2017), pp. 763–776.

[2] al-Ahram, April 12, 1968, p. 5.

[3] See for instance: Al Sweigart: Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. Practical Programming for Total Beginners, San Francisco 2015.

 

 

Social Media as Social Movement Archives

By Charlie Kleinfeld

Editorial note: Charlie Kleinfeld is currently finishing his Masters degree in American Studies from Leipzig University. He is writing his thesis on the uses and symbolism of food in U.S. hegemony in post-Cold War Europe. His primary research interests include intellectual histories of post-1945 political philosophy, with a particular focus on the relationships between national identity, ecology, and globalisation. He also has general interests in spatialization and the history of North American labour and climate activism, as well as public memory. He completed his internship at the GHI Washington in spring 2023.

In 2010, as Twitter was emerging as a dominant digital communications platform, a newly formed partnership between the social media site and the Library of Congress (LOC) set the stage for an unprecedented archival project. In exchange for Twitter’s entire archive thus far, the LOC announced its intention to preserve every single tweet moving forward, at the time totalling around 55 million a day.[1] Twitter was heralded as a “second-by-second history of ordinary people,”[2] and the project as crucial for the future study of the twenty-first century. This view was seemingly vindicated the following year, as Twitter was seen to play a vital role in the Arab Spring, particularly as it played out in Egypt (although the precise role of social media in causing the Arab Spring is often challenged,[3] the platform certainly helped document the protests, serving as a pipeline of information to interested parties abroad.[4]) The LOC’s project therefore grew from an archive of everyday life to a sweeping social history of a revolution. Since then, we have seen many social movements—from BlackLivesMatter to the Women’s March to Extinction Rebellion—either emerge out of Twitter or use the site as an instrument to substantially grow its support base[5] and build traction. In addition, election campaigns have moved online, now predominately taking place over social media. With the LOC documenting and preserving all of this, the history of the 2010s was being written on social media.

Debates around social media ownership often revolve around its perceived role as a public square. The conversations that occur on Twitter and Facebook are said to fundamentally shape public discourse; therefore, the power to set the rules of these conversations, to ban individuals from contributing, and to promote or suppress certain topics constitutes a highly contested political issue. In the run up to his acquisition of Twitter, billionaire Elon Musk claimed that the current management of the site was failing to “rigorously adhere to the principle” of free speech, [6] and former CEO Jack Dorsey expressed a desire to make the platform open-sourced, unmasking the algorithm that decides which posts make it to a user’s feed and opening it up to public scrutiny.

However, often overlooked yet equally political in scope is social media’s role as a social archive. Twitter’s hashtag feature has not only given birth to various social movements but has also provided a toolset for historians to analyse and document the early histories of these movements; sociologists to document organising tactics and growth patterns; and most crucially activists themselves to construct coherent identities, facilitating the reproduction of their movement. This is most evident when looking at BlackLivesMatter, which was able to use a hashtag to turn individual grief and shock at the murder of Trayvon Martin into an organised, coherent movement[7] lasting over a decade. A big part of the resiliency of this movement was the very fact that new activists have access to the entire history of the hashtag and are able to trace it back to its origins, situating their contemporary struggle in historical context.

Three years after the LOC’s announcement, MySpace—itself a dominant digital communications platform for much of the previous decade—deleted its entire archive. The technology company had been struggling for years to keep up with emergent competitors and following several corporate restructurings and platform redesigns, the website made all user blogs inaccessible without warning,[8] effectively wiping out a decade of content. This case study reveals two interconnected pitfalls of a born digital social media archive: the ease at which they can disappear, and the fact that their fates lie not with the userbase of the platform, but with higher-level corporate machinations. These platforms are ultimately businesses, and their archives ultimately belong to their executives.

The LOC ended its tweet preservation project less than eight years in, [9] shifting from archiving all tweets automatically to preserving them “on a selective basis … including [during] events such as elections.”[10] And while the accounts of notable public figures are still included in the archive, the vast majority of tweets—those from the “ordinary people” described earlier—lay outside of this scope. This move privileges Twitter’s function as an archive of political history while eliminating its equally important social archive, effectively splitting responsibility over these two roles: The former remains under the domain of the publicly-owned LOC and National Archives (who have custody over official political records), while the latter now falls exclusively under the territory of an erratic billionaire, one who has taken public positions against many of the very social movements that gained traction under the platform he now owns—including BlackLivesMatter[11] and the movement for transgender rights.[12] However, this issue stretches far beyond Elon Musk as an individual, as Carl Öhman—lecturer at Uppsala University—has highlighted: the very business model of Big Tech (to “move fast and break things”)[13] appears at odds with the needs of social archivists. How, then, should we move forward?

Questions of archival ownership have always been controversial, particularly as it pertains to social media archives. Concerns surrounding free speech, public interest, copyright, and privacy must all be carefully balanced against each other. It makes sense that activists may not want their names and posts kept in perpetuity on a government archive, especially as police departments were known to use Twitter to surveille and identify protestors in the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests.[14] However, the LOC and National Archives aren’t the only paths towards the preservation of a social media social history. The Internet Archive promises an archive independent of government control, although it is currently facing legal problems against its Controlled Digital Lending operation on copyright grounds.[15] The “Documenting the Now” initiative[16] introduced ethical considerations of privacy into their archival methods and seemed promising. However, much of their work relies heavily on Twitter’s API, which Musk is substantially reducing access to. If there’s any lesson here, it is that a fundamental (and perhaps irreconcilable) contradiction exists between corporate ownership of social media and the needs of social historians. It may even turn out that social media, once heralded as a key instrument in the formation of new social movements, may ultimately work to undermine the goals of these movements; their corporate structure reversing the significant growth of social movements seen through the 2010s, making once strong and coherent movements again disparate as their archives—and the collective identities upon which they rely—disappear overnight.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/02/business/02digi.html

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/technology/15twitter.html

[3] https://www.pewresearch.org/journalism/2012/11/28/role-social-media-arab-uprisings/

[4] https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/resources/PW80.pdf

[5] https://scholarworks.gvsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1839&context=honorsprojects

[6] https://www.businessinsider.com/elon-musk-polls-twitter-edit-button-ceo-agrawal-results-important-2022-4

[7] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1750698020959799?journalCode=mssa

[8] http://activehistory.ca/2013/06/myspace-is-cool-again-too-bad-they-destroyed-history-along-the-way/

[9] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/12/26/573609499/library-of-congress-will-no-longer-archive-every-tweet

[10] https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/files/2017/12/2017dec_twitter_white-paper.pdf

[11] https://www.forbes.com/sites/carlieporterfield/2022/11/23/musk-wars-with-the-left-left-suggests-activists-killed-moderation-plan-and-baits-black-lives-matter-supporters/?sh=e1c58652aaf4

[12] https://www.thepinknews.com/2022/12/23/elon-musk-trans-tesla/

[13] Öhman, Carl. “The Case for a Digital World Heritage Label.” Information & Culture 57, no. 1 (2022): 82-95. muse.jhu.edu/article/846724.

[14] https://theintercept.com/2020/07/09/twitter-dataminr-police-spy-surveillance-black-lives-matter-protests/

[15] https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2023/03/27/legal-blow-internet-archive-controlled-digital-lending

[16] https://twitter.com/documentnow

 

The World Wide Web of Internationalism: Evaluating Total Digital Access for the League of Nations Archive (LONTAD) and Its Potential for Historical Research

By Valentin Loos

Editorial Note: Having gained his bachelors degree in 2020, Valentin Loos is now a masters student of history and English and American studies at Osnabrück University. His interests include 19th to 21st century migration literature as a form of knowledge production, the history of I(N)GOS as well as the history of transnational migrant regimes. He completed his internship at the GHI Washington, DC, in the fall and winter of 2022.

