Digital Archives

To see my unit plan utilizing digital archives, please click here:

What Are Digital Archives?

Simply put, an archive is an accumulation of historical records, and a digital archives is when those records are made available on the internet. Many of the digital archives available are developed by museums, libraries, and universities. These archives are now providing students and teachers access to artifacts and information previously available only to specialized scholars or academic researchers.

How to Use Digital Archives

Tips for teaching students to use digital archives -some things to consider when asking students to use digital archives

Basic searching in Alaska’s digital archives -instructional video for working with Alaska’s digital archive collection, which gives a basic outline of how most digital archives work

Citing archival documents -a website for citing digital archive sources from Tufts University that provides a basic outline for citations

Importance of digital archives -a video about the Washington State Digital Archives

Examples of Digital Archives

Tacoma Public Library: Northwest Room

The Tacoma Library has a large collection of artifacts related to Tacoma’s history, especially focused on the exploration, growth and development of Tacoma and the Puget Sound Region. Their database is user friendly, with online collections such as Western Washington Fair, Northwest People, and Unsettling Events that provide access to a variety of information.

Washington State Historical Society Collection

The Washington State Historical Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to collecting, preserving, and presenting Washington’s rich and varied history. WSHS works closely with the Washington State History museum, and is located in Tacoma. Unlike the Tacoma Public Library, the WSHS has one database collection. They also offer a research request page where you can contact the WSHS for more documents on your research topic.

Northwest Digital Archives

The Northwest Digital Archives provides access to archival and manuscript collections from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. The NWDA partners with various archives throughout the Northwest, including universities. As far as scholarly research goes, the NWDA is probably the greatest asset for finding documents related to Northwest history. However, classroom use could be difficult as the archives is not user-friendly to those who are unfamiliar with archival research. Therefore I would only use this resource for students who were highly-capable in internet research, or students who were have a very difficult time finding information on their topic.

History Link

While History Link is not a digital archive, it is an online encyclopedia for Washington state history. Most of the essays and features are original works prepared by staff historians, contract writers, volunteers, and consulting experts. History Link focuses more on events and people, which could be useful if students wanted to research more of who created their landmark. Every encyclopedia entry also gives a list of sources, which can help students research further.

Activity Types (Harris & Hofer, 2009)

I plan on using digital archives with students to assist in their research of Tacoma’s history. Since my unit involves students learning about Tacoma’s landmarks, students can use digital archives to research photos and documents related to their project. Piecing together information from their digital resources, students can begin to develop a better understanding of the significance of their landmark. They can create a presentation that is well researched and included primary source documents.

Scaffolding Research

As there are so many documents available to students, it is important to teach students how to research on archival websites so they can find what they need for their projects. So I would need to consider:

  1. What information I want students to find and access for their research project. I need to decide what I want students to know and teach others about their landmark. This would also include knowing what kinds of documents would be valuable for their research.
  2. How I will teach students to access different features of an archives, including keyword searches. Many digital archives index documents according to a standard bibliographic categorization system. This means that information is categorized in a way that is useful to researchers, but not necessarily students in K-12.
  3. How students will cite their research. While students might be somewhat familiar with citing books, citing photographs or other primary sources can sometimes be difficult.
  4. How well can I, as the teacher, use the digital archives. I need to have some understanding of how each website works, as well consider how to problem solve for research issues that may arise.

To see the Tacoma landmark unit plan utilizing digital archives, please click here:

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