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








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





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 See for the TEI XML source files (many thanks to Simon Krahé at the University of Wuppertal for his helpful explanations). See also

[8] The Department of Defense’s FOIA program is decentralized, see



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.













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





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, (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, (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.


[1] Gilchrist, Karen: ‘Stop This War Immediately,’ NATO Chief Tells Putin, Says Military Alliance Has Been Strengthened. Accessed through:, 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:, 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:, 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: Consult the archives:”,, 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, (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: (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: (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]


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: (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022)

Duden: Exil. In: Online Wörterbuch Duden. Online abrufbar unter: (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: (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: (letzter Aufruf am 12.09.2022).

ZDF Kultur: virtuelle Ausstellung „Leben im Exil“. Online abrufbar unter: (letzter Aufruf am 21.09.2022).


[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



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,

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, (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, (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, (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, (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[6] TV-Klassiker jetzt digitalisiert, Beitrag von Claudio Armbruster, Heute Joyrnal vom 30.06.2022, (last accessed October 26, 2022)

[7] About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, (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,

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

[1] NDR Retro: Rein ins Fernseh-Archiv – und unsere Geschichte, (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, (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, (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, (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[6]  TV-Klassiker jetzt digitalisiert, Beitrag von Claudio Armbruster, Heute Joyrnal vom 30.06.2022, (letzter Zugriff am 26. Oktober 2022)

[7] About the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, (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], (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] (last viewed 09.27.2022.

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

[6] (last viewed 09.21.2022).



„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, (last viewed 09.21.2022).

Visiting PACSCL – Part 1: Facing Digital Transformations Together

By Tim Feind

Editorial note: Tim Feind completed his bachelor studies in Leipzig and is in the final phase of his master’s degree studies in History at the University of Vienna in Austria. His main interests are in social and economic history, the history of women and gender since the 18th century, and theories and structures of punishment in historical perspective. Active in student government, he is also interested in political questions related to working conditions in the academic field. He completed an internship at the GHI in Washington, DC from May to August 2022.

Digitization, frequently used as a buzzword and symbol for progress, often poses significant challenges for smaller institutions. Archives and libraries have had to find collaborative ways to face the challenges of the present. This post reports on a visit to an inconspicuous library in Philadelphia and its role in a larger regional collaboration, the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL).

©Tim Feind

Bettina Hess of the German Society of Pennsylvania (GSP) makes the value of participating in the Consortium evident. I met the head librarian of the GSP at her office at the Spring Garden Street townhouse in Philadelphia. The German-American Collection, the core of the society’s Joseph P. Horner Memorial Library, was begun in 1867 by Oswald Seidensticker, who was not only a professor of German and American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania but also the librarian of the German Society back then. the oldest records of the archive date back to 1764, starting with the society’s own minute books. At that time, the German Society of Pennsylvania was an important point of contact for many German immigrants arriving in the US after an uncertain and dangerous voyage. The society also aimed to provide access to literature in the German language and room for cultural exchange among the settlers. Even though the old mansion at Spring Garden Street in Philadelphia may have seen better days, one can easily imagine the vibe of its exalted times.

©Tim Feind

Today, the preservation and sharing of German-American history and culture remain the GSP’s main objectives. Digitization provides one of the main avenues for fulfilling these aims, but Bettina Hess, as the GSP’s head librarian, knows about the challenges this presents. It’s a Herculean task for smaller archives even today because they usually don’t have the funds to employ additional staff needed for digitizing. One way to compensate for this deficit is to make a virtue of necessity. The GSP decided to establish a group of citizen scholars to participate in a transcription group. “We started a transcription group which came out at the same time that we started collaborating with the GHI on the letters project, working on the letters of the Eugen and Emma Klee Collection and [with] another group working on transcribing our first minute book, because it has been used in the past by researchers, but we didn’t have anybody’s transcriptions. People did bits and pieces of it and then took them.” Although these are long-term projects that benefit from volunteers, the achievements are evident. “We actually have completed the first (minute) book, which is now available on our website. Now we are in the middle of volume two.” The ability of working in a hybrid manner, catalyzed by the pandemic, is an additional benefit. “Now we have also people in Germany who join us.” GSP membership is not necessary to participate, and establishing a network (of volunteer transcribers?) is essential. Here, organizational structures like PACSCL can help to be particularly effective in breaking down barriers between institutions that share the same interests. “One person joined us recently who is working at another PACSCL Institution in Philadelphia who needs it for her work,” Bettina Hess says. “They send me their transcriptions when they are done, I compile them, and when they are done I make them available on the website.”

The Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries (PACSCL) is a non-profit corporation established in 1985 as an informal group of sixteen local institutions, all of which believe that the extraordinary collections of the Philadelphia area deserve to have broader support and more visibility so that they can share their precious sources with a worldwide audience. Therefore, one of its aspirations is to initiate cataloging and digitization programs of its the members holdings. Another priority is “to capitalize on members’ individual professional development activities to build cooperative programs that anticipate and serve the needs of the community that we are working to build among the staffs of member institutions […] helping its members enhance their reach and value to diverse research constituencies and educators, as well as supporters.”[2] In other words, the Consortium helps institutional staff learn new skills and get certifications for their continuing education, all while adding to the value of the collections by making them more accessible.

“It’s great to work in such a group because everyone sees something different”      – Bettina Hess, German Society of Pennsylvania

“Almost everything that has been digitized has been done through cooperation with other universities in the area and mostly through PACSCL. For example, we have a collection of the papers of John Ballier who was a general in the Civil War. He was a German American, and he had a hotel at 4th and Fairmount Street in the neighborhood of Northern Liberties. He was a member of the German Society of Pennsylvania and also founding member of the Canstatter Volksfest-Verein, which was another social German organization in the 19th century. He has a scrapbook as part of his collection that has a lot of Civil War Memorabilia – mainly letters and various pieces of ephemera. It’s very fragile and falling apart because it’s a lot of news clippings and thing that were glued on to the paper. So, we had Villanova University digitize that for us, and that’s now available on their library website.”

