Digital Early American History and the New Digital Archive: A Roundtable Discussion

AHA Session 297
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Room 503 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
S. Max Edelson, University of Virginia
S. Max Edelson, University of Virginia
Craig Gallagher, Boston College
Patrick Griffin, University of Notre Dame
Molly Hardy, American Antiquarian Society

Session Abstract

The publication of Adam Matthew’s Colonial America marks a watershed in the digitization of archival resources for the study of early American History.  For the first time, scholars and students can work with high-resolution images of the Colonial Office 5 series, which will grow to include the complete corpus of 1,450 volumes of official correspondence between Britain and America.  The ability to access this indispensable starting point for original research in colonial American and Atlantic world history raises important questions about accessibility, pedagogy, and the nature of scholarly engagement with primary sources.  This panel presents a state-of-the-field report on digital resources for early American history.  We will review this and other online tools and describe the ways in which they have changed the character of archival research over the past decade.  Panelists will offer assessments of how well the many resources and products that compose this new digital archive offer access to key primary source materials, including manuscripts, printed texts, and maps.  Our panelists, including historians involved in graduate training, a digital humanities curator, and a current Ph.D. candidate will ask (and, in collaboration with our audience, attempt to answer) a series of important questions:   How might analyzing and visualizing this new digital archive shape scholarship in the field in the future?  What might be gained and what might be lost by engaging archives remotely rather than in person?  What new standards for graduate training in digital humanities should be put in place to prepare the next generation of early American historians to make the best use of this new digital archive?  We will propose, from a scholarly perspective, best practices for archives, libraries, and publishers and, in particular, consider how to balance the need for broad access to this new digital content against the copyright concerns of commercial publishers.  
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