On 10 January 1920, the League of Nations, one of the first worldwide intergovernmental organisations, was established. Promoting international cooperation while achieving international peace and security was a key part of its mission.

In light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, this goal remains as important as ever. Politicians like the Chancellor of Germany, Olaf Scholz, US President Joe Biden, or NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have been eager to stress their support for Ukraine. At the same time, they have sought diplomatic solutions to end the war. [1] For the international community, the question of how to respond to and deal with Russia’s war of aggression persists.

This year, the League of Nations archive has been completely digitized and made available online. What significance does the archive have in today’s world and context? What can we learn from it about peacekeeping? Can it help inform international responses to Russia’s war against Ukraine? What opportunities does the digital access provide for scholars in transnational history?

The Total Digital Access to the League of Nations Archive (LONTAD) project was completed on 31 October 2022. More than 14.2 million document pages have been digitised. These digital surrogates now provide direct access to the League of Nations’ activities throughout its 26 years of existence between 1920 and 1946.[2] Archivists and librarians of the United Nations Offices in Geneva, which itself is the League of Nations’ successor institution, began establishing operation teams starting in 2017. The objectives of these teams were to improve long-term preservation of the physical documents and to provide and maintain online access to this international archive.[3]

Figure 1: United Nations Archives Geneva: “Project Timeline.” In: LONTAD: Total Digital Access to the League of Nations Archives. Detailed Info, libraryresources.unog.ch/lontad/detailed (last accessed 8 Dec. 2022).

The digital archive covers assembly papers and commission reports as well as bi- and multilateral correspondence between League officials and member state authorities. Navigating LONTAD is quite simple: The archive categorises all source materials according to the responsible committees. This way, finding relevant documents is easy if the body of authority is known. At the same time, LONTAD allows searching for individual terms and phrases. However, there is also room for improvement. For example, LONTAD would benefit immensely from a more dynamic navigation by facilitating full-text search of digitised texts. Similarly, a preview option of digitised material would make the archive more intuitive to use than the current design where users need to download files before they can review them.

The variety and richness of these sources make LONTAD a perfect research venue for historians interested in transnational history, diplomacy, and peace-making processes. Among other examples, the League of Nations’ efforts to avert the occupation of Manchuria by Japan and the assault on Ethiopia by Italian forces ultimately failed. This was mainly because of the reluctance of the most powerful nations – especially Britain and France – to fully engage in the conflict.[4] Archival material from that period can be used to critically evaluate mechanisms of international peacekeeping.

Apart from close-up insights into peacekeeping negotiations, the new digital archive comprises many documents referring to other matters the League of Nations held itself responsible for in its covenant. These sources provide crucial insight into the treatment of minority groups, the trafficking of drugs, free transit and communications policies (e.g. telecommunication, air navigation, and road traffic), trade supervision, and migration.[5] As such, the material digitised in the LONTAD project is relevant for historians from different subject areas.

The study of transnational (refugee) migration regimes, for example, benefits immensely from both the reports of Neill Malcolm, High Commissioner for German refugees between 1936 and 1938, and the Nansen Fonds. The latter holds documents related to the work of Fridtjof Nansen, High Commissioner for Refugees in the early 1920s, who was responsible for the repatriation of thousands of POWs and refugees in the years following World War I.  An in-depth analysis of the corresponding files might help to better illuminate modern transnational cooperation under United Nations governance, such as the World Health Organisation or the UNESCO, as the roots of many UN agencies lie in the League’s commissions. [6]

Figure 2: Screenshot taken from United Nations Archives Geneva: League of Nations Archives, https://archives.ungeneva.org/lontad (last accessed 8 Dec. 2022).

However, such analyses also offer insight into very local dynamics of transnational cooperation. The LONTAD files show that international organisations are a “laboratory of the accords and tensions at work between the international, national, and local scenes and frames of reference.” [7]. Scholars have begun to investigate the intersection of League politics and national developments only recently.[8] Member states like Haiti and Liberia have thus far not received the same attention as their European counterparts.

Similarly, the LONTAD files are rich sources for scholars of women’s history. The archive includes documents related to the Department of Opium Traffic and Social Issues Section, which is the only branch that was spearheaded by a woman, Rachel Crowdy. Crowdy’s activities for the League have only briefly been examined to this date.[9]

Employing a postcolonial perspective, one could also ask questions such as: In which ways did the League of Nations (re-)enforce colonial rule? What role did the League play in the development of anti-colonial movements? How did the League of Nations interact with other transnational organisations which opposed colonialism, like the League against Imperialism?

While the “‘democratization’ of international public records” and “‘ready’ and ‘equal’ access” still seemed to be “a distant hope”[10] in the early 2000s, the digitisation of the League of Nations archive facilitates researchers with an easily accessible, free collection of documents that lends itself to thorough investigation. Similar digitisation projects of other institutions exist but most archives remain offline.[11] If additional transnational organisations – among others the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Organization of American States – follow LONTAD’s example of providing web-based access to their archives, a more nuanced picture of worldwide transnationalism emerges that might help lend greater context to the challenges of today’s globalised world.

I warmly thank Dr. Carolin Liebisch-Gümüş and Jana Keck for their very kind help during the research process for this article.

Further Reading

Fleury, Antoine: The League of Nations. Toward a New Appreciation of Its History. In: Boemke, Manfred F./Feldmann, Gerald D./Glaser, Elisabeth: The Treaty of Versailles. A Reassessment after 75 Years, Cambridge 1998.

Jackson, Simon/O’Malley, Alanna: The Institution of International Order. From the League of Nations to the United Nations (Routledge Studies in Modern History Series), Milton 2018.

Pedersen, Susan: The Guardians. The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire. Oxford 2015.

Sluga, Glenda/Clavin, Patricia (Ed.): Internationalisms. A Twentieth-Century History, Cambridge 2017.

Footnotes

[1] Gilchrist, Karen: ‘Stop This War Immediately,’ NATO Chief Tells Putin, Says Military Alliance Has Been Strengthened. Accessed through: cnbc.com/2022/03/16/nato-chief-to-putin-stop-this-war-immediately-calls-for-diplomacy-.html, 16 Mar. 2022 (last accessed: 8 Dec. 2022); Cohen, Roger/Kanno-Youngs, Zolan: Biden Says He Is Willing to Talk to Putin about Ukraine, with Conditions. Accessed through: nytimes.com/2022/12/01/us/politics/biden-macron-putin-ukraine.html, 1 Dec. 2022 (last accessed: 8 Dec. 2022); and Solomon, Erika: Germany’s Leader, in a Call with Putin, Vows Continued Support for Ukraine. Accessed through: nytimes.com/2022/12/02/world/germany-ukraine-support-putin.html, 2 Dec. 2022 (last accessed: 8 Dec. 2022).

[2] UN Library and Archives Geneva: “Today, the “Total Digital Access to the #LeagueofNations Archives” (#LONTAD) ends its operation. 14,200,000+ pages! Discover the work of the staff who are behind this major digitzation project: tinyurl.com/umn3kw7s. Consult the archives: archives.ungeneva.org”, twitter.com/UNOGLibrary/status/1587074412775321601?s=20&t=GH12G9M0GkCY33O9HhTRQw, 31 Oct. 2022 (last accessed 8 Dec. 2022).