PACSCL, as a highly functional association, has had great impact and continues to have potential to support libraries and archives in the Greater Philadelphia area. As a consortium supporting large and small institutions in a greater metropolitan area in the US, it remains relatively unique among consortia in the US. Yet PACSCL highlights the need and effectiveness of smaller regional consortia in the LAM (Libraries, Archives, and Museums) sector, which remains chronically underfunded. The example of the German Society of Pennsylvania and its collection illustrate sharing historical records and digital infrastructure is a win-win situation. “There are a lot of historical societies and libraries in Philadelphia, and the fact that we have this consortium is unusual, but it’s great for everybody – small and large. Especially the small ones, because there are many things we could never have done without being part of PACSCL.” But also, time and practical experience seem to have changed the policy towards more solidarity in recent years. Bettina Hess admits: “We were sort of an exception when we were allowed to join PACSCL ten years ago. They changed the membership policy to allow institutions with part-time staff to join, and there is a tiered membership dues fee structure, so smaller institutions pay less. We definitely benefit from the expertise and resources of the larger institutions.”

It’s a matter of fact that archives, small as well as large ones, are indispensable for research in the humanities. PACSCL, which is based on a model rooted in archival solidarity, puts small and large institutions alike in a position to digitize some or all parts of their collections to increase online access. Because accessibility inevitably dictates the research approach, there is a direct connection between the way we organize archives and their collections and the way we generate knowledge.

[1] German Heritage in Letters is a project to find, collect, and share online a digital collection of German-language correspondence shedding light on the history of migration that is currently held in private hands or by archival institutions.



Acknowledgement: Thanks to Bettina Hess and to Atiba Pertilla for their assistance in preparing this article. 



Interview about the Relaunch of the Hannah Arendt Papers

By Tobias Schweitzer

Editorial note: Tobias Schweitzer recently finished his Bachelor/undergraduate studies in philosophy and political science at the University of Münster in Germany. His interests include the history of political thought, intellectual history of the 20th century, theories of history and historiography, as well as questions related to the work of Hannah Arendt. He completed an internship at the GHI Washington from April to July 2022.

Barbara Bair is a curator and historian in the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress, where she works with eight other historians and subject specialists. Her main field of expertise are literature, culture, and arts. She has worked as collection curator and framework author on the team that produced the digital relaunch of the Hannah Arendt Papers at the LOC in 2021. I’ve had the opportunity to meet her virtually while in Washington and speak with her about the digitized version of the Arendt Papers.

To start with, I would like to begin with some personal aspects. What are your tasks at the LOC and what relation do you have to the Hannah Arendt Papers?

I’m working as a historian in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. In my own area, which is literature, culture, and arts, I curate different collections in physical and digital form and give advice to scholars, journalists or independent researchers who are interested in our collections.

Now let us turn to the papers. Was it Arendt’s own decision to gift her unpublished works to the LOC? If yes, have there been connections between Arendt and the LOC during her lifetime? If not, how did it happen that the papers were subsequently collected at the LOC?

Yes, it was Arendt’s own decision to give her personal papers, including notes, writings, correspondence and other documents to the LOC and yes there were contacts between her and the library during her lifetime. I believe that it was important to her that the papers be preserved, and that accessibility was public and international. In the case of the LOC, access to collections is free to anyone living in the United States or from another country. There are additional Arendt materials archived at places like the New School for Social Research in New York, where she taught, and the Arendt Center at the University of Oldenburg, and her library of books is at Bard College, where her husband was a professor, but the LOC is the principal repository of the bulk of her personal papers. Her wishes in this respect, stated in her lifetime and through her will and an instrument of gift with LOC, continued to be carried forward by her estate after her death.

Hannah Arendt’s US certificate of naturalization, issued on December 10, 1951, Hannah Arendt Papers,

When and for which reasons did the LOC decide to digitize the Hannah Arendt Papers?

I wasn’t involved when the papers were originally digitized, but it was done between 1998 and 2000 with the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. At that time, there was a big push to digitize collections at LOC and to find a quick way of making many special collections electronically accessible.  This meant that select collections that were available in microfilm as a preservation and research format were scanned and upgraded to availability via online access through what was in that era known as the LOC’s American Memory projects.  In the case of the Arendt Papers, as opposed to say, collections stemming from the nineteenth century, there were intellectual rights issues of work by others represented in her papers which needed to be considered.

What led to the relaunch of the papers in the last year?

Over the past several years, the LOC has revamped and upgraded its platform for digitized collections. In the case of the Arendt Papers, this  involved the standardization of the framework design and template to match the updated platform now being used for digital collections, and also increasing the availability of the papers to users anywhere in the world. Before 2021 only some of the papers were widely available, and others could be accessed by researchers through three dedicated workstations located at the LOC, the New School, and the Arendt Center in Oldenburg. After addressing remaining right issues, and with the agreement of the institutions involved and the Arendt Trust, LOC relaunched the digitized papers in a new updated manner in summer 2021 that guarantees broader access from anywhere in the world.

The LOC recently started a campaign to help transcribe LOC documents, among which one can also find the Arendt Papers. Under the title “Woman of the World: Political Thinker Hannah Arendt” you ask virtual volunteers to engage in the transcription process of the Arendt Papers. What feedback did you already get?

Since the launch in May 2022, there are about 400 participants actively registered in the transcribing campaign, but more individuals can also help transcribe without registering to do so. Some are scholars or students, but many of the volunteers are nonacademic people who are willing to engage in her papers. Some of them are just eager to transcribe and are interested in all kinds of collections. Others are particularly interested in Arendt, or understand themselves as lifelong learners. The Goethe Institute of Washington, D.C., the German Historical Association, and the Arendt Center at Bard College have all helped get the word out about the campaign to individuals who might want to help transcribe, especially the German language content. The By the People crowdsourcing project started off just a few years ago with papers of Walt Whitman as its first campaign. Since then it has launched a variety of campaigns, including ones associated with important historical anniversaries, such as woman suffrage, or areas of high research interest, like the Civil War. Each campaign has unique qualities and they differ from one other. Doing Hannah Arendt meant launching a transcription project of a philosopher or political thinker for the first time.  The campaign has gotten high interest because of the questions of thought and public intellectualism we continue to ask in our own times.

Reading List for a course on the “The Federalist”, taught in fall 1967 at the University of Chicago; Hannah Arendt Papers, Subject File, -1975; Courses; University of Chicago, Chicago, Ill.;

How would you explain the ongoing fascination towards the work and person of Hannah Arendt and what fascinates you personally about her?

I think, it’s about the continuing relevancy and ongoing difficulty and complexity of the questions she posed and that we still ask of ourselves as human beings. We are still grappling with and debating so much with versions of these issues today. Think of the problems of refugees, the question of genocide, and all the questions concerning Zionism. I personally have a very deep appreciation of her and her work, and I am again and again astonished by the variety of what is available in these papers as well as how profound the content really is. Whether or not you agree with Arendt, the questions she asks, and the debates she inspires, continue to be very important today. As well as the things she asks us to remember. The papers are also a way to discover her private side and more of her character and personality, and through her many drafts and her letters, the creative process of her mind, as well as her rich associations with other people.

You can register as a transcriber of the Hannah Arendt Papers at the Library of Congress By the People Campaign:

Reflections on Researching Digitized Personal Files of Sinti and Roma Created by Berlin’s Criminal Police in Nazi Germany

By Lara Raabe

Editorial note: Lara Raabe is a graduate history student at the Humboldt University Berlin. She is currently writing her master’s thesis on the role of Sinti and Roma in the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg, 1947-1948. She works in the field of Holocaust and Memory Studies as well as the History of Sinti and Roma in Europe. She completed her internship at the GHI in Washington, DC, in the spring and summer of 2022.

The Sinti and Roma minority in Europe suffered a long history of persecution and discrimination. In Nazi Germany, the violence against Sinti and Roma escalated, and hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Roma men, women, and children became victims of racist discrimination, persecution, and genocide.

In July of 1936, the Berlin police forces launched a persecution and arrest campaign against the Sinti and Roma minority living in Berlin. Many families were deported to the Marzahn internment camp, which had recently been established.[1] Based on a decree issued by the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office) on December 16, 1942, Sinti and Roma were deported in the spring of 1943 to the so-called “Zigeunerlager” (a pejorative term translated as “Gypsy Camp”) at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and death camp.[2]

Beginning in 1939, employees of the so-called “Dienststelle für Zigeunerfragen” (Office for Gypsy Affairs) created personal files for individuals and families who were registered by the Berlin criminal police as so-called “Zigeuner.”[3] The office was located at the Criminal Police Headquarters and played an important role in the persecution of the minority on a local level.[4] The files are key sources for researching National Socialist persecution of Sinti and Roma in Berlin and the Brandenburg region. The preservation of the files is due to a single archives employee who was able to save a small part of the collection from being destroyed.[5] They are now kept at the Landesarchiv Berlin (Central State Archives Berlin). The files have been digitized and can be accessed via the Arolsen Archives, the former International Tracing Service (ITS), which is one of the most important archives for victims of Nazi persecution today. One can search for individual files by name.[6]

The digital sources are always of great significance for historians researching the history of Sinti and Roma persecution, but they are especially so in light of the ongoing pandemic. Therefore, it is particularly important and worthwhile to review the personal files from the perspective of source criticism.

The source material consists of 179 uniform personal files, most of which include so-called “Rassegutachten”—reports assessing the “race” based on racist categories (see below)[7]—birth certificates, employment certificates, and often fingerprints, images, and correspondences. In addition, they contain notes that provide information on life circumstances or deportation dates. The individual files differ in size. At least eight of them were initially created as criminal files by the so-called “Kriminalinspektion Vorbeugung” (Criminal Investigation Prevention).[8] These documents contain personal cards from prisons, investigations, penal orders, indictments, and judgments, as well as from interrogations of individuals, which can provide detailed insights into labor conditions, living circumstances, and acts of self-assertion or resistance.

Nevertheless, we must consider that the information in these files reflects the racist Nazi ideology and terminology and can’t be taken at face value. First and foremost, the term “Zigeuner” is an attribution with which Sinti and Roma people did not identify. Instead, it is a racist category that the perpetrators imposed on them. Furthermore, the content of these sources has been transmitted in a filtered form. This is evident in the written summary of an interrogation of the nineteen-year-old Korseda M., who jumped off the train during her deportation to the concentration camp Ravensbrück, fled, and was arrested again a few weeks later. In her criminal file, her interrogation was summarized. Based on the language and the deletions as well as the handwritten additions to the original excerpt of the transcript, it is apparent that her statement was altered.[9] Evidently, an official already preselected the information that seemed relevant to him – as well as the information that did not. This decision too was based on racist logic. However, despite the changes of the original statement, the transcript of the interrogation reveals her resistance.

Konrad W.’s escape is yet another example of Sinti and Roma resistance documented in the personal files. The twenty-year-old Konrad was imprisoned for allegedly breaching his employment contract. He broke out of a court prison, and the district court councilor, who wrote the letter, even urged caution in case of arrest, warning that Konrad and fellow fugitives could resist with violence.[10] Whether Konrad was indeed violent or if the assertion was only a projection of the district court councilor remains unclear. Nevertheless, the case shows that Konrad resisted the discriminatory labor conditions imposed on him. Furthermore, the file concluded with a report that Konrad W. was still on the run. Konrad’s further fate cannot be determined.

Clearly, there are some limitations to the validity of the personal files. The collection is fragmentary, and the files reflect the perspectives of bureaucratic perpetrators. Therefore, a source-critical approach to the files is essential. It is crucial for researchers to consciously retain a critical distance from the language of the perpetrators while making the origins and context of the information gathered by the perpetrators transparent. As long as one maintains such a source-critical perspective, the files can certainly provide valuable clues to resistant behavior and human agency.