[3] United Nations Archives Geneva: LONTAD: Total Digital Access tot he League of Nations Archives. Detailed Info, libraryresources.unog.ch/lontad/detailed (last accessed 8 Dec. 2022).

[4] Pedersen, Susan: “Back to the League of Nations.” In: The American Historical Review 112: 4 (2007): 1091-1117; 1093.

[5] League of Nations: The Covenant of the League of Nations. Versailles 1920. Accessed through: ungeneva.org/en/library-archives/league-of-nations/covenant (last accessed 30 Nov. 2022)

[6] Pedersen 2007, 1112.

[7] Kott, Sandrine: “International Organizations. A Field of Research for a Global History.” In: Zeithistorische Forschungen. Studies in Contemporary History 3 (2011), S. 445-453: 449.

[8] See for example Hell, Stefan: Siam and the League of Nations. Modernisation, Sovereignity and Multilateral Diplomacy, 1920-1940. Bangkok 2010 and Liebisch-Gümüş, Carolin: Verflochtene Nationenbildung. Die Neue Türkei und der Völkerbund 1918-38 (Studien zur internationalen Geschichte 48), Berlin/Boston 2020.

[9] For one of the few studies on Rachel Crowdy, see Gorman, Daniel: Servants of the World. Rachel Crowdy at the League of Nations. In: Ders.: The Emergence of International Society in the 1920s. Cambridge 2012, S. 52-81.

[10] Rothschild, Emma: The Archives of Universal History. In: Journal of World History 19, 3 (2008), S. 375-401: 391.

[11] See for example African Union: Common Repository. Accessed through: archives.au.int/ (last accessed: 8 Dec. 2022).

 

 

 

Aufbau (Reconstruction) Nachrichtenblatt des German-Jewish Club Inc., New York – Ein digitaler Zugang zu Wissen und Exil

By Charlotte Lenger

Editorial note:

Charlotte Lenger completed her bachelor´s degree at the Technische Universität Dortmund where she studies German, Educational and Rehabilitation Science. Currently, she is in the final phase of her master´s program, also at TU Dortmund. Her main interests are in narratology of fictional and non-fictional texts, theories of diversity, intersectionality and gender, as well as cultural history since the 18th century. Her special interests include studying experiences of war and exile. She completed an internship at the GHI in Washington, DC from July to September 2022.

Das Leben im Exil gehört zu der Lebenswirklichkeit von Menschen, die aus religiösen, politischen, rassistischen oder anderen Gründen gezwungen sind, ihr Herkunftsland zu verlassen. Die Übersetzung des aus dem Lateinischen stammenden Begriffs exilium „in der Fremde weilen“[1] impliziert den Verlust einer Form von Zugehörigkeit. Hannah Arendt beschreibt diesen Umstand in ihrem Essay We Refugees wie folgt:

„We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions, the simplicity of gestures, the unaffected expression of feelings.”[2]

Nach dem 30. Januar 1933, der sogenannten „Machtergreifung“ oder Machtübernahme durch Adolf Hitler, wurde eine steigende Zahl von Menschen, die aufgrund der antisemitischen Ideologie der nationalsozialistischen Partei und Bewegung systematisch diskriminiert, ausgegrenzt und verfolgt wurden, in das Exil gezungen. Im Rahmen der zunehmenden Entrechtung, im Öffentlichen wie im Privaten, bis hin zu der Inhaftierung in Konzentrationslagern, erreichte die Auswanderungswelle ihren Höhepunkt während und nach den Novemberpogromen 1938, auch als sogenannte „Reichskristallnacht“ bezeichnet.[3] Schätzungsweise 300.000 Juden und Jüdinnen und somit ca. 60% der jüdischen Bevölkerung sahen sich in den darauffolgenden Jahren gezwungen, Deutschland zu verlassen, um das ihrige und das Leben ihrer Familien vor der Vernichtungspolitik der Nationalsozialisten zu retten. Ca. 140.000 jüdische Geflüchtete aus dem Deutschen Reich fanden Zuflucht in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika.[4]

Angekommen in den USA waren es unter anderem Zeitschriften wie Aufbau (Reconstruction), die den Menschen im Exil sowohl als Informationsquelle dienten als auch einen ersten Zugang zu einem bereits etablierten kulturellen Netzwerk im Aufnahmeland schafften. Der erste Jahrgang der Zeitschrift wurde 1934 von dem German-Jewish Club in New York publiziert. Zunächst monatlich, erschien sie zwischenzeitlich vierzehntägig und ab 1939 wöchentlich. Sie galt als eines der wesentlichen Informationsmedien und als Organ jüdischer Emigration während und nach des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Über die Jahre zählten namhafte Schriftsteller*innen und Philosph*innen wie Theodor W. Adorno, Hannah Arendt, Bruno Frank und Thomas Mann zu Mitarbeitenden und Unterstützenden der Zeitschrift.[5]

Beobachtet werden kann vor allem in den ersten Jahren der Herausgeberschaft die Reaktion der Zeitschrift auf die Bedürfnisse der Geflohenen, die, wie Hannah Arendt, mit ihrer Heimat auch den Bezugspunkt ihrer Sprache, ihrer Kultur und ihres Alltags verloren. So wurden Angebote für Englischunterricht, soziale und medizinische Fürsorge oder Stellenvermittlung veröffentlicht wie auch Anzeigen zu Restaurants, Theaterveranstaltungen und zur neuesten Mode inseriert.[6] Mit den Worten Hans Steinitz, ab 1966 Nachfolger des Chefredakteurs Manfred Georg:

„Es gab keinen einzigen unter diesen Einwanderern, der nicht dem »Aufbau« irgendwann einmal, in irgendeiner Weise – meist sogar kontinuierlich – Rat, Hilfe, Beistand, nützliche Belehrung, rettende Ideen und unentbehrlichen Schutz verdankt hätte.“[7]

Im weiteren Verlauf der Jahre lag der Fokus oftmals auf Fragen der Amerikanisierung und Anpassung bzw. Integration der Emigrierten in das Leben in Nordamerika[8] sowie zunehmend auf Schreckensnachrichten aus dem ehemaligen Heimatland Deutschland.[9] Ein Einblick in eine solche Quelle kann unter anderem darüber Aufschluss bieten, wie Prozesse des Wissens- und Kulturtransfers durch die Emigration in die USA in Gang gesetzt wurden. Das „Winterprogramm des „German-Jewish Club““[10] führt diesbezüglich Programmpunkte zur Einführung in die amerikanische Literatur, zur „Einführung in das amerikanische Musikleben“ oder zu „Hausfrauensorgen in Amerika“ auf. Beispielhaft ist hier außerdem ein Auszug aus dem Artikel „Immigrants‘ Conference 1939“ zu nennen:[11]

„Eine erhebliche Anzahl dieser Auswanderer haben ihren Weg nach den Vereinigten Staaten gefunden, wo eine Reihe amerikanischer Hilfsorganisationen seit Jahren mit Erfolg um ihre Eingliederung in das amerikanische Leben bemüht sind. Die Einwanderer selbst, die zu einem erheblichen Teil aus den geistig und wirtschaftlich führenden Schichten ihrer Herkunftsländer stammen, haben von Anfang an versucht, ihre eigenen Fähigkeiten und Kenntnisse ihren Landsleuten zur Verfügung zu stellen und durch Selbstorganisation der Emigranten deren Lage zu verbessern und sie schneller und besser an den Gesamtinteressen des amerikanischen Volkes teilnehmen zu lassen.“[12]