Furthermore, personal testimonies from victims are a necessary corrective when working with perpetrator sources like the personal files.[11] The personal testimonies can illuminate gray areas and ultimately transcend the perpetrators’ perspective.

Finally, the source value of the files depends on the research question. They are doubtless of great value for researching the lives of persecuted Sinti and Roma. If one approaches them with sensitivity, the persecuted persons also become visible as subjects who represented their own interests and resisted in a variety of ways.  

In this light, the history of the persecution of Sinti and Roma, reflected in these files, also comes across as a history of self-assertion.


[1] Cf. Pientka, Patricia: Das Zwangslager für Sinti und Roma in Berlin-Marzahn. Alltag, Verfolgung und Deportation. Berlin 2013. 39f.

[2]  Cf. Gilsenbach, Reimar: Marzahn – Hitlers erstes Lager für Fremdrassige. Ein vergessenes Kapitel der Naziverbrechen, in: Pogrom – Zeitschrift für bedrohte Völker 17 (1986) 122, 15-17. 17.

[3] Cf. Pientka: Zwangslager. 19f.

[4] Cf. Fings, Karola: Gutachten zum Schnellbrief des Reichssicherheitshauptamtes – Tgb. Nr. RKPA. 149/1939 -g- vom 17.10.1939 betr. „Zigeunererfassung“ („Festsetzungserlass“). Köln 2018. 3f.

[5] Cf. Pientka: Zwangslager. 19f.


[7] This involved the racist assignment of individuals into the categories of “Zigeuner” (Gypsy), “non-Gypsy,” “Gypsy-mixed,” and many degrees in between.

[8] The “vorbeugende Verbrechensbekämpfung” (preventive crime control) allowed the Nazis to surveil and arrest alleged potential criminals and unwanted persons. The measures it included affected, for example, Sinti and Roma, homeless people, homosexuals, and sex workers.

[9] Cf. Interrogation Korseda M., 1939, 1.2.2 / 12102693 / ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives. See Korseda’s file:

[10] Cf. Letter district court councilor Atlandsberg to “Zigeunerdienststelle“, 1942, 1.2.2 / 12102907/ ITS Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives. See Konrad’s file:

[11] A collection of digitized self-testimonies can be found in the curated archive section “Voices of the Victims” of RomArchive, the digital archive of the Roma.

“Where AI meets historical documents”: Automatically transcribing historical prints with OCR and HTR

By Janna Katharina Müller

In my last blog post, I wrote about the source corpus for my master’s thesis – the journal “Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde” (MC) – and my plan to subject it to digital analysis. The main thing I needed for my analysis was a digital text. Thanks to the Thuringian University and State Library in Jena, the scanned originals of the MC are available online, but only as non-machine-readable PDF files. The first step towards usable data was thus to generate a text from image files.

However, it was essential to consider the type of writing used in the MC: As can be seen from the example page below, the MC was printed in a font that uses, among other things, the long s (“ſ”), an archaic form of the lower-case letter s. Unlike most German publications of the early 19th century, however, this is not a fractional font such as Fraktur, but rather an Antiqua font with serifs, which contains rounded arcs and was used primarily for Latin, Italian, and French texts, but was rather uncommon in German prints.

Figure 1: Example page from the MC (Monatliche Correspondenz zur Beförderung der Erd- und Himmelskunde, Juni-Heft (1801): 556)

OCR with Tesseract

One of the best-known ways to recognize text is Optical Character Recognition (OCR), the electronic or mechanical conversion of images into machine-coded text based on the recognition of individual characters. One software that uses OCR is Tesseract. This is available free of charge and an open-source program. Tesseract needs language add-ons for text recognition, in my case for German.  Here, I already encountered the first difficulties: The module for German text recognition “deu” is mainly intended for modern printing. However, as described above, my source is an older print. Therefore, I attempted text recognition with the additional module “deu” as well as “deu_frak” (for German Fraktur fonts).

If you are familiar with the use of the command line and have installed Tesseract, a simple short command is sufficient for transcription:

tesseract example_page.tif output_page.txt -l deu

Tesseract now provides the following text of my sample page using the German add-on:

556 Monatl. Correfp. 1801. $VNIVS.

die Glaskugel hätte machen können. Es [cheintauch,
dafs man leichter zwey Stahlcylinder einander voll-
kommen gleich wird machen köunen, als man zwey
Glaskugeln gleich grofs und gleich dick blafen kann:
fo dafs man allo bey Stahlcylindern leichter zwey voll-
kommen vergleichbare Thermometer wird erhalten


Über die

beym April-Hefte’ befindliche

Perfifche Karte.

 (Befchlufs zu S. sız des III B.)

 Mau hat mir den Vorwurf machen’ wollen, dals
ich die Anpreifungen und Empfehlungen Yadley’fcher
Spiegel-Sextanten übertreibe und bis zum Ekel wie-
derhole. Aber die vielfältigen Beyfpiele, welche mir
mehr, als jedem andern bekannt werden, beweilen
mir, dals ich lie bey weiten noch nicht genug em-
pfohlen habe; ich werde allo noch lange damit fort-
fahren. Dies kann doch ‚wol niemanden Verdrufs
oder Schaden bringen ? Ich habe erfahren, dafs [eit-
dem diefes nicht genug zu lobende Inftrument, durch
gegenwärtige Zeitfchrift, auch unter Laien, oder tın-
ter f[olchen Gelehrten bekannter geworden ift, deren
Beruf es nicht mit fich (bringt , aftronomifche Werke
zu lefen, der Gebrauch diefes nützlichen Werkzen-

As you can see, this text is already quite readable, although full of errors. The long s “ſ” is not recognized as such, but transcribed as “f”, “l” or even “[“. There were also problems with the recognition of the word “JUNIUS” in italic capital letters, and the translation of “ſs” as “ß”.