Bereitgestellt werden die Digitalisate der Jahrgänge 1934-1950 der Exilzeitschrift Aufbau von dem Deutschen Exilarchiv 1933-1945 der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek. Die digitale und kostenlose Verfügbarkeit einer solchen Quelle ermöglicht allen Menschen mit Internetzugriff einen Zugang zu einem historischen Zeitzeug*innendokument, das bis heute seine Aktualität nicht verloren hat. Besonders die Bereiche Forschung und Lehre können von diesem Zugang profitieren, wenn finanzielle Aspekte beispielsweise im Rahmen von Archivreisen oder Bestellungen von Reproduktionsmaterial wegfallen. Weiterhin machen es große Mengen von Datenmaterial möglich, mit der Hilfe von OCR-Software nicht mehr länger nur qualitativ mit dem Medium Zeitschrift umzugehen, sondern auch quantitative Forschungsmethoden anzuwenden, die zu neuen Erkenntnissen der Geschichtswissenschaften führen  kann. Das Exilarchiv der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek bietet außerdem nicht nur Digitalisate der Exilpresse an, sondern ermöglicht bis 2023 im Verbund mit ZDF Kultur Interessierten auch eine virtuelle Ausstellungsbegehung zum Thema „Leben im Exil“.[13] Wie wichtig und aktuell das Thema Exil auch heute, über 77 Jahre nach der Befreiung Deutschlands, ist, darauf verweist auch das publikationsorientierte Veranstaltungs- und Begegnungsprogramm „Tage des Exils“ der Körber Stiftung, das sowohl vergangenen als auch gegenwärtigen Menschen im Exil eine Stimme verleiht.[14]

Refences:

Arendt, Hannah: „We refugees“. In: Robinson, Mark: Altogether Elsewhere. Writers on Exile.Boston/London: Faber and Faber 2008, S.110-119.

Benz, Wolfgang: Die jüdische Emigration. In: Claus-Dieter Krohn/Patrik von zur Mühlen/Gerhard Paul/Lutz Winckler (Hg.): Handbuch der deutschsprachigen Emigration 1933-1945. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft 1998, S.5-15.

Deutsche Nationalbibliothek: Aufbau (Reconstruction). Online abrufbar unter: https://www.dnb.de/DE/Sammlungen/DEA/Exilpresse/_content/aufbau.html?nn=57142 (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022)

Duden: Exil. In: Online Wörterbuch Duden. Online abrufbar unter: https://www.duden.de/rechtschreibung/Exil (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022).

Huß-Michel, Angela: Literarische und politische Zeitschriften des Exils 1933-1945. Stuttgart: Metzler 1987.

Körber-Stiftung: Tage des Exils. Online abrufbar unter: https://koerber-stiftung.de/projekte/tage-des-exils/ (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022).

Steinitz, Hans: Aufbau, Neubau, Brückenbau. In: Will Schaber/Hans Steinitz (Hg.): Aufbau (Reconstruction): Dokumente einer Kultur im Exil. New York: Overlook Press 1972, S.11-20.

Wünschmann, Kim: Exilländer jüdischer Flüchtlinge aus dem Deutschen Reich. In: Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung 2014. Online abrufbar unter: https://www.bpb.de/themen/holocaust/gerettete-geschichten/177609/exillaender-juedischer-fluechtlinge-aus-dem-deutschen-reich/ (letzter Aufruf am 12.09.2022).

ZDF Kultur: virtuelle Ausstellung „Leben im Exil“. Online abrufbar unter: https://digitalekunsthalle.zdf.de/exilarchiv/index.html#tp0 (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022).

Footnotes

[1] Duden, Exil

[2] Arendt, 110

[3] Benz, 5

[4] Wünschmann, Exilländer

[5] Huß-Michel 73-77

[6] Aufbau Bd.1, Nr.2

[7] Steinitz, 12

[8] Aufbau Bd.3, Nr.1

[9] Aufbau Bd.4, Nr.5

[10] Aufbau Bd. 5, Nr.20

[11] Aufbau Bd.5, Nr.20

[12] Aufbau Bd.5, Nr.20

[13] https://digitalekunsthalle.zdf.de/exilarchiv/index.html#tp0

[14] https://koerber-stiftung.de/projekte/tage-des-exils/

Visiting PACSCL – Part 2: How to Organize a Consortium

By Tim Feind

In part one of my series on PACSCL I visited the Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library in Philadelphia and talked to Bettina Hess from the German Society of Pennsylvania about challenges and chances, trying to fathom the perspective of a small member of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL). To complete the picture, I also wanted to capture  an overarching  perspective that can provide insights in the overall structure of the PACSCL network. I met Beth Lander, who has served as PACSCL’s Managing Director since 2020, for a virtual interview.

Good morning Beth, thank you for taking the time. What is your position at PACSCL and what is PACSCL? 

I am the Managing Director of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries, otherwise known as PACSCL. PACSCL began in 1985 with a few librarians in Philadelphia going up to New York City to the Grolier Club and seeing an exhibition of rare books.  They came back to Philadelphia and said: ‘You know, we’ve got all these incredible collections, we can do even better.’ And they did. They created Legacies of Genius: A Celebration of Philadelphia Libraries, an exhibition which was the first project that provided the foundation for this consortium. PACSCL incorporated in 1993; next year, in 2023, we will be celebrating our 30th anniversary!

At its founding, PACSCL had 16 institutional members, and we are now up to 35. Our members are mostly in the greater Philadelphia area, with Lehigh University and the University of Delaware defining our northern and southern boundaries, and the State Library of Pennsylvania and Princeton University defining our western and eastern boundaries.  

When I took this job two years ago, I did some research to see what other special collection consortiums there were in the world. To my knowledge, there are only two in the United States: PACSCL and Chicago Collections, which started ten years ago, inspired, so I’ve been told, by PACSCL. I am the first fulltime Managing Director PACSCL has had in its history. In 2019, PACSCL changed its due structure in order to support a full-time employee as well as to increase its capacity. We now have two standing committees, three ad-hoc committees, and five working groups. Our board is comprised of fifteen members who work at member institutions, with an executive committee consisting of a chair, vice-chair, secretary, and treasurer. 

Maybe you could elaborate a little bit more on your function. What are your tasks as a Managing Director?

I am trained as both a librarian and an archivist, although most of my working life I have been an administrator. What I do for PACSCL is everything from organizing a board meeting and assuring that there is coffee and pastry on the table, all the way up to running strategic planning, crafting annual plans, and drafting budgets. It’s like being the pilot of a jet plane. I am there in the cockpit, and I help ensure that everything is going into the right direction.

I also couldn’t find any similar organizations, which kind of surprises me, but maybe we can come back to that later. But besides its mere uniqueness as an organization, what would you say makes PACSCL special? 