Therefore, here is another try with the Fraktur module:

556 Umsatz«- coyrejp MU. FPNIZS

 die Glaskugel hätte machen können. Es scheint auch,
dass man leichter zwey stahlcylinder einander voll-
kommen gleich wird machen können . als man zwey
Glaskugeln gleich gross und gleich dick blasen kann-
so dass man also bey stahlcylindern leichter zwey voll-
kommen vergleichbare Thermometer wird erhalten


Über die

bcym April—Hefte’besindliche

Perlische Karte.

(Beschluss zu s. 513 des lll B.) 

Man hat mir den Vorwurf machen· wollen« das-
ich die Anpreisungen und Empfehlung-en flmlzey’scher
spiegel-sextanten übertreibe und bis zum Ekel wie-
derhole. Aber die vielfältigen Beyspiele . welche mir
mehr, als jedem andern bekannt werden, beweisen
mir, dass ich sie bey weiten noch nicht genug em-
Psohlen habe; ich werde also noch lange damit fort-
fahren. Dies kann doch wol niemanden Verdruss
oder schaden bringen ? lch habe erfahren, dass seit-
dem dieses nicht genug zu lobende Instrument , durch
gegenwärtige Zeitschrift, auch unter Laien, oder lin-
ter solchen Gelehrten bekannter geworden ist, deren
Beruf es nicht mit lich bringt . astronomische Werke
tu lesen, der Gebrauch dieses nützlichen Werkzeu—

Here, the “ſ” was partially recognized, but all sorts of incomprehensible things were produced. This is explained by the fact that the “deu_frak” module contains the typical long s for fractional font, but the MC was printed in a rounder, non-fractional font, similar to Antiqua scripts. Since these are unusual for the German speaking area in the early 19th century, however, I could not find a German Antiqua module and thus a suitable module for my project – so I had to look for other ways. These difficulties in applying OCR to historical prints are not particularly uncommon, and I quickly came across another option:

HTR with Transkribus

Another method that was originally closely linked to the development of OCR is Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR). It combines pattern recognition methods with artificial intelligence to produce machine-readable text.  Originally developed for handwritten material, HTR can be applied just as well to printed text that, as in my case, is too complex for OCR processing.

One platform developed by the “READ” project (Recognition and Enrichment of Archival Documents) of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Program that works with HTR is Transkribus [].  Here, Deep Neural Network Models are applied to manuscript material to decipher (historical) manuscripts or printed texts using digital images and transcriptions, and automatically generate transcripts of similar material.  Based on the input documents, users train an HTR model, which is thus language and script independent.  Baselines and corresponding text form the input of the learning algorithms of the neural network (see figure 2).

For full transparency, I should address the accessibility of the program: The software itself is free, and the use of the HTR was free for a long time. In October 2020, however, Transkribus switched to a partial payment model, so that users could still download the software for free and train an HTR model but had to pay for the application of this to subsequent materials with so-called “credits”, which have to be purchased. For the realization of my project, I received a scholarship of 3000 credits from the READ project, for which I am very grateful.

To feed Transkribus with baseline data (called ground truth), I uploaded the first issue of MC (January 1800). To mark the baselines, Transkribus offers an automatic layout analysis, where the images are segmented into single lines. These then have to be transcribed manually (see also Figure 2). To train an HTR model, about 15,000 words (approx. 75 pages) are required as a ground truth data set; for printed texts, 5000 words or 25 pages are sufficient.  With a few clicks and a little time, HTR models can be trained that achieve a character error rate (CER, average percentage of incorrectly transcribed characters) of less than 5% (handwritten texts), respectively 1–2% for printed texts.

Figure 2: View of a page in Transkribus

As a ground truth data set, I completely transcribed the first issue of MC and used it to train a first HTR model. In a second step, I let this model transcribe the February 1800 issue, corrected it manually and fed this data into my model as well. Thus, I ended up with my model “MC 1800 German” with a CER of 1.29% (see Figure 3). The transcriptions can then be exported as xml, pdf or txt files.

Figure 3: My HTR model “MC 1800 German”

Now, we can compare the transcriptions with my model with those of Tesseract and the example above:

Monatl. Corresp. 1800. JUNIUS.

die Glaskugel hätte machen können. Es scheint auch,
daß man leichter zwey Stahlcylinder einander voll¬
kommen gleich wird machen können, als man zwey
Glaskugeln gleich groß und gleich dick blasen kann:
so daß man also bey Stahlcylinder leichter zwey voll¬
kommen vergleichbare Thermometer wird erhalten


Über die

beym April-Hefte’ befindliche

Persische Karte.

(Beschluß zu S. 513 des III B.)

Man hat mir den Vorwurf machenwollen, daß
ich die Anpreisungen und Empfehlungen Hadley’scher
Spiegel-Sextanten übertreibe und bis zum Ekel wie¬
derhole. Aber die vielfältigen Beyspiele, welche mir
mehr, als jedem andern bekannt werden, beweisen
mir, daß ich sie bey weiten noch nicht genug em¬
pfohlen habe; ich werde also noch lange damit fort¬
fahren. Dies kann doch wol niemanden Verdruß
oder Schaden bringen? Ich habe erfahren, daß seit¬
dem dieses nicht genug zu lobende Instrument, durch
gegenwärtige Zeitschrift, auch unter Laien, oder hn.
ter solchen Gelehrten bekannter geworden ist, deren
Beruf es nicht mit sich bringt, astronomische Werke
zu lesen, der Gebrauch dieses nützlichen Werkzeu¬

This transcription is now almost flawless. However, minor corrections were necessary, especially for numbers and symbols. In particular, mathematical formulas and elaborate calculations as well as tables with observational data, which occur repeatedly in the MC, were particularly difficult to transcribe: Rare symbols were not recognized or were confused, fractions longer than two lines were segmented and thus deprived of their reference. The quality of the digitized material itself also led to errors: print-through of the backs, pale or blurred writing or stains affected the correct transcription. Nevertheless, and despite the relatively large amount of time that had to be invested in collecting ground truth data, Transkribus ultimately produced a text that was for the most part very close to the original text and machine-readable, and thus could form the basis for my further processing with digital tools.