The fact that PACSCL has not only survived, but thrived over the past 30 years, through economic ups and downs, speaks to the value that it provides to its members.  There are other consortia that focus on libraries by size, or by the type of collection or genre, or by the audience they serve.  PACSCL’s focus is on special collections, regardless of the type of institution, the audiences served, or what topics are covered by a collection. We are unique – our membership runs the gamut from the tiny German Society of Pennsylvania up to Princeton University. Our members represent an enormous diversity of collections, audiences, and type of material collected. I’ve discovered over the past two years that these institutions, and the staff who work in them, are very thoughtful about what they want to do.  PACSCL has grown from – I hate to use the expression – an old boys club to a consortium focused on democratization, not only in the types of institutions represented, but also in who gets to represent those institutions.  Board representation has expanded.  Committee formation has grown since 2019 and  working groups allow people who don’t work at PACSCL member institutions to contribute to the life of the consortium. PACSCL has moved from being an insular organization to one that is really considerate of what it means for a group of people to work together to make these collections known or to challenge the concept of what these collections do, and that is pretty unique.

You already mentioned that there are big and small institutions part of the organization. When I talked to Bettina Hess from the German Society of Pennsylvania and asked her about challenges and opportunities in conjunction with being a member of PACSCL, she said that there are actually just pros and no cons. She also talked about the development you mentioned as well, and that the situation is getting better and better for the small as well as the big institutions. What is your perspective on this balance of power? Would you agree that there is a mutual profiting despite the size of the member institutions? 

I don’t see a “balance of power” as much as I see growing pains.  There is enormous respect between our institutional members, and a recognition that each member brings strengths, skills, and expertise to the table.

Here’s one example of “growing pains.”  There has been tension between some folks within PACSCL who wish to see dues income used to sustain initiatives that would benefit groups outside of PACSCL, groups that are similar in size and scope to some of PACSCL’s smallest institutional members.  Those small institutions often forego other budget lines to pay dues to PACSCL because they see the value in membership.  This type of “growing pains” is indicative of PACSCL’s recognition that it should serve a larger community, something we are hoping to achieve as we build funding outside of dues payments. 

PACSCL will begin a new round of strategic planning in 2024 that, after a year long futures thinking exercise that the Board is now completing, will focus on the concept of “balanced growth.”  This perspective will allow the consortium to negotiate those growing pains against the needs of smaller member institutions as it looks to extend its service to new communities.

I would like to point that aspect by a more concrete question. Why would a larger institution, for example the Princeton University, be interested in a smaller collection to join the consortium?

My response here is based on conversations I’ve had with folks at larger institutions like Princeton or the University of Pennsylvania.  PACSCL revised its dues structure in 2019 to support a full-time Managing Director, and our largest member institutions saw their dues doubled, an increase that they were willing to support. All our members feel compelled to give back to the community. They feel compelled to encourage their staff to participate in PACSCL committees and working groups, which allows staff to develop skills outside of the scope of their jobs.  PACSCL also offers professional development and networking opportunities at no cost.

And I think at the heart of it there is a sense of altruism, and there is the sense that community matters more than size.

How would you describe the opportunities for the smaller institutions regarding a membership at the consortium? 

I can share with you my own perspective from the vantage point of a small member institution that I worked at before I became the Managing Director of PACSCL. There, I developed a grant application for a major digitization project that was partnered through PACSCL.  My co-author was at another small member institution.  This project documented the history of medical education in Philadelphia, which brought us into partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, Thomas Jefferson University, and Pennsylvania Hospital.  Not only did my co-author and I get the experience of developing this type of grant application, but once we were funded, the staff at all the partner institutions had the opportunity to develop project management, time management, and collection management skills.

I’ve also worked hard over the past two years to provide other direct benefits of membership, such as vendor discounts, increased professional development opportunities, and direct services for our members, such as a disaster response framework.  

But the burden of participation and benefit derivation is on the shoulders of the member institutions and their staff.  Folks can participation as much as they are able, and many do; other folks are so stretched for time and resources in their jobs that just maintaining a tie to the larger community is sufficient.  It’s my job to communicate with every member, to ensure that their needs are being met to the best of PACSCL’s ability.

How do you evaluate the future development of PACSCL? Which opportunities and challenges do you see? Do you have any dreams or wishes?

I would like $1,000,000. Seriously. The investment income off a $1,000,000 endowment would go a long way in achieving PACSCL’s mission.  Our ability to do things is capped by our income, which now is limited to dues and grant funding, which is project specific. The challenge that comes from those “growing pains” I mentioned earlier.  Everyone in the consortium is passionate, everyone has great ideas for what PACSCL can achieve – but we need more resources to do that.

PACSCL has done a lot of structural building over the past two years.  We’ve established guideposts and parameters that will reassure potential funders of our capacity to steward funds effectively.  We’re having conversations about what it means to have this kind of money. What does it mean to the consortium to have the freedom to do what we want to do? What would our community look like at that time?

When most of the people and groups of the archival landscape agree that networks like PACSCL are the way to get organized and that they are such a good thing, how is it possible that they are so rare? 

That’s a very good question.  The other special collections groups I know of are focused on a particular specialty, such as the Medical Heritage Library, which focuses only on history of medicine collections. The fact that PACSCL is entering its fourth decade, having gone through significant financial upturns and downturns, the response to Covid-19, and changing practices in the field, is pretty significant. I think it’s due to two things. One is Philadelphia and the rich history of this area, and that no one institution has a hard lock on any one topic, something we discovered when we were doing that grant on the history of medical education. Documentation is scattered across diverse organizations in Philadelphia. If you want to know about something, you are going to talk to a lot of collections and those collections are going to be talking to each other about how to meet your needs. It’s the interconnectedness of history in this area.

The other thing that speaks to PACSCL’s success is good management. All the people who have been involved in PACSCL, from Board members to committee workers, understand that, for the consortium to continue, it had to become something more than a small group of big institutional administrators telling other folks what to do. That model could have stagnated very quickly.  But PACSCL has always been fluid, not only in the growth of its membership, but also in the diversity of voices represented.

PACSCL formed at the perfect time, when special collections were just beginning to shift from being only physical, hard copy based collections to collections that are represented both physically and virtually.  PACSCL started on almost a dare, that Philly could produce something better than New York (and it did!), and that passion took root.  PACSCL has surfed the waves of digitization, social media, and born-digital content without taking its eye off one critical thing:  we’re a community.  We are storytellers.  And no matter how we tell it, we have one heck of a story to tell.

Please also review Tim Feind’s first article about PACSCL: Visiting PACSCL — Part 1: Facing Digital Transformations Together. 

Online access to historical German TV programs: Reflections on the research potential of unique audiovisual sources

By Christoph Eisele

Editorial note: Christoph Eisele is in the final phase of completing his master’s degree in history (focusing on modern history) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, where he also received his bachelor’s degree in history in 2020. His master’s thesis focuses on transnational and global connections between the film industry in Hollywood and Munich since the 1960s. From August to November 2022, he held an internship at the GHI in Washington, DC. He wrote this article to mark World Audiovisual Heritage Day on October 27, 2022.

On October 27, 2020, ARD, the German public television network, and the German Broadcasting Archive (Deutsches Rundfunkarchiv) marked World Audiovisual Heritage by launching an online portal for their holdings. Under the keyword ‘Retro,’ now approximately 40,000 digitized TV programs dating from the 1950s until the mid 1960s can be freely accessed by the public as streaming files.[1] Reflecting the federal structure of the German broadcasting landscape, there exist different content collections, for example “BR Retro,” for Bavaria, “NDR Retro” for the North German broadcasting station, and also “rbb Retro” for Berlin and Brandenburg.

Cover image of the online resource “BR Retro.” Image: Paul Sessner.

The programs cover a broad variety of non-fictional topics. The ZDF series “Zur Person” was produced and broadcast in the 1960s and included interviews with well-known personalities, such as the political theorist Hannah Arendt [2] and Bavaria’s former prime minister Franz Josef Strauß. [3] But users can also find more “entertaining” contributions, including cooking shows and reports from folk festivals. What makes the “Retro” platform distinct is not the digitization of the historical footage, but rather the almost barrier-free access to the digital content, made available as streaming files. People who perhaps lived through the era themselves can browse the media libraries from home, as can those interested in TV history. In addition, the service also offers scholars the opportunity to quickly access audiovisual materials for research and teaching without major hurdles.[4] The materials offer great potential for research and can be analyzed from multiple angles. In the following paragraphs, I will share some reflections about possible research topics and questions that could guide the analysis of these unique materials.

Scholars interested in cultural and social history could pursue the following questions: What knowledge can be gained about the culture and what “spirit of the times” can be discerned? What was the role of women in the 1950s and 1960s, and what stereotypical gender representations were popularized by these TV programs? Audiovisual media can offer new and valuable perspectives on these questions, even if these topics have already been researched.

Background images and information that can be gleaned from the TV programs can also provide valuable insights into the living conditions at the time. What was reconstruction in Germany like after the Second World War? Which buildings had already been rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s, and which were still destroyed or in a makeshift state? To what extent did these circumstances influence the lives of the citizens? What was the contemporary discourse and how did they talk about the reconstruction and living conditions, if at all?

From the perspective of media history, it might be interesting to examine the production techniques and standards of these shows. How have TV production and journalistic work changed over time? What kinds of stereotypes/prejudices shaped reporting and interviewing at the time?

Furthermore, it might be useful to look at language usage. Public broadcasters in Germany are strongly influenced by their federal states. For example, Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) predominantly covers topics related to Bavaria, while Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) covers topics related to northern Germany, and so on. Accordingly, scholars might investigate if and how frequently journalists, reporters, and featured experts and interviewees spoke regional dialects and to what extent the use of dialects has changed over the decades. If it has changed, what were the reasons for the change? Was the neutral “High German” considered to be the appropriate language in journalism after a certain point in time? If so, why?

Another – and more obvious – angle could be the content of the articles. There are countless historical research questions that could be asked here. Here is an example of one framework: in the federal system, it is certainly true that public broadcasters are local broadcasters. However, they found themselves in an era of ever-increasing globalization. To what extent was this globalization reflected in their reporting? What was the proportion of contributions with local, national and international references? How did this ratio change over the years? How was increasing globalization perceived by the audience? To what extent were their daily lives and circumstances influenced by it?

Screenshot, „From the Archives,” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Finally, scholars could consider international comparisons. Archival television programs are increasingly made available in other countries as well. For example, the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) offers archival contributions in its “From the Archives” initiative. Such offerings, also provided by broadcasters in other countries, could be used to do comparative research and the questions suggested here can be equally applied to international audiovisual archival materials.

It should be noted, however, that the available programs vary greatly in some cases and the collection is still incomplete. BR’s offering has so far been limited to the 1950s/1960s.[5] ZDF, the second German public TV broadcaster, states that it has already digitized its entire archive and is gradually making the material available online.[6] In the U.S., on the other hand, a project called the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, established in 2013, is coordinated by the Library of Congress and public radio station WGBH. In its initial phase approximately 40,000 hours of programming from public radio and television stations have been digitized and made available online. The project is ongoing, and the goal is to “provide access to the cultural and historical treasures of the public media system.”[7] Again, there are still some gaps to fill, but the trend is definitely moving in the right direction.

So, in conclusion, it can be said that the almost hurdle-free access to historical TV reports by the respective TV stations of the Federal Republic of Germany are a good way to stimulate productive and efficient research.

Acknowledgement: Thanks to Atiba Pertilla for his editorial assistance in preparing the English translation of this article.

Further reading:

Behmer, Markus/ Bernard, Birgit/ Hasselbring, Bettina (Eds.). Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung. Wiesbaden: Springer, 2014.

Bösch, Frank. Medien und Gesellschaftswandel. Zeithistorische Perspektiven auf die Erforschung des Bayerischen Rundfunks. ZBLG 80/3 (2017): 579-591.

Gaab, Jochen. Der Rundfunk als Forschungsgegenstand des Landesgeschichte. Zugänge zum Programm zwischen Medienproduktion und Medienrezeption. ZBLG 80/3 (2017): 605-613.

Kramer, Ferdinand. Ton und Film als Quellen zur bayerischen Geschichte. ZBLG 80/3 (2017): 575-577.

Lachwitz, Götz: Research Access to the German Broadcasting Heritage. A Short Introduction to the Archival Landscape of the German Broadcasters ARD and Deutschlandradio, href, November 22, 2021, https://href.hypotheses.org/2075

Schemmer, Claudia. Fernsehen. Quellen für die bayerische Landesgeschichte. ZBLG, Beiheft Reihe B-45. Munich, 2022.

 

[1] NDR Retro: Rein ins Fernseh-Archiv – und unsere Geschichte, https://www.ndr.de/geschichte/ndr_retro/index.html (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[2] Hannah Arendt – die politische Denkerin, Einführung in das Interview von Hannah Arendt von Günter Gaus am 28. October 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv am 28. October 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv,  https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zur-person/hannah-arendt-zeitgeschichte-archiv-zur-person-gaus-100.html (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[3] Franz-Josef Strauß – umstrittener Machtmensch,  Einführung in das Interview mit Franz-Josef Strauß von Günter Gaus am 29. April 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv,  https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zur-person/franz-josef-strauss-zeitgeschichte-archiv-zur-person-gaus-100.html (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[4] YouTube videos are already frequently used for teaching.

[5] This is primarily due to legal reasons. Michael Eberle, BR Retro zeigt das Bayern der 1950er und 60er Jahre, Der BR-Wer wir sind (Blog), 27.10.2020, https://www.br.de/unternehmen/inhalt/organisation/archiv-br-retro-102.html (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[6] TV-Klassiker jetzt digitalisiert, Beitrag von Claudio Armbruster, Heute Joyrnal vom 30.06.2022, https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/tv-klassiker-jetzt-digitalisiert-100.html (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[7] About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, https://americanarchive.org/about-the-american-archive (last accessed October 26, 2022)

 

Online-Zugang zu historischen TV-Beiträgen: Reflektionen zum Forschungspotential

Von Christoph Eisele

Editorische Notiz: Christoph Eisele steht kurz vor dem Abschluss seines Masterstudiums in Geschichte (Schwerpunkt Moderne Geschichte) an der Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, wo er 2020 bereits seinen Bachelor in Geschichte absolviert hat. In seiner bereits abgeschlossenen Masterarbeit beschäftigt er sich mit den transnationalen und globalen Verbindungen zwischen der Filmindustrie in Hollywood und München seit den 1960er Jahren. Von August bis November 2022 absolviert er ein Praktikum am GHI in Washington, DC. Diesen Beitrag hat er zum Anlass des World Audiovisual Heritage Days am 27. Oktober 2022 geschrieben.

Der 27. Oktober 2020 – und damit der Welttag des audiovisuellen Erbes – war für die ARD und dem Deutschen Rundfunkarchiv der Startschuss für die schrittweise Veröffentlichung von ca. 40.000 digitalisierten Videos im Netz. Unter dem Stichwort „Retro“ werden seitdem TV-Beiträge aus der Zeit vor 1966 für alle interessierten Personen frei zum Streamen zur Verfügung gestellt.[1] So gibt es beispielsweise „BR Retro“, „NDR Retro“ oder auch „rbb Retro“.