Akhlaghi, Andrew. “OCR and Machine Translation.” Programming Historian 10 (2021).

Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Graves, Alex, and Jürgen Schmidhuber. “Offline Handwriting Recognition with Multidimensional Recurrent Neural Networks.” In Advances in Neural Information Processing Systems, Vol. 21, 2009.

Mazal, Otto. Paläographie und Paläotypie. Zur Geschichte der Schrift im Zeitalter der Inkunabeln. Vol. 8. Bibliothek des Buchwesens. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann Verlag, 1984.

Muehlberger, Guenter, Louise Seaward, Melissa Terras, Sofia Ares Oliveira, Vincente Bosch, and Maximilian Bryan. “Transforming Scholarship in the Archives Through Handwritten Text Recognition.” Journal of Documentation 75, no. 5 (2019): 954–76.

Smith, Ray. “An Overview of the Tesseract OCR Engine.” Ninth International Conference on Document Analysis and Recognition (ICDAR 2007), 2007, 629–33.

Tappert, Charles C., Ching Yee Suen, and Toru Wakahara. “The State of the Art in Online Handwriting Recognition.” IEEE Trans. Pattern Anal. Mach. Intell. 12 (1990): 787–808.

Jewish Transit to China: “Die Gelbe Post”: A German Newspaper in Shanghai, 1939 – 1940

By Lea Katharina Neikes

The German Historical Institute (GHI) Washington DC, in collaboration with external partners, has organized an ongoing conference and workshop series about Jewish refugees in global transit between the 1930s and 1960s. The workshop was held 2018 in Kolkata, 2019 at the GHI Pacific Regional Office in Berkeley, and 2020 and 2021 as an online workshop due to the pandemic. As former interns, Paul Diekmann and I were invited to participate as guests at the Oct. 25-26 online workshop. Especially the discussion about the destination Shanghai, a rich and multifaceted topic, turned out to be fascinating.

After the November pogrom in 1938, while almost all other countries had closed their borders to German Jews, only Shanghai remained as one of the last places of refuge from the German Reich. Until 1941, it was still possible to enter the French and international parts of the city without a visa. Around 18,000 to 20,000 German-speaking refugees came to Shanghai. First by sea via Italian ports, later via the Soviet Union with the Trans-Siberian Railway or via intermediate stops in Africa and Asia. In addition, around 1,500 Jewish refugees from Japan were deported to Shanghai in 1941. The community grew to about 20,000 members during this time.

Cartoon, Die abgewiesenen Flüchtlinge, in: Die Gelbe Post, vol. 1, no. 2 (May 16, 1939), 28, original: Ken Magazine Chicago, cartoonist and copyrights unknown. Please contact href if you have any information about the rights holder.

The refugees had to adjust to the poor living conditions on site. Their experience offers a perspective on the war that is markedly different from the experiences of emigres to other countries. The history of Jewish refugees in Shanghai highlights that World War II was a complex combination of events, reflecting a variety of entanglements and disentanglements. After the beginning of WWII in the Pacific in December 1941, Shanghai came under full control of an Axis power: Japan. While Japan itself committed egregious war crimes, it shared neither the priorities nor the methods of the of the Germans who committed and supported the genocide.

The situation for the refugees worsened when the Japanese military authorities set up a ghetto for Jewish refugees in the Hongkou district in February 1943. Despite the adverse conditions, the emigrants developed a diverse cultural and social life with theater and music programs, newspapers, and the establishment of synagogues and schools. Still, the majority of Jews knew only German. There were no German-language newspapers and magazines in Shanghai at that time. Therefore, it was not easy to get information about what was going on in the world.

Josef Storfer, a disciple of Sigmund Freud, went into exile in Shanghai in 1938. In July 1938, he founded the magazine die  Gelbe Post (the Yellow Post), which appeared twice a month and dealt primarily with the daily struggle for survival of Jewish émigrés in Shanghai. In November 1938, the  Gelbe Post was transformed into a newspaper. It appeared daily until it was sold in September 1940. The newspaper quickly established international recognition.

Gelbe Post, vol. 7, no. 78 (May 5, 1940), LBI periodical collection online,

This did not go unnoticed in Nazi Germany.  Just two months after it was published, a well-informed, extensive article about Storfer and his magazine appeared in the vulgar anti-Semitic hate newspaper “Der Stürmer”. The name of the German author, who apparently had to live in Shanghai, is deliberately not mentioned: “From our collaborator in Shanghai,” is all it says. For them, Storfer who even in exile tried not to give up his Viennese cultural heritage, was also subject to racist persecution and demonization in Shanghai. The Stürmer wrote: “The Jew A. J. Storfer has now settled in Shanghai. He is working to inject his Jewish poison into wide circles of the Chinese people. Through his poison the Chinese people, who are already very decomposed by communism, shall perish completely.”[1] This example shows that the Nazi persecution did not end during the transit of the refugees. It had to be expected that Nazi supporters would remain in their environment.

The Jews in Shanghai, who had successfully escaped from the Nazi regime, continued to care and worry about the war in Europe, especially about the policies of Nazi Germany. Even though Shanghai was and felt far away from Europe, the emigrees were very worried that the war would extend further and come closer to Shanghai. Die Gelbe Post reported in almost every issue on political events, assessments of the war’s development and possible new immigration opportunities.

In Storfer’s obituary, a friend wrote: ” (…) He was always preoccupied with getting to the bottom of things (…) as deeply as possible.”[2] And in fact, there were entire articles in his newspaper devoted to the beauty and distinctiveness of Chinese and Japanese culture and language. Why were Jewish journalists and intellectuals in the changed political situation in Shanghai still focusing their attention “on the content and value of the superior Chinese culture”?

A few years after his arrival in Shanghai, the Jewish jurist and journalist Dr. Victor Sternberg stated in this regard:  “Above all, we have come to know the people of China, in that section which lives in Shanghai, to some extent, during the years of our stay here, and we have made a great discovery: the Chinese are people just like us. […]”[3] This discovery was partly owed to those exile journalists, like Storfer, who helped the Jewish emigrants in Shanghai to overcome the linguistic difficulties, especially the problems of understanding the Chinese mentality and Chinese culture.

The Jewish refugees living in Shanghai were considerate of their fellow residents and of their surroundings. For example, they reported on initial mistakes made by newcomers or advised on the proper, polite, way to treat rickshaw drivers. The report “Gangsterversicherung gegen Gangster in Hongkew”, published on the 5th of March 1940, speaks of thugs on Huoshan Street, who often came into the stores and collected the protection fees. Those who paid the protection fees had a note with “under protection” taped to the door of the store. Reports like this informed the Jewish businessmen about the various gangs in Shanghai and urged them to be careful. The Jewish refugees cared very much for their countrymen and wished that more refugees would be taken in by Shanghai.

Shanghai’s unique perspective and newspapers like the Yellow Post are a good reflection of the experiences and observations of the Jewish refugees stranded there. However, in order to evaluate these experiences in depth, one must evaluate biographical aspects to reconstruct time and feelings. There are always certain types of religious and cultural knowledge that have been passed down through generations, which may not be documented by documents and other sources While transit is frequently associated with trauma, it can also be associated with other aspects of the experience, such as humor, love or sexuality. Die Gelbe Post and Josef Storfer’s work demonstrate just that. A wide range of Exilpresse publications like the Gelbe Post and other journals (not only from Shanghai) can be accessed via the online catalog of the German national library, which also includes various exhibitions, publications and events.;jsessionid=58CB1B342758D91C72DBA2346543D980.internet532

See also:  Gelbe Post: ostasiatische Halbmonatsschrift. (Shanghai, China: 1939-1940), Leo Baeck Institute Periodical Collection, NYC, online at the Internet Archive: (last accessed January 17, 2022).

[1] Kaufhold,Roland: Ein Wiener in Asien. (Stand: 12.12.2021).

[2] Goddemeier, Christof: Adolf Josef Storfer: „Geist von der Eindringlichkeit eines Drillbohrers“. (Stand: 12.12.2021).

[3] Lukoschik, Rita Unfer: Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.


  • Eber, Irene. Wartime Shanghai and the Jewish Refugees from Central Europe: Survival, Co-existence, and Identity in a Multi-ethnic City. 2012.
  • Kaufhold, Roland. Ein Wiener in Asien. Jüdische Allgemeine, Aug. 7, 2017 (Accessed 12.12.2021).
  • Lämmert, Eberhard, Mencke, Eva, Maas, Lieselotte. Handbuch der deutschen Exilpresse 1933-1945. Bd. 3 1976.
  • Lukoschik, Rita Unfer. Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.
  • Lukoschik, Rita Unfer. Deutsch-chinesische Literaturbeziehungen. In: Hans-Gert Roloff (Hg.): Jahrbuch für Internationale Germanistik. Jahrgang XLVII – Heft 1, 2015.
  • Mars, Alvin. A Note on the Jewish Refugees in Shanghai. In: Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 31, Nr. 4, 1969.
  • Rosdy, Paul. Adolf Josef Storfer, Shanghai und die Gelbe Post. Dokumentation von Paul Rosdy zum Reprint der Gelben Post. 1999.
  • Rosdy, Paul. Adolf Josef Storfer, Shanghai und die Gelbe Post. Dokumentation von Paul Rosdy zum Reprint der Gelben Post. 1999.
  • Stiftung Jüdisches Museum Berlin (Hg.). Heimat und Exil: Emigration der deutschen Juden nach 1933. 2006.
  • Yutong, Wang/Yongting, Pan. Was stand in der Gelben Post? SISU, Sept. 25, 2016, (Accessed 12.2021).

A Reflection on the Connection between Facebook and Anti-Refugee Violence in Germany

#Onlinehatecrime #Socialmedia #Migrants #refugees #Germany #attacksonmigrants

By Anosh Samuel

Editorial note: The author completed a virtual internship at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC, in the fall/winter of 2021/22. Anosh Samuel hails from Islamabad, Pakistan and is currently studying for a Master in Roads to Democracies at the University of Siegen in Germany. He plans to work on a final Master’s Project about “Migration, integration and social media (case study of Pakistani students in Germany).” He’s keenly interested in international politics, policy and decision making, social media and migration, diplomacy and communication, research and analysis, and foreign policy. In his free time, he plays guitar, loves to read and write articles, watches historical documentaries, watches NEWS, and reads newspapers. He’s reachable at anosh_samuel [ at ] 

This blog, “A Reflection on the Connection between Facebook and Anti-Refugee Violence in Germany,” analyzes the study “Facebook and propagating hate against migrants and refugees in Germany” by Karsten Müller and Carlo Schwarz (2020).” What are the contributing patterns and factors on Facebook towards hate against refugees and migrants in Germany? Are users of Facebook and other social media politically or ideologically influenced? Based on a report published by Hamburg-based Statista Research Department (2021), 42.8 million users actively use Facebook in Germany. Social media has become a wide source of information and news. The shared information spreads like wildfire. A staggering number of 87% of internet users in Germany use WhatsApp, followed by YouTube 69%, and further 63% of the German population use Facebook, according to the 2020 survey. This means any event could reach 63% of the German population in just a blink of an eye, not considering the shared content on WhatsApp. 28% of Facebook users in Germany are between 25-34 years old.

Müller and Schwarz argue that Facebook, used by a considerable percentage of adults as a news source, could propagate hateful sentiments. Their argument is partially based on research on Facebook’s role in spreading online hate in the US by the Pew Research Center (2018).  Germany saw the influx of one million migrants in 2015 and 2016, and the “Amadeu Antonio Stiftung,” a nonprofit organization, registered an astounding 11,200 between 2015 and 2019 incidents against refugees in Germany (Spreter, 2021). The scholars also explored the Facebook page of the German right-wing party “Alternative for Deutschland (AFD),” which has a larger reach than the sites of any other political party in Germany. AFD was and is still the third-largest party in the 2017 general elections and again sustained the consistent third position in 2021 (Results Germany – The Federal Returning Officer, n.d.).