Titelbild des Online-Angebots „BR Retro.“ Bild: Paul Sessner.

Dabei ist die Themenvielfalt enorm groß. Die ZDF-Sendereihe „Zur Person“ wurde in den 1960er Jahren produziert und ausgestrahlt und beinhaltete Interviews bekannter Persönlichkeiten wie der politischen Theoretikerin Hannah Arendt[2] oder Bayerns ehemaligem Ministerpräsidenten Franz Josef Strauß.[3] Es sind aber auch vermeintlich „unterhaltsamere“ Beiträge abrufbar wie Koch-Shows oder Berichte von Volksfesten. Nun ist das Besondere dieses Angebots nicht die Digitalisierung an sich, sondern der fast hürdenlose Zugriff auf die digitalen Inhalte. Personen, die vielleicht selbst die Zeit miterlebten, können von Zuhause aus in den Mediatheken stöbern ebenso wie Interessierte an TV-Geschichte. Darüber hinaus bietet das Angebot auch Wissenschaftler:innen die Möglichkeit, ohne große Hürden und sehr zeitsparend solches audio-visuelles Material in ihre Forschung und Lehre miteinzubeziehen.[4] Dabei können die Beiträge von verschiedenen Blickwinkeln betrachtet werden. Im Folgenden möchte ich einen Teil dieses Potentials aufzeigen und einige Fragestellungen aufwerfen, die an solche Fernsehproduktionen gestellt werden sollten.

Aus kultur- und sozialgeschichtlicher Perspektive könnten folgende Fragen interessant sein: Welche Kenntnisse lassen sich bezüglich der damaligen Kultur gewinnen? Welcher „Zeitgeist“ lässt sich erkennen? Wie war die Rolle der Frau in den 1950er und 1960er Jahren und welche Idealbilder wurden gezeichnet? Auch wenn diese Themen schon erforscht wurden, so können audio-visuelle Medien hier eine wertvolle Ergänzung darstellen, die beispielhaften Charakter hat.

Es sind aber auch die vermeintlich unwichtigen Dinge im Hintergrund, die wertvolle Erkenntnisse zu den Lebensumständen der damaligen Zeit hervorbringen können. Wie gestaltete sich der Wiederaufbau nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg? Welche Gebäude waren in den 1950er/60er Jahren bereits wiederaufgebaut, welche waren noch immer zerstört beziehungsweise behelfsmäßig aufgebaut? Inwiefern beeinflussten diese Umstände das Leben der Bürger:innen? Werden diese thematisiert?

Aus mediengeschichtlicher Perspektive könnte es interessant sein zu untersuchen, auf welche Art und Weise Beiträge produziert wurden. Inwiefern unterscheiden sich Beiträge zu heutigen? Inwiefern wandelte hat sich die journalistische Arbeit gewandelt? Welche Stereotypen/ Vorurteile prägten die Berichterstattung und Interviewführung?

Des Weiteren könnte es sinnvoll sein, sich die Sprache anzusehen. Öffentlich-rechtliche Rundfunkanstalten in Deutschland sind stark von ihrem Bundesland geprägt. So werden beim Bayerischen Rundfunk (BR) überwiegend Themen mit Bayern-Bezug behandelt, beim Norddeutschen Rundfunk (NDR) wiederum Themen, die Norddeutschland betreffen, etc. Dementsprechend könnte untersucht werden, wie häufig Journalist:innen und Reporter:innen, aber auch die Akteur:innen der jeweiligen Beiträge Dialekt sprachen und inwiefern sich dies über die Jahrzehnte änderte. In einem zweiten Schritt könnte nach den Gründen dafür gesucht werden. Wurde Hochdeutsch ab einem bestimmten Zeitpunkt als „Ideal“ im Journalismus betrachtet? Falls ja, welche Gründe lassen sich dafür identifizieren?

Ein anderer – und offensichtlicher – Blickwinkel könnte der Inhalt der Beiträge sein. Es gibt unzählige Forschungsfragen aus den Geschichtswissenschaften, die hier gestellt werden könnten. Ich möchte eine kleine Auswahl geben. Zwar handelt es sich bei öffentlich-rechtlichen Sendern um lokale Rundfunkanstalten. Sie fanden sich jedoch in einer Zeit der stetig steigenden Globalisierung wieder. Inwiefern spiegelte sich dies in der Berichterstattung wieder? Wie war das Verhältnis von Beiträgen mit lokalem, nationalem und internationalem Bezug? Wie änderte sich dieses Verhältnis seit den 1950er Jahren? Wie wurde steigende Globalisierung und Internationalität in der Bevölkerung wahrgenommen? Inwiefern wurde die Lebenswelt dadurch beeinflusst?

Screenshot, „From the Archives,” Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

Zuletzt könnte der Blick auf eine internationale Ebene gehoben werden. Nicht nur in Deutschland, sondern auch in anderen Ländern werden vermehrt Archiv-Fernsehbeiträge zur Verfügung gestellt. So bietet beispielsweise der US-amerikanische Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) Archivbeiträge im Programm „From the Archives“ an. Solche Angebote, die ebenfalls in anderen Ländern zu verzeichnen sind, könnten genutzt werden, um vergleichende Forschungsarbeit zu betreiben. Zudem lassen sich die Fragen, die in diesem Beitrag gestellt wurden, ebenso auf dortige audio-visuelle Archivmaterialien anwenden.

Zu beachten ist jedoch, dass das Angebot teilweise stark schwankt und noch recht lückenhaft ist. Das Angebot des BR beschränkt sich bisher auf die 1950/60er Jahre.[5] Das ZDF gibt an, sein komplettes Archiv bereits digitalisiert zu haben und das Material nach und nach online zur Verfügung zu stellen.[6] In den USA wiederum gibt es seit 2013 ein Projekt mit dem Namen „American Archive of Public Broadcasting“, das von der Library of Congress und dem öffentlichen Radiosender WGBH koordiniert wird. In einer ersten drei-jährigen Phase wurden ca. 40.000 Stunden an Programmen aus öffentlichen Radio- und Fernsehsendern digitalisiert und zur Verfügung gestellt. Das Projekt läuft noch und das Ziel ist es, „Zugang zu den kulturhistorischen Schätzen des öffentlichen Mediensystems zu ermöglichen.“[7] Auch hier gibt es noch einige Lücken zu füllen, aber es bewegt sich definitiv in die richtige Richtung.

So kann abschließend festgehalten werden, dass der fast hürdenlose Zugang zu historischen TV-Beiträgen durch die jeweiligen Fernsehanstalten der Bundesrepublik Deutschland eine gute Möglichkeit darstellt, Forschung gewinnbringend anzuregen und arbeitsökonomisch sinnvoll zu unterstützen.

Weiterführende Literatur:

Behmer, Markus/ Bernard, Birgit/ Hasselbring, Bettina (Hrsg.): Das Gedächtnis des Rundfunks. Die Archive der öffentlich-rechtlichen Sender und ihre Bedeutung für die Forschung, Wiesbaden 2014.

Bösch, Frank: Medien und Gesellschaftswandel. Zeithistorische Perspektiven auf die Erforschung des Bayerischen Rundfunks, in: ZBLG 80/3 (2017), S. 579-591.

Gaab, Jochen: Der Rundfunk als Forschungsgegenstand des Landesgeschichte. Zugänge zum Programm zwischen Medienproduktion und Medienrezeption, in: ZBLG 80/3 (2017), S. 605-613.