Unlike other political factions such as German Social Democrats (SPD) and Christian Democratic Union (CDU); AFD enabled its followers to directly post messages on a Facebook wall. Civil rights groups identified content on AFD’s page that focused on refugees and deemed the content as ‘hate speeches’. The authors note that hate crimes mostly take place in areas with higher traffic of Facebook users. Municipalities that experienced Facebook outages and disruptions that they used as control locations experienced fewer hate crimes. Essentially, the authors argue that the more AFD users are engaged with Facebook in German regions, the more prevalent are hate crimes; the less engaged people are with Facebook, the less prevalent hate crimes appeared to be. 

Incidents Targeting Refugees in 2016

Source: DW. (2017) Attacks on refugee homes as high as ever, German Criminal Police Office says | DW | 28.04.2016DW.COM. Available at: (Accessed: 10 December 2021).

The groups of perpetrators attacking refugees are driven by collective actions. First, social media is a driving factor for collective outcomes. Second, the collective outcomes of attacks have a spillover effect. The elevation of right-wing sentiments is considerably more common in the towns next to each other based on the spillover effect. The spillover effect could also be supported by the domino effect; a cumulative set of actions produce similar actions.

To the extent that social media has driven the polarization of society, does it also contribute to hate crimes against refugees and migrants? Social media has divided people’s thoughts, and there are two dominating blocs of social media users: one bloc of people who are pro-migrants, and another bloc who is anti-migrants. Polarization of society becomes especially evident when parties like CDU and SPD bring forth migrant-friendly policies.  Recently, for example, SPD, Greens, and FDP proposed overhauling German migrant and citizenship laws, strengthening integration of migrants into society with a promise to allow migrants to hold dual citizenship (DW, 2021). This proposal prompted strong reactions by migrants’ rights on social media. On the one hand, migrants and migration rights groups voiced their enthusiastic support. On the other hand, right-wing groups criticized the proposal.

Percentage of Social Media Hate Speeches Deleted After User Reports

Source: DW. (2017) Bundestag passes law to fine social media companies for not deleting hate speech | DW | 30.06.2017DW.COM. Available at: (Accessed: 30 November 2021).

To tackle hate crimes, the German parliament (Bundestag) in 2017 passed a law imposing fines on social media companies for not deleting online hate speeches/ content or offending posts (Welle, 2017). Big companies such as Facebook and Twitter could be fined up to 50 million Euros and they are liable to delete the offensive content “which is obvious” within 24 hours. If the content seems ambiguous, companies have 7 days to deal with such content.  Soon after the law was passed, Facebook opened a center operated by service provider Competence Call Center in the Western German city Essen to ramp up the anti-hate subject (DW, 2017).

The prejudices towards foreign culture etc. in Germany are persistent and are reflected by social media.  The authors hold social media platforms responsible for real-life actions and content full of hate. They are shedding light on anti-migrant attacks and online posts. While considering policy debates about regulating and controlling hate speeches on social media, the authors also found that online hateful/offensive content is ignored by policymakers.

Before concluding the discussion, I would like to mention that a study by Matthias Ekman  (Ekman, 2019) also analyzes Facebook posts and comments that could potentially amplify antagonistic and violent behavior towards migrants. The analysis is based on news sources and social media posts on Facebook (Ekman, 2019:613-616). The study emphasizes that citizens are not only politically motivated, but can also be emotionally persuaded. The study  highlights that racist sentiments and emotions are passed on to a large audience using Facebook groups. The online public on social media, whether influenced by politically and belonging to far-right groups, cherish anti-immigrant behavior – Ekman (2019:606-607) posits that public opinion certainly can be manipulated on refugees and immigrants. Far-right political actors utilize nationalistic approaches to harbor citizens’ emotions. The nationalistic approaches ultimately create a sense of insecurity i.e. harboring intolerance due to cultural differences. . Such emotions of insecurity appeal to a like-minded larger audience Migrants and refugees have been marginalized and targeted not only on Facebook but also on other social networking channels.


Primary Source:

Müller, K. and Schwarz, C., 2020. Fanning the flames of hate: Social media and hate crime. Journal of the European Economic Association, 19(4), pp.2131-2167.

Secondary Sources:

American Psychological Association. (2017). The Psychology of Hate Crimes.

Dean, B., 2021. How Many People Use Social Media in 2021? Retrieved 28 November 2021, from

DW. (2017). Facebook ramps up anti-hate campaign in Germany. DW.  09.08.2017. Retrieved 5 December 2021, from

DW.(2021) Germany: Post-Merkel government set to ease migration, citizenship rules. DW. 25.11.2021. Available at: (Accessed: 12 January 2022).

Ekman, M. (2019). Anti-immigration and racist discourse in social media. European Journal of Communication, 34(6), 606–618.

Müller, K. and Schwarz, C., 2020. Fanning the flames of hate: Social media and hate crime. Journal of the European Economic Association, 19(4), pp.2131-2167.

Results Germany—The Federal Returning Officer. (n.d.). Retrieved November 29, 2021, from

Results Germany—The Federal Returning Officer. (n.d.). Retrieved 3 December 2021, from

Spreter, J. (2021). Rassismus: Zahl der Gewalttaten gegen Geflüchtete ist weiter auf hohem Niveau. Die Zeit.

Statista. (2021). Social media used in Germany 2020 | Retrieved 5 December 2021, from

Welle, D., (2016). German police chief concerned at growing anti-refugee violence. DW. 14.05.2016. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from

Welle, D., (2017). Bundestag passes law to fine social media companies for not deleting hate speech.DW. 30.06.2017. DW.COM. Retrieved November 30, 2021, from