Kramer, Ferdinand: Ton und Film als Quellen zur bayerischen Geschichte, in: ZBLG 80/3 (2017), S. 575-577.

Lachwitz, Götz: Research Access to the German Broadcasting Heritage. A Short Introduction to the Archival Landscape of the German Broadcasters ARD and Deutschlandradio, href, November 22, 2021, https://href.hypotheses.org/2075

Schemmer, Claudia: Fernsehen. Quellen für die bayerische Landesgeschichte, München 2022.

[1] NDR Retro: Rein ins Fernseh-Archiv – und unsere Geschichte, https://www.ndr.de/geschichte/ndr_retro/index.html (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[2]  Hannah Arendt – die politische Denkerin, Einführung in das Interview von Hannah Arendt von Günter Gaus am 28. October 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv am 28. October 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv,  https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zur-person/hannah-arendt-zeitgeschichte-archiv-zur-person-gaus-100.html (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[3]  Franz-Josef Strauß – umstrittener Machtmensch,  Einführung in das Interview mit Franz-Josef Strauß von Günter Gaus am 29. April 1964, Zur Person-aus dem ZDF Archiv,  https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/zur-person/franz-josef-strauss-zeitgeschichte-archiv-zur-person-gaus-100.html (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[4] So wie es z.B. bei der Verwendung von YouTube-Videos in der Lehre bereits geschieht.

[5] Das hat vor allem rechtliche Gründe. Michael Eberle, BR Retro zeigt das Bayern der 1950er und 60er Jahre, Der BR-Wer wir sind (Blog), 27.10.2020, https://www.br.de/unternehmen/inhalt/organisation/archiv-br-retro-102.html (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[6]  TV-Klassiker jetzt digitalisiert, Beitrag von Claudio Armbruster, Heute Joyrnal vom 30.06.2022, https://www.zdf.de/nachrichten/heute-journal/tv-klassiker-jetzt-digitalisiert-100.html (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[7] About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, https://americanarchive.org/about-the-american-archive (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

 

 

 

 

Historical Newspapers. The Zeit.Punkt NRW-Portal

By Linda Rath

Editorial note: Linda Rath graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf in 2022. Her interests include the history of medicine and epidemics in the early 20th century and the socio-political aspects of power and power structures in the European Middle Ages. She completed her internship at the GHI Washington, DC, in the fall of 2022.

Working with historical source materials is the bread and butter of any historian. When I started studying history at the university, however, working with primary sources seemed intimidating. Questions like: “Where is the newspaper I’m looking for even located?” or:“Is it even relevant for my topic?” along with the concern that I would have to visit every archive in the greater region I was researching were on my mind. Consequently, I ended up refraining from using historical newspapers for most of my studies. Only when I started my bachelor’s thesis about the high infant mortality in Germany the summer of 1911 did I venture into this unknown territory.

The state- and university library Bonn (ULB Bonn), along with the university library Münster (ULB Münster)- initiated the newspaper portal. While the ULB Bonn already had some digitized historical newspapers, patrons didn’t use them as they had expected. Both libraries therefore saw the need to establish a shared space to make a collection of local and regional historical newspapers publicly available online.[1] Supported by the Ministry of Culture and Science North Rhine-Westphalia, the Zeit.PunktNRW-Project digitizes historical newspapers in the geographic area of what is today known as North Rhine-Westphalia, in western Germany.[2] Currently in progress is the digitization of newspapers published between 1801 and 1945.[3] Many of the newspapers that are now available online had previously neither been indexed nor digitized beyond the region. An example for a now digitized newspaper is the Aachener Anzeiger.[4]

One of the goals, according to Dr. Ammendola who oversees the Münsteranian part of the project, is to make as many newspapers available as possible within a short period of time. Therefore, the current focus is on the digitization of microfilmed newspapers, but digitized physical copies will be part of the endeavor in the future.[5] Since the project started in 2017, approximately 12 million pages have been digitized and made accessible to the public. Of those, around 8 million pages have gone through the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) which makes a full-text search possible.[6] Around 50 000 pages a day run through the OCR. Due to the large volume of content, the project is currently the largest of its kind in Germany. Over 70 archives from North Rhine-Westphalia participate in the project. Search filters offer either search via title of a newspaper, location, timeframe or full-text search or a combination of either option.  The portal also provides information about name-changes of newspapers and an overview of all the volumes currently available with a precise index of the publication dates of every newspaper.

One of the key features of portal is that it is open access, and it will remain so. Everyone who is interested in historical newspapers, from students to professional historians to the general public, now have access to a vast amount of primary source materials. Source materials that had been previously hard to obtain can now be easily found, downloaded as a PDF or read on the page instantly. Especially fragile or last-of-its kind physical copies can once more be distributed to a wide audience. By making valuable primary source materials available and by preserving it for future generations, this project plays an important role in the digitization of key sources that enable historical scholarship in Germany.

The Zeit.PunktNRW-Project provides students with a valuable and easily accessible tool for historical research. Historians and other scholars rely on the availability and accessibility of primary sources. Yet, sometimes the lack of accessibility sometimes poses very real limitations to the work of seasoned historians and students alike. For those students who are just beginning to work with primary sources, a joint database or portal focusing on newspapers from a specific geographical region, such as the Zeit.Punkt.NRW, offers guidance and serves as a solid starting point for historical research. Depending on one’s topic, the portal may even provide the main source for the materials a student or professional scholar needs.

During the research for my Bachelor-thesis I’ve worked often with Zeit.PunktNRW. As someone who was new to the use of historical newspapers, the portal provided me with a quick overview of the available sources and made it possible for me to evaluate whether I had sufficient materials for my thesis. The portal saved me time during my research, and sometimes even helped me translating texts through the full-text search when my ability to read older typefaces was lacking. In my opinion the project offers many opportunities for research, whether you pursue it as a hobby or as part of your historical studies at a university. The portal provides an introduction to the changing landscape of historical sources in a digitized world, and offers a solution to some of the challenges present and future historians face when dealing with historical newspapers.

I’d like to thank the University of Münster and especially Dr. Andrea Ammendola for their very kind help during the research process for this article.

 

[1] Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

[2] https://zeitpunkt.nrw/wiki/project, (last viewed 09.21.2022).

[3] „Die Digitalisierung historischer Zeitungen in NRW und das Portal zeitpunkt.NRW“, von Michael Herkenhoff in: Pro Libris 24/4 (2019), S. 156f.

[4]https://zeitpunkt.nrw/search?query=%28dc.title%3D%28aachener+anzeiger%29%29+and+vl.domain%3D%28zdiginrw%29+sortBy+dc.date&truncate=on&operation=searchRetrieve&vlsearch_sortBy=dc.date&index1=dc.title&term1=aachener+anzeiger&bool1=and&index2=bib.originPlace&term2=&bool2=and&index3=dc.date&term3=&bool3=and&index4=dc.date-to&term4=&bool4=and&vlFulltext= (last viewed 09.27.2022.

[5] Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

[6] https://zeitpunkt.nrw/ (last viewed 09.21.2022).

 

References

„Die Digitalisierung historischer Zeitungen in NRW und das Portal zeitpunkt.NRW,“ by Michael Herkenhoff. Pro Libris 24/4 (2019), p. 156-57. 

Interview with Andrea Ammendola, University of Münster. 09.07.2022.

Zeitpunkt NRW Wiki, https://zeitpunkt.nrw/wiki/project (last viewed 09.21.2022).